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Old rifts aside, Dana White believes 'totally different' Jon Jones capable of being sport's best ever

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BALTIMORE, Md. -- The relationship between UFC President Dana White and UFC light heavyweight Jon Jones has not always or even consistently been harmonious. Even today, Jones doesn't seem to regard it as particularly special. That doesn't mean, however, that things aren't in a position that isn't mutually advantageous.

Two days out from Jones' next title defense at UFC 172, White is insistent he's on Jones' side. As proof, the UFC executive is ready to heap praise on a fighter that is capable of achieving unparallelled greatness even if the pair don't share tight friendship.

"I don't know. I think if you keep winning the way that he wins, you might not have to like him, but you'll definitely respect him," White said of Jones at Thursday's Ultimate Media Day.

"I say it all the time, look at what he's accomplished. Look at what he's done at such a young age. The guys he beat, the guys he's gone through. And look at who he has in front of him, who is not a five-to-one underdog. After this he's got [Alexander] Gustafsson and possibly [Daniel] Cormier. He hasn't had an easy road and it's not looking any easier for him, but those are the kind of fights that create your legacy. If this kid wins the next three fights, it's hard not to call him the greatest light heavyweight ever. What do you call him after these next three fights?"

For White, perhaps he doesn't have much to say in praise of Jones when speaking personally about him. It's more than possible he cannot summon a friendly word about Jones' fighter ethos or friendliness or the strength of their bond. Perhaps he doesn't have to. If all else fails, White is ready to point to Jones' resume, something he suggests no skeptic in the world could possibly deny.

"Look at who he beat and the next three that he's got. If he beats Glover on Saturday, he continued, he'll fight again towards the end of the year, which will be Gustafsson. Then at the beginning of next year he'll fight either Cormier or Henderson. If he wins those two fights, what will he be, 27 [years of age]? 27 years old and he'll have beat all those people. It's just, I don't know, man. It's pretty crazy."

White, however, isn't dismissive of the bumpy path both have taken to arrive at this moment. In a unique twist of events, he's even willing to acknowledge it's not simply someone else's fault, but a mutual failing.

"Anything's possible, but I think the rough road for Jones is behind us. We had our moments. He had his moments when he became a star and started making a lot of money. I think he's over all that. I don't see that happening again, but anything's possible.

"I think he's a totally different guy now. I even had my doubts after the Gustafsson fight, but he's bounced back from that, too. His attitude has changed. When you take your first ass whipping, the guy had never been in a fight like that in his life. He dominated everybody that he fought. Then he went in against Gustafsson and that fight was a war."

"And everybody here saw and fans all around the world saw it: he was in deep water and kept fighting and came out with that elbow," White continued. "He came out and fought the fifth round like he wanted to win the fifth round. He wanted to win that fight and keep the title. It takes a lot, man. It takes a lot to do that. I guarantee those two guys felt closer to death than they ever had in their whole life and when you fight through something like that, it's just, it makes you a different person one way or the other. You either don't want to do that again or you rise to the occasion and realize you're the champ. I think Jones did that," White concluded matter of factly.

Nevertheless, there's a palpable coldness between the two, if more from Jones' side than White's. It isn't a cold war, exactly, but it's enough chill to feel. For the UFC President, though, it's a situation he doesn't see as particularly bad nor one he can meaningfully improve. And ultimately, it's not about their past. It's only Jones' future that matters.

"Could I say more good things about him? He's on the right track. He's on his way to possibly being the greatest ever. Maybe he's the greatest ever in three fights. He might be.

"Whether you like Jon Jones or you don't like Jon Jones, you can't deny what he's done. What he's done is unbelievable. He choked [Lyoto] Machida unconscious. He destroyed Shogun [Rua] in minutes. All these guys that he's walked through. It's unbelievable. No matter how much you love Gustafsson - I love Gustafsson - I love the way he fights, I love his attitude, I love everything. I don't care if you f--king hate Jon Jones, you cannot deny he won that fight. He won that fight."

"If he gets through [Teixeira] and the next two fights, I don't know what we're even talking about here. He might be the greatest ever."