Jon Jones is “a bad guy that’s trying to be good” and “we’re all sinners” the enigmatic UFC light heavyweight champion told me this week ahead of his tenth defence and second reign as the belt holder against Brazilian Thiago Santos at the T-Mobile Arena here in Sin City itself tomorrow night.
Both men weighed in under the 205 pounds limit at Friday’s scales call. Not a bad defence from Jones that statement. Not that he’s a man who defends a lot when he fights. He normally just commands.
This place in the Mojave Desert is replete with lost dreams, and broken lives. Gamblers Inc. And, here where he has fought a lucky seven times, Jones gets asked a lot of stuff. Good, bad and downright ugly.
But – given past misdemeanours – is the UFC wunderkind a good guy trying to be bad or a bad guy trying to be good, the fighter was asked by Telegraph Sport ?
He paused. He thought. He ruminated in that extraordinary fighting brain of his. “It’s a good question. I think I’m a bad guy that’s trying to be good. Just because religiously, we’re all sinners. We’re born into sin. It’s our nature to sin. It’s a decision to try and do the right thing, even when no one is looking. I think all of us as humans, none of us are saints and it’s our choice to be more than that. I have to say I lean closer to being an perfect human that’s trying to do the right things and do good.”
Would Jones be a bigger star in another sport. (He might be even more disgraced). “No, not necessarily. I think I am as known as I am because of the good and bad things I’ve done. Some people have the it factor, like Conor McGregor. He knows what to say. He has a nation behind him. I can’t blame how big or a small star I am on the UFC. It’s up to me.”
He’s different now of course. A different man, father, character, fight, from the one who began his reign of busting up a phalanx of MMA legends from 2011. “That 2011 Jon was a lot wilder and younger. Felt invincible. He wasn’t as appreciative. Today I know I’m very human and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I know you can lose it all, so I’ll do the right things. I’m trying to allow my character catch up to my talents.”
I knew that Jon Jones. The poor man was trapped in my car for three hours in London in a traffic jam just before he won the title (with Wanderlei Siva, Thiago Alves and his agent Malki Kawa all squeezed into the back seats – what a video that would have made by today’s social media outpourings) and my recording device was running. We spoke deep and at length that day, and regardless of the shortcomings that have followed, the young Jones was open, responsive and I have followed him in detail ever since. There is no doubt that Jones is a special character, special fighter. And that he has had a litany of ‘mistakes’. But you cannot but help wanting to understand Jones, if that really is possible.
He played down the idea of going up to heavyweight, too, until the UFC asks him. Ball in their court. “I feel like if things aren’t broke then we shouldn’t be reaching. I also realise the grass may not be greener on the other side. Heavyweights hit a lot harder, they get knocked out every other fight. I appreciate having a healthy brain. I’ve got daughters to raise and I know I’m more than a fighter. I just want to take the right fights. Why mess with a good thing? That’s my answer.”
“Fighting at heavyweight, we’d just need the right terms to make it happen. I’m aware it would be a super fight so I couldn’t fight on the same contract.”
And the DC (Daniel Cormier ) fight ? “I think it would be great for my legacy. Especially since I’ve shared an era with Daniel Cormier. I could squash his a little bit. But I know I can be respected without going up to heavyweight. I can be a 20-time UFC light heavyweight champion. That rings bells and I doubt anyone will be able to do that again soon. No I haven’t changed my mind. I am interested in fighting Daniel, I just want it under the right terms. One thing about the ufc is we always give the fans they fights they want to see. If they want to see it bad enough, we’ll do it.”
The raison d’être as a figure continues. “I’m not trying to protect this undefeated record. Our coaches always tell me, especially Brandon, we’re not taking title defences, we’re taking title offences. We’re out there trying to conquer more, not trying to protect what we already have. There are these young guys coming for us and we can’t be sitting complacent.”
Misdemeanours, yes. Bad guy trying to be good. Yes.
But Jones won’t see himself as the best of all time. That’s up to us.
“I don’t feel I’m the best ever,” he said. Even though he really is. “I feel I have a lot to prove. If I can continue to win fights and retire. Anderson Silva is the best ever. Anderson at his prime believed he would beat anyone. I’ve always shown respect to Anderson and that’s why he’s shown respect to me. That’s as simple as it is. I never want to think about what would happen if we fought. I just want to appreciate his greatness.”
“Anderson is such a wizard, I think my best chance would have been to take him down. But like I said, there’s no interest in that fight because it’s never going to happen.”
And the others ? “I’m going to say Jose Aldo. Demetrius Johnson was cool, but for me personally, l really loved Aldo’s style. And it always changes. I get asked that question a lot. Sometimes I’ll throw Demetrius in there, but today I’m feeling Jose Aldo.”
The legacy concern Jones, though. “Fighting for a championship fight and fighting for a legacy. A belt is one fight, legacies are forever. Legacies aren’t races, it’s a journey. Championship belt is an event. Legacy is a lifestyle.”
“I’m not trying to protect this undefeated record. Our coaches always tell me, especially Brandon (Gibson), we’re not taking title defences, we’re taking title offences. We’re out there trying to conquer more, not trying to protect what we already have. There are these young guys coming for us and we can’t be sitting complacent,” he says. No chance there. Not with this team. This fighter.
“I do feel like I’m getting better. The reason I feel that way is my team. I feel I’m becoming a better leader. I’m trying to bring out the best of the guys around me. The more I care and the more they care and bring out the best in me. I’m truly blessed to be with people who truly care about me. I’ve accumulated possibly the best mixed martial arts team that’s ever existed.”
So says the GOAT, in my view. He just needs to go out and be the bad guy tomorrow night against Santos. And then try and be ‘the good guy’ afterwards.