Jon Jones has not fought since January, 3, 2015, at UFC 182. That night, Jones successfully defended his UFC light heavyweight championship, beating Daniel Cormier in a unanimous decision to win his 12th straight match and improve to 21-1.
Three months later, Jones was stripped of his belt and suspended from the UFC indefinitely, this after his involvement in a hit-and-run accident, among other legal issues. Jones will face Cormier, the new light heavyweight champion, at UFC 197 in Las Vegas on April 23 – almost one year to the day of his suspension.
Jones has done a lot of soul searching over the last year and believes he has matured a great deal.
“I don’t think I handled (the limelight) the best that I could have,” Jones said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney, reflecting on his rapid rise to the top. “I matured on the slow side. So to have things end with that car accident and getting my belt stripped away, I think it’s the way my life has gone and I’ve grown so much from it. I can’t even really have any regrets. I just need to be grateful for the ups and the downs and be grateful for the ability to grow and mature and just go through life and get that experience under my belt. I’m grateful for my past. It’s making me who I am today and I’m really happy with the person I am today. That’s life.”
Jones lost a lot of fans after he was stripped of his belt, some of whom may never be in his corner again. Jones, however, remains hopeful.
“I don’t worry about it too much,” he said. “With time, people will come around. The people that I’ve lost will come around. All I have to do is continue to do the right things, continue to develop and make positive life changes, continue giving back and trying to help others and continue winning. At the end of the day, everything will take care of itself.”
Jones hasn’t fought in over a year. He knows that rust is a distinct possibility.
“I’ve never really taken this much time off,” he said, “so I don’t know how I’ll react to it. I believe it won’t be an issue for me because of the mental approach I take to fighting. I’m a guy who’s really big into visualization, meditation. I spend a lot of time in the mind, and because of that, I have a lot of confidence in the way I will react when the fight starts.”
Jones certainly could have opted for an easier opponent in his first match. Cormier (17-1) is as good as they come, and despite what people may think or assume, Jones doesn’t have any ill-will for the champion – nothing personal, anyway.
“I definitely don’t hate the guy,” Jones said. “We don’t like each other because we’re both really elite in our sport. We’re at the highest level you can get when it comes to being a UFC fighter. He’s only lost to me. I’ve never lost to anyone. So I know that he’s a capable guy (who can) possibly defeat me. He knows that I can defeat him because I’ve already done it. There’s just a competitiveness there that only we can bring out of each other.”
Jones, 29, believes that he’s faster and stronger than Cormier, who turns 37 on March 20, and he thinks their age difference will be a major factor at UFC 197.
That, of course, doesn’t mean Jones is taking Cormier lightly.
“This guy consumes my mind all day long,” Jones said. “Everything I do has been focused on him. I’ve been thinking about this guy over a year. Every single day I think about him.”
Jones was also asked about his developing beef with Chuck Liddell. The former light heavyweight champion called out Jones this week, saying he would beat Jones if he were in his prime.
Liddell is 46.
“We should have a healthy, respectful relationship,” Jones said. “But I’m like, ‘You keep calling me out. I want to respect you for what you did, but if you want to be competitive, I’m going to call you out.’ It’s going to make me look like asshole for calling out a legend, but let’s call it what it is. I’ll beat that ass.”