Jon Jones, the new UFC Light Heavyweight champion, reestablished his position as MMA’s pound-for-pound king by defeating rival Daniel Cormier in a highly anticipated grudge match, and now the possibilities for the future are endless.
That is, of course, assuming Jones keeps his act together after a two-year run of questionable behavior that caused his first stint as UFC champion to run off the tracks in the most publicly humiliating way possible.
Jones isn’t making any guarantees, though. After years of trying to be a role model and perfect champion, “Bones” has finally decided to accept his imperfect nature. He will push to continue to be flawless inside the Octagon, but when it comes to living his life outside of it, he can only go day-by-day.
“I’ll make a conscious effort to just do better [during this title reign],” Jones tells Rolling Stone. “I’m a lot more aware of who I am and the responsibility that comes with being a champion, a UFC champion. I don’t want to sit here and make promises and say that I’m going to be a saint, because I’m a wild motherfucker at the end of the day. But I can try to do things better. I can make a conscious effort to try to make better decisions, and I think that’s enough. I think me expecting more out of myself will ultimately lead me to just being a better champion.”
After more than 15 months away from competition and just one fight in a 31-month span since his first encounter with Cormier at UFC 182 in January 2015, Jones made a triumphant return to action at UFC 214. It was a competitive fight for the first two rounds, but then in the third frame he unleashed a vicious head kick which set up the knockout finish.
With the win, Jones became just the eighth fighter in UFC history to become a two time champion at a single weight class. Despite his personal life becoming a soap opera the world witnessed play out, he feels all the trials and tribulations were for the better.
Jones, 30, is more mature and aware of his responsibilities compared to March 2011, when at age 23, he became the youngest champion in UFC history. The New York native knows how to handle showers of fame and fortune, and now it is up to him to make sure he doesn’t allow it to slip away from him again.
With his head seemingly on straight, Jones believes his best performances are still to come, which should be a frightening proposition for future adversaries.
“I feel like a new champion; this is my time to start over and to be a better champion and be the champion that the fans deserve,” he says. “I feel like the best is yet to come. At age 30 I feel like I’m in my physical and mental prime. I feel like my best years are still ahead of me. It’s going to be very scary for a lot of these light heavyweights that I’m still the youngest guy in the division, and I’ll be here for a very long time.”
Although Jones had been out of a long time prior to UFC 214, he’s still by default one of the most dominant champions in the sport. He’s already beaten more than half of the top 10-ranked fighter in his weight class, which is one of the reasons why he’s decided to go big game hunting.
In the days leading up to UFC 214, a surprising feud between Jones and former UFC Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar abruptly bubbled to the surface. It all started with Jones answering a fan question about his interest in fighting Lesnar on Facebook Live. Then, it took off.
Jones called out the current WWE Universal Champion during his UFC 214 post-fight interview, telling Lesnar to meet him in the Octagon if he wants to “know what it feels like to get your ass kicked by a guy who weighs 40 pounds less than you.”
— UFC (@ufc) July 30, 2017
Lesnar, who is historically nearly inaccessibly to the media, issued a prompt reply to Jones via AP News just minutes after his callout, warning him to, “be careful what you wish for, young man.” The former champ hasn’t fought since making a sudden UFC return at UFC 200 in July 2016. He defeated durable slugger Mark Hunt in dominant fashion, but the result was later overturned when Lesnar failed multiple drug tests around the time of the fight.
Although Lesnar must first re-enter the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency drug testing pool and serve the more than six months remaining on his currently frozen suspension stemming from UFC 200, it seems all parties are involved are interested in what would be one of the biggest fights in UFC history.
Jones has teased the idea of moving to Heavyweight for years, but the timing has never worked out. He’s not interested in moving up to fight current champion Stipe Miocic, or anyone else for that matter, but the benefits of a Lesnar fight would be the perfect incentive in his mind.
“I feel like if I was going to take a fight at heavyweight it would be against a person who me and my coaches feel makes sense for me,” he says. “Right now, Stipe is looking extremely impressive. And I believe if you get an extremely talented big guy versus an extremely talented little guy, I feel like a lot of the cards are in his favor. I fear no man, but I strike for a reason when I strike. I feel like Stipe is relatively unknown to the general public. It wouldn’t even be a real superfight in my opinion.
“I think a lot of MMA fans would be super excited about, but the general public wouldn’t care about that fight. Most people don’t really know who is, with all due respect to him. If I’m going to sacrifice being the smaller guy, I think stylistically Brock would be a fight that makes way more sense, and the payday would be tremendous. What it would do for our sport would be tremendous. Much bigger impact.”
Jones’ stance on a move up in weight class for Lesnar rather than Miocic might be viewed as cherry-picking an opportunity. However, the honesty of his goals and intentions are almost a perfect summary of his change in character.
For a time the UFC prided itself on putting the best against the best, regardless of the circumstances. The evolution of the sport, and combat sports as a whole, shows the majority of fans want to see the biggest names and personalities against each other, and Jones is catering to that audience. For proof of that notion one needs not look any further than the Aug. 26 boxing match between UFC Lightweight champion Conor McGregor and undefeated boxing icon Floyd Mayweather.
Based on merit, a fight between Jones and Lesnar is ridiculous. There’s something unique about a 280-pound behemoth going against the best fighter MMA has ever seen, though, and while some might consider it as spectacle, Jones looks up to what McGregor has achieved and it allows him to dream big.
“Conor McGregor, he has been a tremendous inspiration to me,” he says. “He has shown me, who has been at the upper echelon of this sport for many years now, he has shown me that these huge paydays are possible. I never thought in my time as champion that we would be able to see fighters making $70 million or whatever he’s making for this Mayweather fight. It’s an inspiration that you can do it. I see it as possible, and that’s what McGregor has done for me.”