LOS ANGELES – Jon Jones has made his share of mistakes outside the Octagon.
But the man many regard as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the history of mixed martial arts has never lost his focus once the cage door shuts.
The former longtime UFC light heavyweight champion will attempt to cap his return from a year's worth of out-of-competition drama in the main event of UFC 200, when he meets Daniel Cormier and attempts to wrest his title back. And as he prepares, Jones sees those who rose and fell in his absence – like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor – as cautionary tales on buying into your own hype as a fighter.
"I know that I can be beat and I think that's why I haven't been beat," Jones said Tuesday, "where some of these guys really start to believe their hype."
Jones was suspended and stripped of his title following an April 2015 hit-and-run incident in Albuquerque, N.M. While he was gone, Rousey, the former UFC women's bantamweight champion, and McGregor, the current featherweight king, emerged as mainstream stars.
Donald Cerrone scored his 11th victory in his past 12 fights when he finished tough veteran Patrick Cote in a welterweight bout at UFC Fight Night 89 last Saturday night.
Afterward, he had his mind on his money and his money on his mind.
The wildly popular “Cowboy” earned a Zuffa-record 17th post-fight bonus (combining his UFC and WEC days) for the third-round TKO, but Cerrone didn’t seem too happy with his payday afterward.
Bonuses "all sound nice,” Cerrone said at the post-fight news conference. “According to my pay I don’t mean [expletive] to the UFC. But we’ll see, going to talk to [UFC president] Dana [White] after this and figure that out.”
Joanne Calderwood was another UFC Fight Night 89 winner who was thinking about her pay when the evening was through. Calderwood ran her record to 11-1 with an exciting third-round finish over Valerie Letourneau in a flyweight matchup, but she was skipped over for a post-fight bonus.
Calderwood, a native of Scotland who trained at Montreal’s elite TriStar camp for the bout, noted in an Instagram post that without a bonus, she’d have to go home and find another job simply to afford her next camp.
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – For a minute there, it seemed like Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber were finally ready to let it go.
Cruz left no doubt who’s the better fighter at this point in time, as he defended his UFC bantamweight title with ease on Saturday night, earning 50-45, 50-45, and 49-46 scores in the co-main event of UFC 199 at The Forum.
That gave the champ a 2-1 edge in his trilogy with his rival, so he started off on a magnanimous note at the post-fight news conference.
“You know, he’s got a tough mindset and I knew, regardless of what anyone says, when you’re fighting him he’s a tough fighter,” Cruz said. “He’s got a championship mentality, so he’s not going to go away easily.”
Faber at first returned the compliments, even if he did so in a backhanded manner. “I feel like he’s grown up a lot since the original days of me thinking he was just a punk,” Faber said. “I think he’s grown up a lot and has gotten better as a fighter, as well.”
“You know who he is,” Faber said. “You guys got in a Twitter war.”
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – When Dan Henderson broke into the sport of mixed martial arts, the former Olympic wrestler thought it was just a way to earn a payday while he figured out his next step in life.
“When I first started, I thought I was going to fight for maybe a year, and then go on to do something else,” said Henderson at Thursday’s UFC 199 media day.
That was in 1997, when the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings still called The Forum home. Nearly two decades later, Henderson is one of the most decorated fighters in MMA history – and the Southern California native is still trying to figure out that next step.
The surefire future UFC Hall of Famer, who turns 46 on Aug. 24, meets hard-hitting Hector Lombard on the main card of UFC 199 at The Forum in a middleweight bout that happens to be the last on his UFC contract.
Whether the matchup with Lombard will be the final one of a distinguished career remains to be seen.
“This could actually be the last fight,” Henderson said. “I have no timetable in mind. I could fight another 2-3 years, but, I don’t think I want to fight for that long.”
The latter option, in particular, seems to be one Henderson would gravitate toward.
UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold and his newly ordained challenger, Michael Bisping, fancy themselves as gentlemen rising above the fray of a rough-and-tumble business.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a Thursday conference call promoting their UFC 199 main event on June 4 in Inglewood, Calif. – their first chance to exchange pleasantries since Bisping was announced last week as a substitute for the injured Chris Weidman – featured both fighters complimenting one another at the outset.
"You earned this, I’ll give you that," Rockhold said to his challenger, who has won three straight bouts. "You earned this fight.”
“I wish you all the best,” Bisping replied. “Listen, we’ve got mutual friends, I’m sure you’re a great guy.”
From there, though, the gloves came off. Not only are both considered real gamers in the cage, but outside, they’re among the wittiest fighters in the sport of mixed martial arts. With Bisping a decided underdog competing on short notice against an opponent who finished him just two years ago, the fight buildup could be as entertaining, if not more so, than the bout itself.
The San Diego resident returned to her hometown of Curitiba, Brazil, and got a hero’s welcome from an estimated crowd of 45,000 at Arena da Baixada on Saturday night at UFC 198. The current Invicta featherweight champion then electrified the third-largest crowd in UFC history by waxing an overmatched Leslie Smith in just 1:21 in a catchweight 140-pound bout, winning via TKO for her 14th career finish.
Smith (8-7-1), a gamer who trains at the vaunted Cesar Gracie gym in Northern California, vigorously protested the stoppage, and she probably had a point, as it appeared the referee had stepped in early. But it also appeared he stopped a slaughter in the making, and her protests went nowhere as Justino basked in the adoration of the crowd.
So the question, as it always seems to be after Cyborg fights, is where does she go from here? Justino is indisputably the best featherweight fighter in the history of women’s MMA, having held the Strikeforce belt for years before winning the Invicta title.
SANTA MONICA, Calif. – It doesn’t take long to figure out where you stand with Muhammed Lawal. The former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, known in MMA circles by his nickname “King Mo,” is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve.
His friends in the business – like UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, who had Lawal corner him for his UFC 195 title defense against Carlos Condit – swear by Lawal and his loyalty.
But he’s also made his share of enemies. Ask him about fellow Bellator light heavyweight Tito Ortiz, for example, and Lawal won’t hesitate to tell you what he thinks of the MMA legend.
“He’s a [expletive],” Lawal said of Ortiz. “He said, ‘I don’t want to fight you because you’re not a name. I don’t want to fight you because you’re ghetto.’ OK, I went to college, and you want to fight Kimbo [Slice]. You tell me who’s ghetto? I’m winning fights. He’s won two fights in 10 years. Don’t talk about me, worry about yourself.”
During his three years in Bellator, Lawal has gotten into it with everyone from Ortiz to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson to Emanuel Newton.
So the fact he’s got nothing bad to say about his next big foe, Phil Davis, is noteworthy in and of itself.
"We were there for each other when we needed it the most," said Browne, who will meet Cain Velasquez in a heavyweight matchup at UFC 200. "When we felt like everybody was against us, when everybody was trying to knock us down, we were there for each other.”
Of course, while Rousey and Browne both found themselves facing trying times in 2015, they were for very different reasons.
Rousey, Browne’s girlfriend, became as big a star as the sport of mixed martial arts has ever experienced during her pioneering run as UFC women’s bantamweight champion. She then found out about the ugly side of fame in the modern world after her head-kick knockout loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193, when she was made the butt of jokes everywhere from Twitter to late-night TV talk shows.
"It was hard to listen, to see what people were saying about me," Browne said. "But at the same time, I know what I did and what I didn't do. And I was able to sleep at night — no problem.”
It was just over a year ago the Milwaukee native was not just the UFC lightweight champion, but also a fighter who seemed poised for a superstar breakthrough.
Pettis was the first mixed martial artist ever featured on a Wheaties box. He was capable of moves — like his famed “Showtime Kick” — that seemed more suited for a video game than a real-life sporting competition.
How the mighty have fallen.
Pettis was schooled by veteran Edson Barboza on Saturday night at UFC 197, losing by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
That marked the former champion’s third straight loss in 13 months and Pettis’ remarkable run of nine wins in 10 fights from 2010-14, in which he laid waste to the division and collected UFC and WEC belts in the process, further into the rear-view mirror.
It also was yet another indicator the UFC’s lightweight division, the deepest on the company’s roster, is an absolute shark tank.
But in a January fight against Eddie Alvarez in Boston, Alvarez stayed in Pettis’ face for 15 minutes, outwrestling him and taking the clinch battles in a dull but effective decision win.
LOS ANGELES – Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber found themselves together at a media gathering Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles promoting their UFC bantamweight title fight at UFC 199.
But the event may as well have been held about 10 miles northwest, because the catty manner in which they tore into one another made it feel like the hallways of Beverly Hills High School in 90210.
“He’s a car salesman,” said Cruz (21-1), the defending champion. “Everyone likes the car salesman until he gives you the keys and then he never remembers you in the end. Faber’s just looking to give you guys the keys real quick.”
Faber, for his part, sees his nemesis as the type who starts trouble and then runs away.
“He’s like the kid at recess who will talk a bunch of trash,” said Faber (33-8). “Maybe throw something at you, then they go hide behind the yard lady.”
Sacramento’s Faber and San Diego’s Cruz have been at this NorCal vs. SoCal war of words nearly a decade. The duo first crossed paths in World Extreme Cagefighting, where Faber, then the reigning WEC featherweight champion, submitted Cruz in the first round of a 2007 fight in Las Vegas for what stands as Cruz’s only career defeat.