In an interview on the MMA Fighting website last week, Jon Jones spent an hour answering question after question from Ariel Helwani involving his recent legal troubles, failed drug tests, the stripping of his UFC title belt and a plethora of other topics that turned 2015 into likely the worst year of the former UFC light heavyweight champion’s life. It looks as if, for the first time ever, we have seen the “real” Jon Jones.
We’ve been hearing about the façade that Jones has put on for the media for years now. Rashad Evans and Daniel Cormier both made headlines by calling Jones out as “fake.” Cormier, in particular, hammered the point home on multiple occasions. It wasn’t hard to see why. It was obvious at certain times that Jones was struggling to decide whether to be himself or to be the man he felt like he should be. On camera and with the media, Jones was a choirboy who spoke of his humble upbringings and his one-track desire to be the best of all time. Things like his DWI arrest in 2012 or his press-conference brawl and subsequent trash talk with Cormier seemed to suggest differently, but through any and all drama Jones kept that million-dollar smile plastered on his face and more or less kept up the act.
Things are different now. Between the failed drug test for cocaine that started to do a number on his reputation and the now infamous hit-and-run incident that came incredibly close to ruining his career altogether, Jones was forced to take a step away from the sport and get his life back together. Little revelations like the fact that “Bones” was drinking three to four nights a week during training camps or the fact that he mentioned that he “partied with the best of them” multiple times throughout the conversation shed an entirely new light on Jones as both a fighter and a person. The choirboy persona is completely gone. In its place is the fighter who screwed up and is doing everything in his power to right those wrongs.
In his first interview since everything blew up in his face, Jones not only seems to have gotten his life together, but has changed his entire demeanor. It was refreshing to see Jones so open and comfortable while rehashing what was obviously a very difficult time in his life.
After admitting that his old persona was more or less an act, Jones was more open and honest than he had been in his entire career. He pulled no punches when talking about his current rocky relationships with the UFC and the Nevada State Athletic Commission, but he was also smart enough not to completely take either organization to task. He responded to criticisms and disparaging remarks from fellow fighters with class and an aura that’s practically spilling over with confidence. Even in moments where the former champion doesn’t come off as well, he at least seemed honest and genuine in his replies.
There’s a point in the interview when Helwani asks Jones about his mindset after he learned that the vehicle he struck in the hit-and-run belonged to a pregnant woman, and the former champ’s response is almost completely self-centered. He makes it clear that he was thinking pretty much exclusively about himself and what he had done to affect his own life instead of worrying about the victim of the accident. It was an awful answer from a public-relations standpoint. He showed little remorse toward the victim and made the entire situation about himself. That being said, it was one of the most revealing points of the interview, and it marked a true insight as to where Jones’s head was at during such a terrifying point in his life. It might not place “Bones” in the best light, but it provided a little more proof that the Jones we’re seeing in November 2015 is very different man than the person who was pushed out of the sport a few months ago. The hard-partying Jones that was getting by on mostly talent and athleticism is gone. In his place is a sober, motivated former champion whose confidence and belief in himself have him primed to try to reclaim what he has lost.
It’s difficult to trust a man who admitted that we’d only seen glimpses of the real Jones in the past. However, if Jones has turned his life around as drastically as he’s led us to believe, then this interview is going to be a turning point in a career that once looked like it couldn’t climb much higher. All of the controversy over the last year has made Jones the fighter an afterthought when compared to Jones the person. It may be time for those roles to switch places again. While Jones may not have shown a ton of remorse for his actions, he definitely has realized that he’s made plenty of mistakes. Now he is doing what he can to rectify those mistakes. Outside of his community service, the best place he can do so is inside the cage.
As incredible and dominant as Jones has been since he won the UFC light heavyweight title in 2011, it almost seems ridiculous to think that he was spending so much time doing things that were detrimental to his career. Even if you take away the obvious physical toll that the champion’s partying took, the amount of focus and mental preparation Jones had going into each fight likely took a major hit as well. Without all of those distractions, it’s almost comical to think about how good Jones could be when he returns, smack dab in the middle of his prime at 28 years old.
Following his win at UFC 187, Cormier stood in the center of the Octagon with the belt — the same one that Jones still feels is his own — wrapped around his waist. Cormier grabbed the microphone and begged Jones to “get his shit together.” When asked about Cormier’s comments by Helwani, Jones gave maybe his best answer of the entire interview when he said the current UFC champion “screwed up” because Jones “took his advice.” It’s just one moment in an hour full of examples of how Jones’s confidence is at an all-time high. It’s a statement that should be taken very seriously by anyone in the UFC with their eyes on the 205-pound title. Jon Jones has gotten his shit together, and if the past is any indication, that’s going to mean a world of trouble for anyone that gets in his way.