Jon Jones - And Still Champion and Now GOAT

On February 8, 2020, Jon "Bones" Jones (26-1) beat previously undefeated Dominick Reyes (12-1) at UFC 247 by unanimous decision in a closely fought contest, which will go down in UFC history as one of the best fights in the light heavyweight division.  Reyes demonstrated that he deserved to be in the octagon with Jones, who gave him props after the fight.  In defeating Reyes, Jones set the record for most championship wins at 13 - one more than George St Pierre - and he tied Demetrius Johnson's record for most title defenses at 11. The win, while somewhat controversial in that some had scored Reyes as winning the first three rounds of the five-round contest, should deservedly cement Jones' status as GOAT and best pound-for-pound UFC fighter ever.

Although Jones now holds a record of 26-1 (and 1 no contest), he has never been defeated in the octagon. His one loss occurred more than 10 years ago (December 5, 2009), when he was disqualified for making an illegal downward elbow strike (aka "12-6") against Matt Hamill in a fight Jones was dominating. 

Jones would have already owned GOAT status going into the Reyes fight, if it were not for self-inflicted controversies that have peppered his career, leading many MMA fans to debate whether Jones is a bad guy or GOAT.

On one hand, Jones is an articulate, spiritual philosopher, who is only one win away from the most title defenses in UFC history, and he is knocking on the door to being the greatest UFC Light Heavyweight fighter of all time. On the other hand, in his own words he is “a bad guy trying to be good,” and has taken his followers on a rollercoaster ride of emotion that ranges from admiration to cynicism and back. 

I am one of many fans who have ridden the Jon Jones rollercoaster. When we first boarded the ride, we thought Jones was an amazing athlete and an approachable, spiritual person. He showed that he was a superb fighter with tremendous physical gifts of size, strength, speed, and endurance. He appeared to be the clean-cut son of a pastor, who could skillfully express his philosophical and spiritual views. He seemed at total peace with himself, as he tore up the competition by defeating Andre Gusmao, Stephan Bonnar, Jake O’Brien, Brandon Vera, Vladimir Matyushenko, and Ryan Bader. On his eight UFC fight, at age 23, Jones defeated Mauricio “Shogun” Rua by third-round TKO to become the youngest-ever UFC champion.  

On the day Jones became champion, he chased down a robber who had stolen from an old lady by smashing her window and stealing her GPS device. Jones ran down the thief and held him until police arrived. We loved this guy and could not have held him in higher regard.  

The Jones rollercoaster continued click-click-clicking its way upward, as Jones successfully defended the title against Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, and Alexander Gustafson.  Eight times Jones was declared "And Still Champion".

Just before January 3, 2015, when Jones was scheduled to fight Daniel Cormier for the first time (UFC 182), the Jones rollercoaster had rounded its highest peak and was preparing to descend. A few days before the fight, Jones and Cormier engaged in a divisive verbal battle in which both fighters lobbed disparaging comments at one another. While verbal confrontations ahead of title fights are commonplace and help drive ratings, Jones and Cormier displayed a level of personal nastiness that made both men look bad.  During the exchange, Jones revealed a previously unseen degree of meanness that was damaging to his brand as a calm, meditative champion. 

Although Jones defeated Cormier by unanimous decision, three days later the rollercoaster began plummeting downward. On January 6, 2015, the Nevada State Athletic Commission announced that Jones had failed a drug test a month before the fight by testing positive for benzoylecgonine, a primary ingredient in cocaine.  While the failed test occurred a month before the Jones/Cormier fight, the NSAC could not stop the fight because benzoylecgonine is not banned from competition by the World Anti-Doping Agency.   

Less than four months later, the rollercoaster continued its rapid descent. It would not level off before the top-ranked pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world would serve three suspensions.    

First suspension: On April 26, 2015, Jones was involved in a hit-and-run accident where he ran a red light, collided with two cars, and left the scene on foot, leaving behind an injured pregnant woman in one of the vehicles. Jones would later plead guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and serve 18 months of supervised probation. On April 28, 2015, Jones was stripped of the belt and indefinitely suspended. Jones was reinstated six months later and scheduled for a rematch with Cormier on April 23, 2016 (UFC 197). Cormier had to pull out of the bout due to a foot injury, and Ovince Saint Preux stepped in as the replacement fighter. Jones defeated Saint Preux by unanimous decision.   

Second suspension: On July 6, 2016, three days before his postponed rematch with Cormier was scheduled to occur, Jones was removed from the bout by the US Anti-Doping Agency after a potential doping violation was announced. Four months later, November 7, 2016, Jones was suspended a second time – this time for one year retroactive back to July 7.

Third suspension: Jones returned to the octagon a year later on July 29, 2017 (UFC 214) to fight Cormier a second time for the UFC light heavyweight title. Jones won by third-round TKO, but three weeks after the fight, the USADA announced that Jones had tested positive for an anabolic steroid in a test sample taken the day before the fight. The fight was ruled a no-contest, and the UFC stripped Jones of the title and reinstated Cormier as champion. In September 2017, the USADA announced that Jones was suspended for 15 months, which was the result of a potential 48-month suspension that had been reduced by 33 months, broken down as a 30-month reduction for Jones’ cooperation with the USADA and a 3-month reduction from an arbiter’s assessment that Jones had not intentionally ingested the steroid.         

Today, the Jones rollercoaster has leveled off and appears to be moving back toward its starting point, when Jones was broadly respected and admired. An arbiter of the USADA cleared Jones of having intentionally ingested steroids and, to date, there are no credible claims that Jones intentionally took doping agents to enhance his fighting ability. He is the first fighter ever to be simultaneously participating in testing from both the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association and the USADA. Jones is fighting under the most rigorous testing ever imposed on a UFC fighter. And he continues to win.  

Jones returned to the Octagon on December 29, 2018 (UFC 232) to reclaim the light heavyweight championship by defeating Alexander Gustafson by third-round TKO in their long-awaited rematch. Since defeating Gustafson, Jones has successfully defended the title twice by decision victories over Anthony Smith on March 2, 2019 (UFC 235) and Thiago Santos on July 6, 2019 (UFC 239).  In total, Bones has retained the belt 11 times – eight times before he relinquished the title by suspension and three since recapturing the championship. He is now tied with Demetrius Johnson for the record in title defenses).    

During an interview on July 4, 2019, shortly before his fight with Santos, Jones made several insightful remarks that reveal his sincere desire to get back to being the champion many of us know him to be. Check out the interview here:

Jones humbly offered, “I don’t feel like I’m the best ever…I feel like I have a lot to prove; I feel like, if I can retire doing the right things, continue to win fights, maybe other people will call me that.”    

When asked if he is a bad guy trying to be good or a good guy pretending to be bad, Jones thoughtfully replied, “I think I am 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. And it’s a decision to try to do the right thing. It’s a decision to do the right thing when no one’s looking.”

Jones’ classy message to Daniel Cormier on August 26, 2019 bolsters our confidence that the rollercoaster has stabilized. Cormier had just lost his father, Percy Benoit, to cancer, and Jones tweeted: “All beef aside, I’m really sorry about your loss DC. Know that he’s in heaven with the opportunity to watch you from the front row and center for the rest of your life. Continue living a life that makes him proud. Thoughts go out to you and your family today.”  

Since launching, I have been following Jones more closely than ever. I don’t agree with him that he is “a bad guy trying to be good.” I think he is a good man trying to find his way back to his center, while working to overcome some bad decisions he made as a young man who had achieved fame, fortune, and unparalleled success by age 23.  He is on the right path to get there. A clean and clear victory over Dominick Reyes, who is not only a worthy opponent, but also an undefeated one, will elevate Jones' contention for GOAT status.   

Odds makers had Jones heavily favored (-450) to defeat Reyes.  While Jones got to hear Bruce Buffer’s voice roar “the winner AND STILL CHAMPION” for the record-tying 11th time, the fight was an incredibly close match up in which Reyes proved he is now the top light heavyweight contender in the UFC.  Jones has spoken about possibly moving up to heavyweight, but many fans are hoping to see a rematch between Jones and Reyes.  There is little doubt this would attract many viewers and we hope it happens. 

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