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Jon Jones: The Lion Awakes

Jon Jones on Monday's media day melee with Daniel Cormier...

Jones vs. Cormier

This wasn’t how Jon Jones expected to spend his Monday afternoon. It should have been a typical media day – interviews, photo ops, the usual. And it was, until the UFC light heavyweight champion faced off with the man challenging him for the title at UFC 178 on September 27, Daniel Cormier.

Then, as Jones put it, “Things got a little heated.”

You could say it was a lot hotter than that. After the two bumped heads on a makeshift stage in the middle of the MGM Grand lobby in Las Vegas, Cormier pushed Jones and Jones fired back with a punch before both hit the deck. After a few intense moments, the two were pulled apart, and within seconds, the internet exploded with reports from the scene.

“You’ve seen lots of faceoffs, lots of guys face-to-face, and it’s so common in the sport, but one thing that never happened to me, and that I usually don’t see, is for one guy to strike the other guy,” said Jones. “Daniel did an open hand palm strike to my throat. He hit me. I had no intention of fighting. I did intend to have a good staredown because this has been a good lead-up, but to be hit is something I didn’t expect. I reacted right away.”

When that happened, Jones wasn’t thinking about reopening the cut he suffered in training last week or injuring something that would cause the fight to get called off. He just saw red.

Check out the UFC 178 Media Day Photo Gallery

“I think I did what most guys who have any type of self-respect would do,” he said. “If I would have been on that stage and let him hit me in the throat and had done nothing, then all the articles tomorrow would be talking about how Daniel Cormier sonned me, how he owned me. I wasn’t thinking about that at the time, but I think I would have looked bad if I’d not retaliated.

“I also think I looked bad retaliating because there’s a lot of kids that watch, we embarrassed the UFC, and we put the MGM in an awkward position, so I definitely have a sense of regret about what happened, but I don’t regret defending myself.”

And just think, they will meet again Tuesday in Los Angeles for the second day of this press tour. Jones says there will be no repeat of today’s encounter.

“A few of the guys in the UFC’s PR department said they’re going to try and avoid us having to do another faceoff,” he said. “And the next faceoff we do, I’ll be sure to keep my distance. I’m a father and an adult, and I could be in the room right now with him and I don’t think anything would happen. I think it was the heat of the moment, it was the first time being in each other’s face since our fight was announced, and emotions were a little high, Daniel’s a little more so. This is my eighth world title defense, and this is his first title opportunity, so I’m sure this is a lot for him.”

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The 27-year-old New Yorker is eager to put this day behind him, but it doesn’t mean he wants to stop talking about his fight, which has grown from highly-anticipated to something a lot more intense on the “I gotta see this” chart. And while most point to Jones’ height and reach advantages as his key to victory, he’s not afraid of mixing it up at close range with the two-time Olympic wrestler.

“I’ve been working extensively off my back,” said Jones, who is in the midst of camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “I’m a very confident guy but I know Daniel Cormier’s strategy will be to take me down to the ground and I’m prepared for that to happen and that’s worst case scenario. The way I can see this fight going is me outstriking him so badly that he won’t even have an opportunity to think about shooting in or getting the takedown. And even if he does take me down, takedowns don’t finish fights. If I get taken down, it’s not the end of the world. And I think I have the ability, the strength, the awareness, the knowledge and the speed to take him down. I’ve taken down every wrestler I ever fought, and out of all the wrestlers I’ve ever faced, I have the weakest credentials.”

Maybe on paper, but the former JUCO national champion has fought an impressive array of mats men, from Vladimir Matyushenko and Ryan Bader, to Matt Hamill, Sonnen, and Rashad Evans. Each time, it’s been Jones coming out on top, and he sees no change in the forecast here, simply because he feels he has more weapons in his arsenal.

> Watch: Media Day Recap

“It’s not a wrestling match – this is a cage fight with knees, elbows, punches, and kicks,” said Jones. “It’s a lot more than wrestling, and I’m going to show him that.”

If he does, notching a 12th consecutive victory, it will be sweeter than most, simply because Cormier has touched a nerve in him. And you don’t want to get Jon Jones angry.

“Some guys really got me angry,” said Jones. “Brandon Vera ended up with his face broken, Chael Sonnen ended up losing in the first round, Rashad Evans was completely humiliated with elbows repeatedly to the face. And Rampage Jackson is still complaining about the knee stuff I gave him years later. So not to toot my own horn, but yes, getting me angry definitely adds a great amount of inspiration.”