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B/R Exclusive: Jon Jones' Plans for the UFC Heavyweight Title and Life After MMA

Tom TaylorContributor IDecember 31, 2020

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Somewhere amid his string of recent victories over Anthony Smith, Thiago Santos and Dominick Reyes, Jon Jones began to feel unsatisfied—even bored. It's a difficult thing for most of us to comprehend, in that it's really no different from growing bored in a tank of underfed sharks, but that's the nature of Jones' greatness in MMA.

Stick to anything long enough—even beating the best light heavyweights in the world—and the tedium will eventually set in.

That's why Jones, who held the UFC light heavyweight championship in a vice grip for the majority of the last decade, beating almost every other 205-pound fighter worth mentioning, recently decided to vacate his throne and make a bold climb up to heavyweight to hunt the sport's apex predators.

"I was just ready to challenge myself," Jones told Bleacher Report several months after he decided to give up his light heavyweight title. "I was ready to enter a new chapter in my career. At this point, I'm in this sport for legacy and for the biggest-paying fights, and I just don't think that continuing on at light heavyweight was going to do much for my legacy."

Had Jones wanted to, he probably would have been allowed to keep his title and strive to become a concurrent two-division champion. Other fighters like Daniel Cormier and Conor McGregor have been afforded that opportunity, and Jones would certainly have deserved the chance based on his competitive achievements.

Yet the former champion speaks of the light heavyweight belt like it was an anchor—something that needed to be jettisoned in order to move forward.

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"The reason why I decided to vacate the light heavyweight belt and not hang onto it is that I knew my move to heavyweight was going to take a really long time," Jones said. "I didn't want to be one of those athletes to slow down the division. I feel like I've held onto the light heavyweight championship for so long—I've ruined so many people's dreams of being the light heavyweight champion—and now it's time for someone else to have it.

"I thought it was the right thing to do for everyone else," he added. "I could have done the selfish thing and held onto it and come up with a bunch of excuses and lied to the fans and said I was going to come back down to light heavyweight and made all these guys wait. I didn't want to do that. I have no intentions of ever going back to light heavyweight."

Jones' decision to abandon his title was a risky one. There's no guarantee he'll win the heavyweight title, meaning there's a possibility he could end his career as a contender rather than as a champion.

Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

But so far, his decision is serving its desired purpose.

With the light heavyweight division growing smaller in his rear-view mirror and the heavyweight landscape opening up ahead of him, he's feeling reinvigorated.

"I've been feeling so alive lately in my training," he said. "I've been feeling so motivated. So inspired. It's just a great feeling. I know this motivation and this liveliness I've been feeling is going to translate into dominating victories."

Since Jones committed to moving up to heavyweight, he's been glued to the squat rack, packing on the mass he'll need to compete with the sport's biggest, strongest fighters.

While he's likely still some distance from his heavyweight debut, ESPN recently reported that he will likely be given an immediate crack at the winner of an as-yet-unscheduled heavyweight title fight between dominating champion Stipe Miocic and cannon-fisted challenger Francis Ngannou.

Jones can confirm that's the current plan and finds the prospect of fighting either man endlessly compelling.

"I'll be ready for either of them," he said. "Both fights are extremely challenging. Stipe, he's the greatest heavyweight of all time. He has all the stats and records to prove that. And then Francis is just a freak when it comes to his knockout power, and he's improving constantly.

"Both fights are gigantic challenges, but that's what I'm here for in this stage of my career: to go big and see what I've got."

Victory against titans of Miocic and Ngannou's standing cannot be guaranteed—not even for a fighter as dominant as Jones. Yet the former light heavyweight champion believes the feat is achievable, and despite all the times he's had the light heavyweight title wrapped around his waist, he admits it will be a special moment when the heavyweight strap is clasped behind his back.

"It'll feel amazing," Jones said. "Somewhere along the line, getting that light heavyweight championship wrapped around my waist, the excitement and other emotions it should have evoked, kind of went away. It was just another day at the office. It was what we always do. But I haven't won that heavyweight championship yet. To do that for my family, and do that for my team, and all the people that have invested in me over the years, it'll be something new for all of us."

As excited as Jones is to write this new chapter of his career, it doesn't sound like it will be a very long one. The light heavyweight legend hopes to win the title, defend it a few times and then hang up his gloves.

With plenty of money in the bank thanks to his legendary MMA career and many lucrative sponsorship deals—he most recently signed on as an ambassador for men's online fashion retailer boohooMAN—he'll be able to focus on the other things that matter to him.

"I would love to win the heavyweight championship, defend it two or three times against the top heavyweights out there, and then I'd really like to transition into humanitarian work," Jones said.

Jones speaks often about his desire to make an impact through humanitarian efforts. That desire seems to be a product—at least in part—of the many mistakes he's made in his younger life.

They're mistakes that any dedicated fight fan can recite from memory, mistakes that have resulted in so many public apologies and broken promises that many people have understandably given up hope that he's capable of staying out of trouble.

In 2012, he got his first DUI. In 2015, he was involved in a hit-and-run. In 2019, he was charged with battery after a woman told police he slapped her genital area, pulling her down onto his lap and kissing her neck while she was working as a waitress. She also said he picked her up off the ground, put her in a chokehold and didn't stop when told. Jones pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct and received a 90-day deferred prison sentence and probation.

In 2020, he was once again booked for driving while impaired. He's also admitted to past cocaine use and has had several high-profile and complicated tangles with the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

In the wake of these mistakes, Jones says he hopes to inspire people by showing them "it's never too late to get on the right track." While it remains to be seen if he can stay on the straight and narrow himself—he's tried and failed to do so many times previously—he's adamant that he intends to.

Whatever the future holds, Jones will leave behind a complicated legacy as one of MMA's most controversial figures, or, as he puts it, "a very human athlete."

A heavyweight title would do little to change that, but it would cement his status as one of the best fighters of all time. Maybe even the best outright.

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