Jon Jones is back and looks like the best fighter ever

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Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
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ANAHEIM, Calif. – Jon Jones didn’t promise that everything would be perfect after regaining the light heavyweight title with a resounding third-round finish of Daniel Cormier on Saturday in the main event of UFC 214 at the Honda Center.

Jones attempted to put to rest his long, frequently ugly rivalry with Cormier. He said all of the right things.

After Jones cemented his position as the greatest mixed martial arts fighter in history – if ever there was doubt – by returning after 15 months on the sidelines to knock out Cormier, he said he’d been humbled and had learned from the experiences.

This is a guy who has failed drug tests, gotten into hit-and-run auto accidents, gotten a DUI and made almost every mistake imaginable. He was stripped of the light heavyweight title and the interim title, but he said he’d try to do better.

In terms of being successful and making a slew of out-of-competition mistakes that cost him millions of dollars and untold embarrassment, Jones compared himself to ex-boxing heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.

“I think I’ll make a conscious effort to just do better,” Jones said, explaining how he believes his second title run will differ from his first. “I’m also a lot more aware of who I am and the responsibility that comes with being a champion, a UFC champion.

“I can sit here and make promises and say that I’m going to be a saint. I’m a wild [expletive] at the end of the day. But I can do things better. I can try to make a conscious effort to make better decisions, and I think that’s enough.”

One better decision he made Saturday following his takedown of Cormier – himself one of the greatest of all time whose only losses are to Jones – was in calling out Brock Lesnar.

He beamed when he was told that White said Saturday’s card was tracking to sell more than one million on pay-per-view, because he knows a Lesnar fight would do far more even than that.

Jon Jones is back and chasing a fight against Brock Lesnar. (Getty)
Jon Jones is back and chasing a fight against Brock Lesnar. (Getty)

Jones called out Lesnar, the ex-UFC heavyweight champion who is now starring in the WWE, in the cage after the fight and then explained his decision in detail at the post-fight news conference.

He does not, he said, want to campaign as a heavyweight and ruled out a match with the UFC’s champion, Stipe Miocic.

“I strike for a reason when I strike,” Jones said. “I feel Stipe is relatively unknown to the general public, so it wouldn’t even be a real super fight. It’s a fight the MMA fans would be excited for, but the general public wouldn’t care about that fight. Most people don’t know who he is. … Stylistically, Brock would be the fight that makes more sense and the payday would be tremendous.”

Lesnar filed retirement papers on Jan. 3, and still has time on a suspension for a drug test failure left to serve. The earliest he could return, if he notified the UFC and USADA on Monday that he is unretiring, would be in February.

But a fight between Jones and Lesnar would be massive and, as Jones correctly noted, would attract the attention of the mainstream fan. It would seem a slam dunk to do at least two million on pay-per-view.

Lesnar responded positively to Jones’ call-out, telling the Associated Press’ Greg Beacham, “Be careful what you wish for, young man.”

Both men are 6-foot-4, but Lesnar is a hulk of a man who has to cut weight to make the heavyweight limit of 265 pounds.

Jones, though, believes he could win it.

“He has a pretty limited game, it’s a pretty winnable fight and there is so much reward that is involved,” Jones said.

Everything that he seemed he would become in 2011 when he routed Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at age 23 to become the youngest man ever to hold a UFC belt, he seems to be developing into now.

He’s proven that he doesn’t deserve a long rope, but he seems to get that after enough screw-ups to fill five careers, and now he can take advantage of his enormous talent and personal charisma to fill his bank account with money and set his family up for generations.

UFC president Dana White, who said he hadn’t spoken to Jones for a year until the two spoke this week, was blown away by Jones’ performance.

“I truly believe Jon Jones is the best to ever do it,” White said. “I think he’s the best ever and had he not had these things go wrong in his personal life, God knows who he would have beaten and what he would have done by now. Without a doubt, [he’s] the best.

“To come off such a huge layoff, all kinds of issues and problems, and to do what he did tonight, man, this guy is the best to ever do it.”

He repeatedly put that at risk – he failed a drug test a month before his first fight with Cormier, having tested positive for cocaine – and still performed at an elite level.

He was effusive in his praise of Cormier, whom he once brawled with in the lobby of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and did everything he could to charm the 100 or so reporters who were hanging on his every word.

“It’s surreal to be here back in front of you all,” Jones said. “I’m more grateful than ever. At one point in my career, I dreaded doing some things like this. Now, after not having it, and realizing how easily it could all be gone, and not having this [his title belt], I’m more grateful for every ounce of this process.”

It was as if he shifted the clock back to 2011, when he’d run down a burglar earlier in the day and then had gone out and destroyed one of the UFC’s all-time greats later.

If he does a replay and skips the DUIs and the car crashes and the failed drug tests and just fights to the best of his ability, he’ll set a standard that may never be reached.

Twenty, 50, 75 years from now, if he stays on the straight and narrow, they’ll still be talking about him.

He’s that good, and always has been.

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