Jon Jones didn’t dazzle at UFC 197. He did, however, beat up a game Ovince Saint Preux to win the interim UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, moving one step closer to reclaiming the title he never lost.
Jones (21-1 MMA, 16-1 UFC) has spent nearly 16 months on the sidelines after a number of well-documented legal issues earned him a suspension and forced UFC to strip him of the Light Heavyweight belt he’d held for almost four years. Despite touting massive improvements to an already elite skillset, “Bones” was unable to put an exclamation point on his unanimous decision victory over Saint Preux (19-8, 7-3) on Saturday at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Although he left with the interim belt after battering his opponent with a bevy of strikes and big takedowns, Jones refused to recognize any championship status until winning the fight he was supposed to have at UFC 197: a rematch with bitter rival and UFC champ Daniel Cormier.
Cormier pulled out of UFC 197 due to injury, opening the door for Saint Preux to compete on short notice. The change in style threw Jones off his game, he said, and therefore he was unable to attack in the way he’s grown accustomed to, especially with lingering thoughts of what was at stake.
“I’m a little disappointed – just know there’s a much higher level inside of me,” Jones told reporters post-fight. “Part of me was just like, ‘You’ve got to fight Daniel Cormier, Jon – do what you’ve got to do to win this fight. The goal is to get back to the UFC. Whether you look like crap right now or not, the goal is to get back to ‘DC.””
Cormier pulling out of the fight may have been the best thing that could have happened to Jones. He was able to shake off the cobwebs of inactivity and get his groove back with 25 minutes of cage time. Moreover, with the interim belt in his possession, the rematch with Cormier will be upgraded to a unification bout.
Jones and Cormier have a long history of distain for each other, and that was before “Bones” handed Cormier his only career loss at UFC 182 in January 2015. The grudge match could happen as soon as UFC 200 on July 9th, but that depends on the health of both athletes.
Cormier wants to get his hands on Jones and soon as possible, and if it’s the version of him that competed at UFC 197, he promises to take advantage.
“I’m very disappointed that I didn’t get to compete tonight,” Cormier said. “I do believe that if he showed up in the form that he did tonight – or if this is the new Jon Jones – there’s no way that guy can beat me.”
Ever the perfectionist, Jones was just as critical of his performance. He vowed to return to training in the coming days with the hopes of fighting Cormier as soon as possible. “DC” was cageside for the fight, and afterward Jones sent him a clear message.
“I gave Daniel the finger leaving the Octagon [and] it felt great to do,” he said. “I feel great enough to fight at UFC 200, for sure. I know by Wednesday I’ll be totally fine, back in the gym and getting ready for Daniel Cormier. I believe I would beat him right now. And I want to prove that as soon as possible.”
Jones was expected to win quickly and easily at UFC 197, but it was actually Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson who accomplished that feat in the night’s co-main event.
In what was billed as perhaps his toughest test, Johnson (24-2-1, 12-1-1), the only 125-pound titleholder in UFC history, stopped Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo (10-1, 4-1) with a vicious series of strikes in the first round.
Johnson earned his eighth consecutive title defense, tied for the third longest reign in UFC history, by absolutely destroying Cejudo with knees and elbows from the clinch until “The Messenger” went down and the referee stepped in.
Although the likes of Jones, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre get the most credit as the best to ever wear MMA gloves, Johnson proved once again he might be the most unstoppable force in the sport.
“He’s a gold medalist in Olympic wrestling, and there’s 5,883 gold medalists,” Johnson said on FS1’s UFC 197 post-fight show. “But there’s only one UFC flyweight champion – that’s me.”