Jon Jones Is Not the Bad Guy You're Looking For

He wanted to be the Michael Jordan of the UFC. Then he got in trouble with drugs, cursed out a cop on camera and hit a pregnant driver. You think he's repenting? Think again.
Mike SagerContributor IJuly 13, 2017

Jon Jones still had 55 days left on his suspension for drug use when he showed up, in mid-May, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas for the UFC's Summer Kickoff press conference. The fighting world had come to expect the unexpected from the 29-year-old known as Bones, but nobody was prepared for what would happen next.

The former light heavyweight champion, regarded by some as the greatest mixed martial arts fighter of all time—and by others as a sanctimonious phony—hadn't fought in over a year, after the World Anti-Doping Agency found him guilty of taking generic erectile dysfunction pills in the days leading up to his July 2016 rematch with archrival Daniel Cormier, forcing a last-minute change to the main event.

The suspension was only the latest punishment Jones received for a series of transgressions committed by the Bible-tweeting son of a pastor—including two drug violations and a hit-and-run collision with a pregnant woman—for which Jones has been twice stripped of his UFC title.

Taking his seat behind one of the tables on stage with the other 16 fighters, Jones was wearing a green polo shirt with an olive collar; his trademark mountain-man beard had been replaced by a more understated hipster goatee. He looked clear-eyed and ready to reclaim his belt from Cormier at UFC 214, scheduled for July 29 in Anaheim, California.

The duo's intense rivalry dates back to their first casual meeting, backstage at a UFC title fight in 2010, when Jones, a former junior college All-American wrestler, told the two-time former Olympian, "I bet that I could take you down."

Four years later, at UFC 182, Jones kept his promise, taking the older, shorter man to the mat—and then doing it twice more.

Before this spring's press conference in Dallas had even begun, the men wasted no time renewing their feud. Complaining that Jones was talking smack about his children, an outraged Cormier hit Jones in the face with a water bottle. They had to be separated.

Cormier and Jones will fight for the second time at Anaheim’s Honda Center, where they first met. “Daniel is no greater than anybody else I’ve beat by unanimous decision,” Jones tells B/R Mag.
Cormier and Jones will fight for the second time at Anaheim’s Honda Center, where they first met. “Daniel is no greater than anybody else I’ve beat by unanimous decision,” Jones tells B/R Mag.(Photograph by Inga Hendrickson for B/R Mag)

Now the two fighters were on stage in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd, one on either side of the master of ceremonies, a couple of security guys in between. Millions more were live-streaming. On the table in front of Cormier was the champion's belt, 13 pounds of leather, gold plate and gleaming stones. Wearing a white short-sleeved dress shirt, his bald head shaved to a sheen, the 38-year-old reigning light heavyweight champ—who had won the vacant title after Jones' suspension—wasted no time digging up the past.

"Is he really going to be in Anaheim?" Cormier asked the audience, invoking the canceled match. "Is this guy really going to go to the fight? Is this guy going to mess this up again by doing steroids or snorting cocaine or sandblasting prostitutes?"

"Prostitutes?" Jones asked incredulously. A visible welt was rising on his forehead. Despite the occasional talk of his possible womanizing, Jones has maintained that he is faithful to the mother of three of his daughters, who calls him "a sweet softy" and a "loving, caring, compassionate fiance and father." Jones' only visible tattoo, across his right upper chest, cites a Bible verse, Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

"I beat you after a weekend of cocaine," Jones declared, speaking defiantly into the mic.

Hearing this revelation, a palpable hush came over the raucous Texas crowd. Nobody could help but wonder: What's the matter with this guy? He's coming off a yearlong drug suspension, and he's admitting to...doing more drugs? Is he addicted to self-destruction? Just plain clueless? Or maybe he's willing to admit to almost anything publicly before he'll let his fiancee believe he was cheating on her with prostitutes.

"I had two great weekends back-to-back," Jones told Cormier: "Cocaine one weekend, your ass the next. It was great."

Six days later, Jones is driving me around Albuquerque, New Mexico, in his 2015 Chevrolet Corvette, a black-on-white Z06 with an airfoil on the trunk. The sky is bright blue, the rugged Sandia Mountains hunkered to the east beyond the town's mini-skyline. So far, nobody from the UFC has uttered a word in public about Jones' cocaine admission, even though it went viral.

People familiar with Jones might recognize the Vette from another viral video, of body-cam footage released by the Albuquerque police after a March 2016 traffic stop. Jones can be seen explaining that he wasn't trying to drag-race a Cadillac; he'd only revved his 650 horsepower engine to impress some fans. As Jones becomes heated, he calls the cop a "fucking liar" who is "fucking with me for no reason."

Perhaps aware he was being recorded while pulling over one of the most notoriously ill-behaved athletes in the world, the officer kept his cool. Jones was cited for five violations, breaking the terms of his probation for the hit-and-run. He turned himself in, but the next day, he found himself in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Bernalillo County. (He eventually pleaded guilty to two of the five violations, and served 60 hours of community service and completed an aggressive driving course.)

Jones was removed from the general prison population for his safety. “It was a terrible experience,” he says of three days in jail, “but it was all I needed.”
Jones was removed from the general prison population for his safety. “It was a terrible experience,” he says of three days in jail, “but it was all I needed.”(Photograph by Inga Hendrickson for B/R Mag)

"When they put me in there, it let me know where I didn't want to be," Jones tells me, in one of three extended conversations with B/R Mag over a two-week period, his first in-depth interviews since 2014. He has large brown eyes and a scar on his forehead from where his brother, Arthur—who would grow up to win a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens—once hit him with a soda can so hard the can exploded. (Arthur says he got the same in return; their parents had to drive them both to the emergency room.) Known in fighting circles for his 84.5-inch reach, his furious spinning kicks and punches, and his devastating elbows, Jones is remarkably soft-spoken; close your eyes and you can hear the suburbs of central New York, where he was one of a handful of black kids in his high school class.

Nearly seven years ago, at age 23, Jones became the youngest man to ever win a UFC championship. Now facing age 30, with a 22-1 record and a mountain of controversy behind him, he says he has seen the light.

"I think my problem, when I first got into the game, was I wanted to be a saint—like, literally," Jones says. "I thought I had to be a real goodie-goodie. I'm at a place now where I realize that the fans don't really care if you're a good boy or a bad boy. They just want you to be responsible, you know? Hitting a pregnant woman and taking off running is not responsible. Taking a dick pill is not being responsible."

Never had the consequences of his actions been more obvious to him, Jones says, than during his three-day stay in jail. According to authorities, he was removed from the general jail population for his own protection.

"You're used to living the good life, you're doing work you love, you have a big-ass house. And then you have all your shit taken away. It's just you and a suit that doesn't fit, and socks that are dingy, pillowcases that have somebody else's sweat stains still on them. And the flip-flops that fucking don't cover the heel of your foot. Or showering when people can watch you..."

His voice trails off.

"It was a terrible experience, but it was all I needed," Jones says. "I finally realized at this point in my life how much I took for granted."

Another afternoon, with six weeks until his suspension expires and nine weeks to the rematch, Jones is sitting on the mat inside one of the two Octagons at the Jackson Wink MMA Academy, a converted Drug Enforcement Agency office building, near downtown Albuquerque, that has become a mecca for hopefuls from around the globe.

Unlike the boxing world, where training camps for big fights are held in private, Jones prepares for his title bout within the communal setting of Jackson Wink. Before the renovation, the gym's workout area was a garage, with a freight elevator for transporting seized guns, drugs and prisoners upstairs. Now the space is covered with red and black wrestling mats, filled to capacity with male and female fighters from the U.S., Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Dagestan, Russia, France, Brazil and Mexico, all hoping to break into the MMA big leagues.

Sometimes Jones works with an individual coach, primarily Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn and Brandon Gibson. To guard against injury, he spars only once a week. Often, he joins the group session as fighters pair off and then rotate, providing a variety of challenges. At one point during a jiu-jitsu class, he exchanges techniques with Holly Holm, his skin as dark as hers is pale, their faces dripping sweat. A couple of weeks later, Holm will beat Bethe Correia at UFC Fight Night in Singapore with a devastating left foot to the head, the same kick with which she ended the highly publicized winning streak of Ronda Rousey, the fighter who brought women's MMA into the mainstream.

Jones, who has defended his title eight times, works into two-a-day rotations at the Jackson Wink gym in Albuquerque.
Jones, who has defended his title eight times, works into two-a-day rotations at the Jackson Wink gym in Albuquerque.(Photograph by Inga Hendrickson for B/R Mag)

Leaning back against the black chain-link fence, the 6'4" Jones uses a trainer's vest for a cushion. His shoes are off; his long legs—so lethal to opponents both from a distance and up close—seem thin and birdlike. During his time away from the game, he says, he'd blown up to 247 pounds. His fighting weight is 205; he's still got about 20 to lose.

"Fighting was something inside of me that I didn't realize was there," Jones says. "I think about this a lot. Fighting is not what I do—it's who I am. It's what I was meant to do, what I was meant to be. I knew that right after my first MMA practice."

It would not be inaccurate to say that Jon Jones grew up fighting, that he was born and raised for it—the runt of a trio of big, strong and endlessly competitive brothers who would all become successful pro athletes.

Jones grew up in the village of Endicott, New York, a town once known for its light manufacturing, the birthplace of IBM and Endicott Johnson shoes. His family lived "in a pretty decent neighborhood right next to a pretty bad one," Jones says. His father, Arthur, one of 12 children, was the assistant pastor at a storefront church. In high school, Arthur Sr. had been an all-city wrestler. Jones' mom, Camille, was also active in the church. By day she worked with mentally disabled adults. Jones remembers rubbing her feet in the evenings.

"We definitely were poor," he says. "The religion business doesn't pay a whole lot, especially when you're the assistant pastor. But my parents worked really hard and stayed together, and they showered us with a lot of love."

There were four children. Carmen was the eldest by four years. Arthur Jr. came next; he would go on to attend Syracuse University before the Ravens drafted him at defensive tackle. Jonathan Dwight was born next, 13 months later. Finally came Chandler, three years later. He would follow Arthur to Syracuse and become an outside linebacker for the New England Patriots and then the Arizona Cardinals, who just re-signed him to an $83 million contract.

“I’m not saying he’s not going to make more mistakes, because life is all about lessons and learning from it and growing,” Arthur Jones tells B/R Mag. “But I’m excited to see him get back in the Octagon.”
“I’m not saying he’s not going to make more mistakes, because life is all about lessons and learning from it and growing,” Arthur Jones tells B/R Mag. “But I’m excited to see him get back in the Octagon.”(Photograph by Inga Hendrickson for B/R Mag)

With their parents working long hours, Carmen looked after the boys. Discipline was strict. The Jones brothers were not allowed to wander out of the yard. Then it was discovered Carmen had a brain tumor. The boys learned to cook and care for their ailing sister. She died in 2002, at the age of 18, devastating the family.

Jon was always closest with Arthur. They were extremely competitive. "Not only was Arthur older and bigger, but he was a freak athlete," Jones says. "So, yeah, I pretty much grew up getting my ass kicked by a really special talent. I think it's why I turned out to be so tough."

Arthur, an NFL free agent since his release in March by the Indianapolis Colts, remembers their school days vividly. "He had me beating up on him every single day, from the wrestling mats to the front room," says the eldest Jones brother. "All three of us boys were competitors, so anything could have started a fight—choosing the video game, taking the last piece of chicken.

"Sometimes we'd just slap each other and a fight would break out. That's what brothers do. That's what makes us all great competitors: We never back down from anything."

In middle school, Arthur came home one day and announced he was going to try out for the wrestling team. "He wanted my dad to buy him wrestling shoes," Jon remembers. "I didn't want to be left behind. So I said, 'Hey, can you get two pairs?'"

Jones began his career at 119 pounds. "What did I like about the sport of wrestling? At first, nothing. I got my ass kicked a bunch. My first year was terrible. I was tall and skinny. Just a lil shit. It took me a long time to progress."

At Union-Endicott High School the boys were coached by Jack Stanbro, who is still a PE teacher there. One day, Jones remembers, Stanbro told him, "If you do what I tell you, man, I'll get you to college." Says Jones: "I listened to that man. From that moment on, I dedicated my life to the sport of wrestling."

In a telephone interview, Stanbro says he first met the boys when the middle school coach invited him over to meet the young phenoms he'd discovered. By the time they were seniors, Arthur wrestled at 285, Jon at 189. Since nobody else on the wrestling team matched up with the Jones boys, the brothers usually worked out together. "There was a lot of controlled mayhem," says Stanbro, chuckling at the memory.

From the crucible of his rivalry with his NFL-bound brother, Stanbro believes, came the UFC champion's greatest strength: "Jon has never allowed himself to be resigned to losing. That's the driver behind Jon. There is always something in the back of his mind telling him, Let's go! This is crunch time! We gotta make it happen! It's always in the back of his mind. He's never going to walk away without putting everything on the line."

Coming out of high school after winning the New York State championship, Jones says: "My wrestling dream was to become a Division I national champion. That was my No. 1 dream—not Olympics, not money. Just winning that tournament."

But because his grades were below NCAA scholarship standards, Stanbro says, Jones chose Iowa Central Community College, an eight-time national junior college championship team, hoping to eventually transfer to a D-I school.

As a freshman, Jones won the 2006 national junior college championship in the 197-pound weight class. He was also named a JUCO All-American.

To begin his sophomore year, still struggling with the grades—"College for me was more about wrestling than actually going to classes," he says—Jones transferred to Division III Morrisville (NY) State College. He decided to study criminal justice with the idea of becoming a cop.

Midway through 2007, Jones learned he was going to be a father. The mother was a close friend from Iowa Central. Not long after, Jones learned that his high school girlfriend, Jessie Moses, was also pregnant. One semester short of earning his associate's degree, he dropped out. "I needed to pay the bills," he says. "I thought it was really important to have something prepared when these kids came out."

“I’m sure most people don’t have this impression,” Jessie Moses tells B/R Mag, but he is actually very much a homebody.”
“I’m sure most people don’t have this impression,” Jessie Moses tells B/R Mag, but he is actually very much a homebody.”(Photograph by Inga Hendrickson for B/R Mag)

Jones and Moses, whom he'd met in science class his senior year at Union-Endicott High, moved into the basement of her mother's house in Endicott. Moses got a job as a secretary at a hockey rink. Jones went to work as a bouncer at a bar called Bobby's Place—a little hole-in-the-wall with a jukebox. He made $50 a night.

"I was 19 years old. I went from being a guy with all these wrestling dreams to feeling like a complete waste of life. I had these two brothers who were still in college and who were starting to be whispered about being NFL players. And there I was, back in my hometown, working at the local bar, a dropout with one baby and one more on the way, running into all the kids who were still in college. I felt like even my parents didn't believe in me at that point. I felt like no one believed in me but Jessie and her mom. I had to prove them right. I had to."

Looking for answers, Jones started YouTube-ing motivational speakers like Tony Robbins. "I read anything I could find. I wrote stuff down. Inspirational quotes and stuff like that. I started learning how to meditate. I started learning the power of visualization. I just started teaching myself."

"I had these two brothers...who were starting to be whispered about being NFL players. And there I was, back in my hometown, working at the local bar, a dropout with one baby and one more on the way."

With Moses' baby due in July 2008, Jones applied for a full-time position as a janitor at the nearby Lockheed Martin factory.

One Friday night, Jones came home from Bobby's and found a message on his Myspace page. It was from a screen name he didn't recognize. Apparently the guy had been in the crowd when Jones won the high school state championship, back in '05. Somehow he knew that Jones was back home from college. Maybe he'd seen him at Bobby's.

The guy wrote on his wall: Have you ever thought about being a UFC fighter? It would be a shame to see you not use your talent. My cousin has a martial arts school an hour from here. I think you'd really like it.

"I called on Monday," Jones says. "By Wednesday, I went to my very first martial arts practice."

The place was 45 minutes away in Cortland. Because he didn't have a car, Moses drove him in her blue Jeep.

"I left there with a black eye and this big-ass smile on my face," Jones says. "I knew I was home."

Jones first met Daniel Cormier in October 2010, inside Anaheim's Honda Center at UFC 121, headlined by the celebrated heavyweights Cain Velasquez and Brock Lesnar.

It was five months before Jones' first championship fight. The 23-year-old had a 5-1 UFC record. His only loss had been a disqualification for illegal use of elbow strikes to the face, his ruthlessness on display for 5.2 million viewers on the finale of Fox's The Ultimate Fighter.

Cormier was almost 31. He'd been a two-time JUCO and U.S. National freestyle champion, and then a Division I All-American at wrestling powerhouse Oklahoma State University. Cormier finished fourth in the 2004 Olympics. In the 2008 Olympics, he was named Team USA captain but got pulled from competition due to kidney failure, brought on by excessive weight-cutting.

Remembers Jones: "We were all backstage, just sitting, hanging out, fighters being guys, no fans around or anything. And one of the guys points out Cormier and says he's Velasquez's new wrestling coach, and that he's supposed to be a really big deal in the wrestling world. Since I've been around the UFC, I've always had a kind of little-brother vibe about me when it comes to the wrestlers who went Division I and to the Olympics. I wasn't the best wrestler—I was a junior-college guy."

Jones approached Cormier, introduced himself and said: "Hey man, I hear you're a good wrestler. I bet you if we wrestled, I'd get you down."

Cormier shot Jones a look and walked away.

"My whole intention was I was fucking with him," Jones tells me. "It was a way to start a new friendship."

Jones went on to win his first title at UFC 128 in Newark, New Jersey, against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, handily defeating the reigning champ and becoming the youngest champion in history. "This is just a testament that dreams can come true, guys," he told the audience in his post-fight interview, sounding very much like an earnest junior pastor on a Sunday morning.

Jones had a dream of rising fast through the UFC—“and a big fucking chip on my shoulder,” he says. “I had a lot to prove to myself and everyone else.”
Jones had a dream of rising fast through the UFC—“and a big fucking chip on my shoulder,” he says. “I had a lot to prove to myself and everyone else.”(Photograph by Inga Hendrickson for B/R Mag)

In quick succession, Jones defended his title against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans, all former UFC champions. "When I go back and I think about my 20s, it's been a dream—a Cinderella story," Jones says. "It really has been a fairytale career."

But then, the story took a turn. In the early morning of May 19, 2012, less than a month after the Evans title defense, Jones crashed his new Bentley Continental GT into a telephone pole in Binghamton, New York. He was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and was later bailed out by his mother. (He eventually pleaded guilty to DWI, was fined $1,000, completed a rehab program and lost his license for six months.) According to subsequent reports, there were two women in the car—and neither one of them was Jessie Moses.

In September 2012, Jones angered UFC honchos when he declined to fight Chael Sonnen, a last-minute replacement for UFC 151. Jones argued he couldn't prepare for an entirely new opponent in only two weeks, but his refusal forced the first-ever cancellation of an entire UFC fight night. "He's a fucking sport-killer," the powerful UFC President Dana White said at the time. "This guy is from another planet."

The next time Jones encountered Cormier up close was in August 2014, at a pre-fight media event for UFC 178, in the lobby of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Stepping up to the podium for the routine stare-down, Jones pressed his forehead against the crown of the shorter man's head. Outraged, Cormier shoved Jones away, his palms on Jones' neck; Jones pushed back and began throwing punches. Cormier fell off the back of the stage, where the brawl continued, with Jones on top landing more punches, until officials could pull them apart.

Jones and Cormier at the MGM Grand in 2014 before what would have been their first fight at UFC 178.
Jones and Cormier at the MGM Grand in 2014 before what would have been their first fight at UFC 178.(Getty Images)

Days after the fireworks, Jones suffered a knee injury in training and pulled out of the fight. The two met at last in January 2015, for UFC 182. Jones won in a unanimous decision.

Now, sitting on the mat inside the Octagon, Jones scoffs at the suggestion that Cormier is any sort of special rival. "When people ask me why I have so much animosity towards him, I say I really don't," he says. "Daniel is no greater than anybody else I've beat by unanimous decision.

"With Daniel, when we argue, I usually get the last laugh. I literally don't hate him. I just don't think he's very bright, verbally speaking. He's all mad at me because he doesn't get my jokes.

"I really just want to whup his ass because of how much he hates me. I beat him, and he has the championship belt by default. It's time to get back in there and fight."

After several years of commuting between his family in New York and his training in Albuquerque, Jones moved his fiancee, his three girls and their five dogs and three cats into a roomy house in this rugged, mile-high city. "The stress of back and forth was really becoming a lot," says Moses, who has been engaged to Jones since 2013. Although she would talk and text with Jones numerous times each day, and sometimes follow him to Albuquerque, Moses says, it became harder and harder to live in two places at once.

At home, Jones says, he plays the roles of "the enforcer and the lover and the playmate. We bowl. I play hide-and-seek with the kids. We play this game where there's a safe zone and you have to make it past me into this corner of this one room. We watch every movie. We sit in the hot tub a lot. We like bonfires. And my girl loves cocktails. She's very responsible, but she loves to go out and have a glass of wine and sit at a fancy lounge and have a little appetizer in front of her."

"I don't have to act like a winner," Jones tells B/R Mag. "I am a winner. And I'm a winner even if I'm rough around the edges."
"I don't have to act like a winner," Jones tells B/R Mag. "I am a winner. And I'm a winner even if I'm rough around the edges."(Photograph by Inga Hendrickson for B/R Mag)

The Jones family's apparent domestic bliss was shattered in April 2015, when Jones ran a red light in a rented Buick SUV. The collision involved three cars, including one being driven by a pregnant woman, who broke her arm. Jones fled the scene on foot, then returned, rummaged through his car—witnesses said he grabbed "a large handful of cash" and shoved it into his pants—and fled again. An off-duty police officer who'd happened upon the scene recognized the UFC champ. An arrest warrant was issued. Jones surrendered himself voluntarily the next day.

Jones tweeted an apology ("Got a lot of soul searching to do. Sorry to everyone I've let down"), but the UFC brass was not satisfied. He was stripped of his title, removed from the official rankings and suspended indefinitely.

One year later, with that suspension over, Jones beat Ovince Saint Preux, the son of Haitian immigrants and a former University of Tennessee football player, at UFC 197. With the win, Jones was named interim light heavyweight champion. The stage was set for a rematch with Cormier, and a unification of his titles, at UFC 200 on July 9, 2016.

Three days before the fight, however, it was revealed that Jones had tested positive for two banned substances. The fight was canceled.

Proclaiming his innocence, Jones asked for an arbitration hearing with WADA. In his testimony, Jones said he believed he was taking a generic version of Cialis, an erectile dysfunction medication. He insisted—and still does—that before using the pill he verified that the ingredients were not on the UFC's banned substances list.

Independent testing of the generic brand he said he'd taken, Tadalafil, found chemicals present that were not in Cialis. In its ruling, the WADA panel found Jones did not knowingly take a banned substance and was not a "drug cheat."

"By his imprudent use of what he pungently referred to in testimony as a 'dick pill,' he has not only lost a year of his career but an estimated $9 million," the panel concluded. Jones was again stripped of his title and suspended until at least July 6, 2017.

"The two things I wish I could take back the most," Jones says, "are the hit-and-run and the UFC 200 being canceled because of the estrogen blockers. Those are my two biggest regrets in my career. A lot of the other stuff that's happened—you know, the DWI—that's the kind of shit that young kids are gonna do."

About the hit-and-run, he claims: "I didn't get in my car and look around for the first female I saw to crash into her. I was a little hungover. And I was headed to a friend's house. And I got in a car accident. And then I just freaked out, man. I was like, Man, I'm probably gonna be in a lot of trouble here. I went back to the car to try and find my [marijuana] pipe. It was in the cupholder, but it flew out. Now I keep it in the middle console."

The cops ended up finding the pipe for him, along with a small amount of marijuana. He was charged with possession. He eventually turned himself in and pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. He was sentenced to 18 months of probation and community service in the form of 72 speaking engagements. He completed both.

In an email exchange, apparently her first contact with the press, Moses stands by the father of her children: "Everyone makes mistakes. I have a tremendous amount of respect for his loyalty to his family with everything he has been through. I'm sure most people don't have this impression, but he is actually very much a homebody. Our home and the life we have built is his sanctuary."

She concludes: "The past few years have been tough, but through it all Jon is still Jon."

In the parking lot outside Jackson Wink, Jones leans against the driver's side of his Vette, his face tilted toward the sun. It's been another long day, more than four hours of practice. Having removed some of his wet gear, he is wearing only a pair of designer underwear, a common after-practice look around here.

This is the last time I'll see him, so I ask about his future plans.

"I'd like to fight for about another five more years or so," Jones says. "All I want to do is just to not get in trouble. That's it. I want to fly under the radar. I want to win fights. I want to accumulate enough money to support my family. Just winning and staying out of trouble is what I'd like to be remembered for: Staying out of trouble will be my success story."

(Photograph by Inga Hendrickson for B/R Mag)

Jones and I stand there for a few beats, as people do in conversation. Traffic passes on Dr. Martin Luther King Ave. We've hung out a number of times over the past two weeks; he's been friendly, punctual, totally open. He's even standing here with me in his skivvies. At the risk of angering the once—and almost certainly future—light heavyweight champion, I ask him the question I've been wanting to ask since we met.

Why the hell would a pro fighter, days away from the end of a yearlong drug suspension, admit to doing drugs? That's not exactly flying under the radar, is it?

Jones doesn't skip a beat: "As far as me doing coke before a fight, that's not me trying to be a bad guy. That's me frickin' doing a bump—you know, at a party. The truth of the matter is, you'd be surprised how many people have done coke. I've been around some of the greatest athletes in the country. Athletes with a lot bigger names than me do coke. But people don't talk about it.

"I just like to have a good time, man," Jones says. "If you can afford to smoke a little weed, and do a little coke, and still win world titles, who's to tell you you can't? I understand these things are illegal. And once you get caught doing it, it's humiliating. But at the same time, I'm not an addict or anything like that. You don't see me walking around weighing fucking 100 pounds with my teeth rotting out and scabs all over my face."

"As far as me doing coke before a fight, that's not me trying to be a bad guy. That's me frickin' doing a bump."

He mentions the basketball iconoclast Charles Barkley, who created a controversy two decades ago when he said he considered himself an athlete, not a role model.

"That's exactly where I'm at right now in my career," Jones says. "If you want to look up to me or love me for some reason, then go right ahead and I'll try to be somebody that will be remembered for a long time because of winning fights. I would like to try to make a positive impact on people, you know, one way or another. I don't want to be this bad guy. But at the end of the day, I'm not going out of my way to be Mother Teresa. Nobody asked me to be a saint."

Through the trials of his past several years, Jones says, his parents, brothers and fiancee have supported him unwaveringly. That is what matters to him. "The cool thing is that my family never once came down on me. They were just right there under me the entire time, lifting me up." (Six weeks before the Cormier fight, Jones' mother, Camille, died of complications related to diabetes.)

"I think, honestly, he's finally starting to figure himself out," says his brother Arthur. "He was the youngest UFC champion in history, and that comes with a lot of pressure. I could easily have been on that bandwagon of crushing his confidence and saying, What the hell are you doing? You're messing up your life! and stuff like that. But I took the big-brother approach. He knew I was there for him.

"I'm not saying he's not going to make more mistakes, because life is all about lessons and learning from it and growing," Arthur says. "But I'm excited to see him get back in the Octagon and see how the evolution of the man is coming."

Jones opens the door and slides into the maroon leather cockpit of the Corvette. "I just want to be me, man," he says. "I don't want to be known as a good guy or a bad guy. I just want to be me. I don't have it in me to try to pretend. I don't care anymore.

"Right now, you got the rawest form of myself that I think I've ever been. And it's a lot easier to be this way. Earlier in my career, I wanted to be, like, the Michael Jordan of UFC. Now, I feel like I am who I am. The proof is in the winning. I don't have to act like a winner. I am a winner. And I'm a winner even if I'm rough around the edges. Even if I'm a Christian who swears and smokes weed and drinks and does whatever, this the champ you have. This is the champ I am."

Mike Sager is a writer-at-large at Esquire, where he won the 2010 National Magazine Award for profile writing. A former staff writer at the Washington Post and contributing editor at Rolling Stone, Sager is the bestselling author of 10 books. Follow him on Twitter: @therealsager

Click here to get B/R Mag on the go in the new B/R app for more sports storytelling worth your time, wherever you are.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.