Jon Jones is apologetic about a lot of things that have transpired over the last couple years. Believing that he is still the same special fighter that many have called the greatest ever isn’t one of them.
“I do believe it, wholeheartedly,” he said before his UFC 214 rematch against Daniel Cormier on Saturday. “And I think that it’s important for us to believe that we have something special. We owe it to ourselves. What purpose does it serve for us to look at ourselves as lackluster or average? Maybe we are average, but then we have to trick ourselves into believing that we’re something special. I’ve done that and I’m not apologizing for it, and I want to teach my kids to be the same way, to believe that they were put on this Earth for a purpose and that their existence is something to be celebrated. We’re all special in our own right. So to answer your question, absolutely, I believe I’m special, and I’m not sorry about it.”
I believe I’m special, and I’m not sorry about it.”
The proof is in Jones’ resume, one that has seen him shatter the record for most successful UFC light heavyweight victories, beat six current or former UFC champions, and do it with a style that has barely seen him lose a round in the process. In many ways, the New Yorker was the prototype for the modern mixed martial artist as early as his UFC debut in 2008, but no one has caught up to him yet.
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Or have they? Has one fight in the last 30 months – a stretch where Jones made headlines for out of the Octagon transgressions more than for his fighting – left him vulnerable heading into his rematch with Cormier for the title he never lost in a fight?
Those around him say no, but they would say that. Jones says no, but what else can he say? Yet the answer may be found when he talks about the fight with Cormier and what keeps him hungry, knowing that he already holds a victory over the two-time Olympian.
“You’ve got to know that he’s dangerous, but you’ve also got to believe in yourself,” Jones said. “Daniel’s only lost to me, and you know how much this fight means to him. It means so much to him, so you have to respect that. But the reason why I’ve been able to win for so many years is because of my respect, knowing that anyone can win and anyone can lose on any given day. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘A black belt isn’t a black belt because of all things he knows. A black belt is a black belt because he has an understanding of all the things he doesn’t know.’ That’s what makes you a black belt, knowing that you don’t know it all and knowing that somebody’s out there training right now just to beat me one day.”
A fighter can lie to everyone, he can even lie to himself, but he can’t lie to the game. Jones knows it too. He’s seen a lot over the last nine-plus years, some good, some bad, some ugly. But when his name was called and it was time to fight, he was able to perform. No matter what he did in training camp or the night before he was to step into the Octagon, the result was always the same. That’s a special fighter. And while the last two years have been humbling, he also made it out the other side, and knowing that he made it and is still 25 minutes or less from regaining his title has given him more fuel to succeed and made for an interesting conversation with himself when he turned 30 on July 19.
“I have had that talk with myself and it feels good,” he said. “At 30, it’s definitely an age where you have to start expecting more out of yourself and try to do things better. At age 30, you’re not a kid anymore and there are no excuses for f**king up and doing immature s**t. You have to grow up a little bit, and that’s where I’m at right now. I feel like I owe it to myself to train harder, do things better and just be more responsible and make better decisions.”
All signs are that Jones is living his words and focusing on what he should be these days. And at this point, he only has a few more questions to field before Saturday night, when, ideally, all the focus will be on his fight and his future.
“I do feel like after Saturday night, I’ll be gifted with a new canvas,” Jones said. “It won’t be about the trouble that got me suspended and why I haven’t fought. It’s going to be, ‘Okay, what are you going to do from here?’ And that’s an exciting thing for me. I feel like I have a fresh start. I’ve always forgiven myself, but I think the fans are going to be excited to see where I go from here. It’s refreshing for me.”
It’s also refreshing for a sport that could use a Jon Jones to be special, to be the type of fighter kids want to emulate while they’re throwing kicks and spinning backfists on the playground. He wants to be that guy again, and while he knows the world won’t forget the last two years, he’s content if they use those days as learning lessons like he has.
“If my story and my struggles can help one person make it through dark times and s**tty situations, then that’s what life’s about,” Jones said. “It’s a great position to be in, to be an example, be a role model in a weird type of way. The truth of the matter is, there are a lot more people with issues then there are people who are living life claiming to be perfect like Daniel Cormier. People can say, ‘Look at this kid, he didn’t quit.’ I refused to quit and I refuse to be defeated.”