The world around Jon Jones is never dull. That fact is more true than ever on the heels of a whirlwind week that saw Jones jailed for yet another run-in with the law, released with new restrictions on his probation, then immediately faced with a short-notice opponent swap following the injury withdrawal of UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.
The result of all that commotion? Jones will instead fight Ovince Saint Preux at UFC 197 on April 23 for the interim UFC light heavyweight title, although even that decision did not come easy.
“Originally, the UFC called me and asked about Anthony Johnson,” Jones explained Monday on The MMA Hour. “They said that he had already accepted the fight, and they asked me if I was going to accept the fight. I told them I needed a meeting with my coaches. I had a meeting with my coaches, and the next morning I called the UFC said let’s do this thing. They said that Anthony’s camp changed their mind, I guess, since he had some dental work he needed to do.
“That made no sense to me whatsoever, for him to be ready at one point and then the next minute it was dental work. So I just told Lorenzo (Fertitta), whoever you need me to fight, I want to make things right for UFC 151. I want to do something for my fans, something positive. I know people who have been saving up months to make it out to Vegas for this fight. I know guys who, this is their anniversary gift or birthday gift from people, and I was like, you know what, I’ve put my fans through so much already. I need to get out there and just put it on the line. So I said I’ll fight anybody. They came up with Ovince.”
The caveat of an interim title being in play against Saint Preux was a surprising addition to many observers, considering that Cormier has been an active champion and is expected to be healthy within four-to-eight weeks. Jones himself admitted that the prospect of an interim belt didn’t do much to excite him, at least not at first.
“Initially I felt like I didn’t care about the interim title,” Jones said. “In my heart, I felt as though I was the champion. I know that I’m the champion. The things that I’ve been able to do in my career, if I never fight again, I would be able to tell my kids and grandkids that I was a champion, so I feel like a champion. So when I was offered the interim title, it really didn’t do much for me the way it would for most. I want the actual thing back. That was my first feeling: oh, whoopty-doo, an interim title.
“Then I started to think about it and I thought, you know what, it would make a lot of people proud. (It would make) a lot of people proud to see me with the belt, even if it’s the interim title. It would just be something that is really positive around me, and it’s a good thing ultimately. So do I care about an interim title? Not really. But at the same time, I see the good that comes from it, so I’m grateful for that.”
Jones (21-1) is considered by many to be the greatest light heavyweight champion to ever compete in the sport of mixed martial arts. At the age of 23, he became the youngest titleholder in UFC history. He went on to defend that belt eight times against a slew of renowned names including Cormier, until being stripped of the title in 2015 following a hit-and-run accident which landed him on indefinite suspension with the UFC.
By the time his return at UFC 197 comes, Jones will have been inactive for over 15 months. Still, the 28-year-old has already been installed as a massive eight-to-one favorite to defeat Saint Preux by several oddsmakers.
“I don’t look at this as a tune-up fight,” Jones said. “I feel ready to go. To look at Ovince as a tune-up fight would be disrespectful to Ovince, who is such an underdog that I think he’s more dangerous than ever. The guy has absolutely nothing to lose. So I’m going to treat him not as a tune-up fight, but as another fight, somebody who has his own story, who has hunger and his own ambition. He has an opportunity of a lifetime, so I’m going to treat him really seriously and look at it like I’m fighting another top guy in the world. Treat him with the respect he deserves. Give him all I’ve got.”
In a way, it is remarkable that the fight is even taking place, considering that less than a week ago Jones was rotting in an Albuquerque jail cell for his latest police mishap — a traffic stop for “drag racing” that ultimately landed Jones five tickets and further YouTube infamy for body camera footage that captured a fiery argument between he and APD officer Jason Brown.
Jones ended up getting his probation reinstated with a few new stipulations: he must attend courses for driver improvement and anger management, complete 60 additional hours of community service, and is barred from driving without receiving prior permission from his probation officer.
Jones said he now has hired a full-time driver — his nutritionist Lou Giordano — and the experience behind bars is one he won’t soon forget.
“You know what? It was an opportunity to be re-humbled,” Jones said. “Honestly, it made me think about some of the things I’ve earned. My home. Just my bed mattress and my beautiful fiancé. My kids. It just made me really think about blessed I am, and it made me more grateful than ever to have freedom, to be famous, all this stuff. There’s things that I take for granted, and sometimes I just thought to myself, ‘man, I’m just sitting here in a jail cell eating Ramen noodles, eating the worst food ever, 23-hour lockdown.’
“It was just like, man, what a different way to live. To go from having so much to just nothing. A guy gave me a pen and paper, and I remember feeling so grateful for such a simple thing. A pen and paper; I was like, ‘dude, thank you so much.’ It was for a reason, man. I think God had a plan for me, and maybe I needed more humbling. I don’t know. It definitely did that.”
As for Cormier, Jones is still hopeful for a showdown against his injured rival sometime down the line. The two engaged in a lengthy and largely hilarious back-and-forth Monday after Cormier extended a hand for Saint Preux to train at the American Kickboxing Academy ahead of UFC 197. And while Jones expressed interest in settling the beef at UFC 200, he once again rebuffed any comparison between he and Cormier’s rivalry to that of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier’s legendary trio of bouts.
“Didn’t Frazier end up beating Ali once?” Jones said. “Yeah, so me and Daniel, we’ll never be Frazier and Ali. We’ll be whoever Ali used to beat twice or three times or whatever.”
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