INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The hard work now begins for Jon Jones.
Jones was typically brilliant Saturday in stopping Alexander Gustafsson at 2:02 of the third round of their light heavyweight title fight before a sellout crowd of 15,862 at The Forum in the main event of UFC 232.
Jones spent the first two rounds kicking at Gustafsson’s legs, and the Swedish star was limping noticeably afterward. Gustafsson wasn’t able to use his own lateral movement the way he wanted to as Jones cut off all angles of escape and methodically got him where he wanted.
After 10 minutes of setup, it was go-time for Jones and the explosive, powerful athlete who has dominated the UFC for the last decade instantly reappeared. He took Gustafsson down and, after grappling for perfect position, wearing Gustafsson out in the process, Jones began to unload with heavy shots from the top and forced referee Mike Beltran to stop the fight.
It once again made Jones the light heavyweight champion, his third reign, and he looked as unbeatable as ever.
“He knew what to do to stop my footwork, my movement, my flow and my distance,” Gustafsson said. “He made sure I couldn’t move any more. Then he took me down and I couldn’t get up.”
Fighting comes as naturally to Jones as crying does to babies. It’s almost as if he were predestined to be a mixed martial arts fighter, with his freakish length and incredible sense of timing and distance once that cage door is locked.
Outside the cage, though, Jones’ career has been rife with issues. Jones has frequently struggled to handle the fame, the adulation and everything else that comes with being a superstar athlete in the 21st century.
Those mistakes he’s made away from the cage are what define him to this point in his career. He’s 31 and has been through three suspensions and countless public relations blunders, all of which have cost him millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars.
UFC president Dana White was blunt in assessing Jones after a victory in a rematch of one of the great bouts ever in the sport.
“Jon Jones’ future depends on a lot of different drug testing,” White said. “This guy needs to keep passing drug tests. He needs to stay clean, stay straight, keep training, stay in the gym, keep winning and this guy could completely turn his life around.”
UFC 232 was scheduled for Las Vegas, but had to be moved to California on less than a week’s notice because a few picograms of the long-term metabolite of the anabolic steroid turinabol appeared in his system in a Dec. 9 drug test given to him by USADA.
Jones has admitted to other drug test transgressions in the past, but denies ever taking turinabol. He went to great lengths at the post-fight news conference to deny ever taking turinabol and pointed out the short-term metabolite has never been found in his system.
He was tested post-fight by both the California State Athletic Commission and the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency and said as far as he’s concerned, the more tests the merrier.
He said he has no idea how long the turinabol has been in his system but said he has been told it could remain for up to seven years. He said he is going to try to prove his innocence and get California officials to change his 2017 win over archrival Daniel Cormier from a no-contest back to a win.
He had failed a test for turinabol on July 28, 2017, the day before he fought Cormier in Anaheim, California, at UFC 217 and faced a four-year suspension. But USADA and arbitrator Richard McLaren found no evidence of intentional usage and reduced his suspension to 15 months. McLaren’s report noted it couldn’t pinpoint how the turinabol got into Jones’ system.
Jones is now hellbent on proving his arms’ length list of fight achievements wasn’t the work of a chemist but rather due to his natural talent and the effort he expended in the gym.
“They found a long-term metabolite in my body; there’s no short-term metabolites being found in my body,” Jones said. “I don’t know how long this has been in my body. But I’d eventually like to fight to get my Daniel Cormier [no-contest] overturned because if there were short-term metabolites found in my body, you’d be able to tell that something got into my body recently. But they found a long-term metabolite in my body. They’ve never found short-term metabolites.
“If it was new, you’d find short-term metabolites and medium-term metabolites. They’re only finding long-term metabolites and nobody knows, but I hear it can be in my body up to seven years.”
He said “it almost drove me crazy” to be accused of being a steroid cheat. But he said he spoke to a mental health therapist who he said provided him with sage advice.
There are, he said he learned, two different people he must deal with: There is Jon “Bones” Jones, the flashy star fighter and there is Jonathan Dwight Jones, the father, the fiancée and the family man.
“Being suspended for three years has been very educational for me,” Jones said. “The biggest thing I’ve been able to do is have an understanding of who I am outside of this sport. Outside of Jon “Bones” Jones, who is Jonathan Dwight Jones? I got to go to therapy a lot this summer and talk about who Jonathan Jones is and what means the most to Jonathan Jones.
“I got to see how people treat me when I’m not in the limelight, when I’m not training for a fight or my reputation’s not the best. I learned to differentiate between legitimate friendship and people who are around [because of my position]. I learned a lot.”
Near the end of the news conference, he noticed a female reporter he’d gotten into a testy exchange with at Thursday’s pre-fight news conference. She had asked perfectly legitimate questions about his drug usage and he asked for “better journalism” and told her “you suck.”
He apologized to her and said he was in fight mode and didn’t want to lose, not even a conversation.
It was a sign of growth that he recognized his error, but Jones needs to show a lot of signs for a lot of years to be fully accepted by his peers as well as by the fan base.
He took the first tiny steps on that long road on Saturday with a hardly surprising dismantling of Gustafsson.
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