Jon Jones Is Ready to Make You Forget About Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor’s game of chicken with Dana White has been dominating the headlines, but the redemption of Jon Jones should be the real UFC story.
On Saturday night at UFC 197, Jones – widely considered the best pound-for-pound athlete to ever compete in mixed martial arts – will step into the Octagon for the first time in more than 16 months. His opponent (Ovince Saint Preux) and the stakes (the interim Light Heavyweight Championship) aren’t nearly as important as the events that have occurred since his last fight, a string of failed drug tests, stints in rehab, arrests and erratic behavior that forced White to strip him of the title he had held for nearly four years.
Now, clean and sober, and with a renewed dedication to the sport, the man known as “The Baddest Motherfucker on Earth” is out to make fight fans forget about his past – and prepare for a future in which he once again reigns atop the UFC world. And considering Jones had previously declared he’d retire by age 30, that‘s quite a statement.
“Saying I would retire at 30 is where I was at that point in my life, but now that I’m getting closer to it, and I’m completely sober, I’m realizing that my best years are still ahead of me, for sure” Jones, now 28, says. “Bernard Hopkins is 51 and he lives a healthy lifestyle and he’s able to compete at the highest level. Without all the partying, I know I could have that type of career longevity. I really want to push this thing and tap into my best years and see how far I can take this.”
Jones hasn’t competed since he defeated Daniel Cormier at UFC 182 in January 2015. The victory marked his eighth consecutive defense of the UFC Light Heavyweight title, a belt that was stripped from Jones last April when he was involved in a hit-and-run accident, an incident that also earned him a suspension from competition that’s kept him on the sidelines for the past 16 months. While he has expressed constant regret for the accident and the potential he’s seemingly squandered, Jones says the time off was essential to him becoming a better man – and an ever better fighter.
“I needed the break from the sport,” he says. “I got really kind of sick of the expectations the sport had for me. Every time I fight it’s a champion. I fight the No. 1 contender every single time. To go out there for maybe five or six years and fight the baddest motherfucker on the planet, it’s nerve-wracking. It’s a lot of stress. It was probably really unhealthy for me. The thoughts of, ‘What if I get knocked out? The whole world is going to be able to DVR this and I’ll be humiliated.’
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