Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
TORONTO -- Just two days from UFC 152 and a matchup with Vitor Belfort, Jon Jones still hasn't been able to let UFC 151 and a declined opportunity to face Chael Sonnen fully go. Part of that is because the media and the sport's followers won't let him, but part of that is because Jones himself isn't quite ready to put it behind him.
During a Thursday press conference, Jones repeated twice that he was never told that if he turned down the proposed Sonnen fight that a scheduled show on Sept. 1 would be canceled, an assertion that contradicts UFC president Dana White's August statement that Jones knew "what the consequences were and what would happen."
Nearly one month later, Jones and White haven't yet cleared the air. In fact, they've yet to be in the same room together. That should have changed on Wednesday, when the pair should have been side-by-side at the UFC 152 press conference, but White was a no-show for the pre-fight event held at the Real Sports Bar and Grill downtown after reportedly being held up by traffic.
Instead, the two will meet behind closed doors on Friday just prior to the event weigh-ins, much to Jones' chagrin.
"I don't know why we're meeting at that time because obviously my mental state won't be as clear being dehydrated and hungry, but that’s when our meeting is scheduled," he said.
Jones has always felt that he unfairly became the scapegoat for the cancellation of that show, and while he acknowledged that he feels "horrible about how it all played out," he also suggested that he will accept the feedback even if he doesn't believe it's warranted.
"Even if I get booed, I’m still happy to be here, guys," he said. "I'm going to put on the best show I can for you guys, for sure."
The statement got a mild cheer from the crowd assembled to watch the proceedings, and for the second straight day in the city, Jones received more cheers than boos. While Belfort clearly received the louder, more impassioned response, Jones so far hasn't been viewed as public enemy No. 1 since touching down on Canadian soil.
Whether that means his message has been received or that the fans here are simply happy to see another title fight added to a card is unclear, but either way, Jones is using the pulpit to further explain himself.
He mentioned his preference of going into a fight with a well-crafted game plan. He mentioned the changes of going from Dan Henderson to Sonnen as an opponent. He mentioned that he wasn't a UFC executive capable of making the ultimate decision to pull the plug on an event. He even mentioned that adversity can help a person mature.
But even after all he's gone through, after all the fan backlash and the blowback from the UFC executive offices, Jones couldn't really say he would have made a different decision even if he had known the card would be canceled with a refusal to fight.
"I really don’t know," he said after a few moments of thought.
"Being a champion means more to me than it means to any fan," he said later.
He went on…
"If I lost that fight, Dana wouldn't have lost a night of sleep over it," he said.
"I can't really carry the weight of what happened because it wasn't my thing," he said.
"I think some real questions need to be asked of Dana about why those fights got canceled," he said.
And on it went, Jones occasionally coming back to a point he wanted to make, perhaps fine-tuning his upcoming words to White in the process.
A few feet away, Belfort was always watching, peering around the podium between them to get a better look at Jones' body language and mannerisms. His name only came out of Jones' mouth a few times, but when it did, Jones had only good things to say. Belfort, he said, was evidence that he has no fear of fighting anyone.
"Vitor Belfort, in my opinion, is a lot more intimidating than Chael Sonnen," he said. "Chael Sonnen does not have knockout power. He has double-legs [takedowns] but I've wrestled since I was 14 years old. I’m not Anderson Silva. I can defend double-legs very well. I believe, for the people who question whether I'm afraid or not, that I just accepted a fight that is way harder than fighting Chael Sonnen or Dan Henderson."
It was one of few times when Jones mentioned his opponent by name. Whether that's a sign that he's still thinking about UFC 151 or that he's simply answering the questions that are asked of him, Jones has had plenty to think about on that goes past what he will be doing.
And in the end, he says he's comfortable with it all, even if it has to be addressed one final time before moving on.
"I’m grateful that I did decline that fight because I get to fight for you guys here in Canada, so I'm grateful to be here," he said. "I do believe that with a good performance, it will be behind me. For the people that actually brought tickets to that [UFC 151] fight, I apologize to them for not being able to see the fight. I think it's very awesome to be holding one of those 151 tickets. I would like to have one myself. It's kind of monumental in a way. But yeah, I believe a good performance will help people forget. And for people who refuse to forget, well, I don't think there's anything I can do about that but move forward."
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