LAS VEGAS — Imagine, Ben Askren said Thursday at the MGM Grand during a kickoff news conference for UFC 235, a 75-year-old Dana White chatting with someone about his days running the promotion.
Askren, the undefeated former Bellator and ONE welterweight champion, has long feuded with White and is going to finally make his UFC debut on March 2 when he fights ex-champion Robbie Lawler. And during a news conference to announce a card headlined by a light heavyweight title fight between champion Jon Jones and upstart challenger Anthony Smith that predictably began with talk of picograms and long-term metabolites and oral turinabol yet again, Askren added a bit of levity to the show.
“I can imagine you at 75, sitting on your porch, smoking a cigar saying, ‘You remember when those guys thought Askren was going to come in here and I got his ass kicked three times? Ha ha ha ha!’” Askren said. “I picture that in my head. It’s so funny. It’s probably what I would do if I were in your situation.”
It was that kind of event. It wasn’t so serious and several of the fighters, including Jones, showed sides of themselves they hadn’t shown in public much, if at all, previously.
The star who may have been the quietest and most unassuming man on the stage, was bantamweight contender Pedro Munhoz, who will face ex-champion Cody Garbrandt.
Munhoz was the last of the eight fighters on the stage to get a question, and he spoke almost reverentially of Garbrandt. Asked about his lack of trash talk, Munhoz said his friends and family told him to do some trash talking. That, though, isn’t Munhoz’s thing.
“I promise I’m going to get better on the trash talking,” he said, impishly. “I don’t have anything else to say about [Garbrandt]. He’s a great guy; a good-looking guy. Look at him. … It’s a great fight. We both move forward. We both look for the knockout and submissions. March 2 is not going to be different.”
At that point, Jones entered the fray. As the headliner, he’ll get a piece of the pay-per-view, so it’s in his interest to stir the pot and get more people interested in the show.
So he turned around and said, “I want to ask, what’s one thing you don’t like about Cody?”
He was, however, disappointed with the answer because Munhoz either thinks Garbrandt is the greatest guy ever or he simply is too nice of a guy to say something bad about someone else.
The audience laughed as Munhoz struggled to think of something.
“I’m going to say one thing I like about him, because I can’t say anything I don’t like about him,” Munhoz said. “ … He’s a cool guy. One thing is, I’m going to buy his Lamborghini.”
Tyron Woodley, who will defend his welterweight belt against Kamaru Usman, showed Munhoz how it’s done. As Usman was talking, Woodley cut in and the two went on an extended rant against each other that lasted for about five minutes before White put an end to it by asking for the next question.
The star, as usual, was Jones. He’s essentially undefeated, as his only loss was by disqualification that was a mistake by the referee, and he’s beaten a who’s who of the best in the sport.
Smith isn’t that kind of high-profile opponent, but Jones said he’s learned from past mistakes and that Smith has his complete attention.
Despite how well-rounded he’s been, Jones said he believes he hasn’t hit his peak yet even though he’s now on the wrong side of 30.
“I feel like right now, I’m at my absolute best,” Jones said. “Fighting against [Alexander] Gustafsson just a few weeks ago and being able to piggyback off that win and go into another camp, starting camp already in shape, coaches, the vibe amongst the team already strong, I feel great. I’m doing a lot of boxing. I have a new boxing coach and we’re starting to work boxing southpaw. I feel when I go southpaw, everyone knows the kicks are coming.
“Now, I’m trying to get my hands better from a southpaw position. I’m doing a lot of jiu-jitsu and I’m just realizing how much I don’t know about this sport still. I’m really excited about how much I’m learning still. My maturity has grown. Before, between fights I’d be the biggest party animal. Now, I’m in the gym while partying a lot.”
He was kidding.
But it was the first extended opportunity to talk to him in a while where the discussion wasn’t solely about performance-enhancing drugs and suspensions.
He’s going to be a massive favorite, but said he’s confident he won’t look past Smith.
“I feel like my best performance will be this next one, for sure,” Jones said.
That’s a big statement coming from a guy who is widely regarded as the greatest of all-time.
With Jones, though, it’s best never to doubt him because even when he’s literally been in the gutter, he’s risen up. What if he’s finally got it all together?
In that case, light heavyweights, look out.
Watch the entire UFC 235 press conference:
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