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What happens next in the book of Jon Jones?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The UFC is all about them mulligans. Jon Jones is back. The time is now for the pound-for-pound best in the assorted techniques to return to his domain. The man whose only loss in a cage came down to his own misunderstanding of 12-to-6 elbows is back on the clock. The UFC reinstated the beleaguered champion on Friday, just in time to set up a clash with Daniel Cormier, who is — in the eyes of many — masquerading around with a belt that ain’t rightly his.

Jones is now cleared for that Colossal Rematch, which was the least surprising development since Conor McGregor ended up getting slotted to coach TUF. What Jones does with this latest reboot becomes the next bit of drama.

That’s because second chances are meant to be generous gestures from people kind enough to forgive wrongdoings. In this case it feels more like something like a third chance (maybe even a fourth), some kind of "dude, please don’t eff this up again" olive branch that the UFC is extending towards him. Images are in play. Millions of dollars. There was the DUI thing, when he crashed his Bentley in upstate New York. There was the cocaine thing. With Jones, the extracurriculars conjure to mind disco balls.

Can’t be like that anymore, even if he is only 28.

The latest chapter in the "Bones" saga will come with additional scrutiny, not to mention miles of fan disenchantment. There are plenty of people who will now actively root for Jones to fail — more than there were before. After all, failing is all he’s done outside the Octagon. Inside of it, he remains impervious to the cascade of boos. He’s 21-1, with eight title defenses. Because of what he can do inside of the cage, the outside becomes more exaggerated. So far, Jones balances out his greatness with folly.

This time, though, the UFC is doing the policing, and you get the feeling that they can’t keep getting embarrassed by Jones. There’s an athlete "code of conduct" in place that specifically applies to people like Jones, who recently reached a plea agreement in a hit-and-run case in Albuquerque to avoid jail time. It’s all very public this time through. We know the woman he hit was pregnant, and that he left behind paraphernalia, and all about the fistfuls of cash. It all goes into the desperate feel of caution coming from all the major sectors of his livelihood: Sponsors, TV execs, the UFC brass, fans, everybody.

UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, never anything less than a sea of tranquil calm, issued his statement.

"We’ve made it clear to Jon that this new opportunity to compete in UFC is a privilege and not a right, and that there are significant expectations we have regarding his conduct moving forward," he said. "We’re happy to read and see reports that he has embraced the terms of his plea agreement and is using this experience to grow and develop as a person."

Never mind that Jones is already up to his social media posting-then-deleting shenanigans, or that his initial foray back into the public sphere feels uncomfortably the same as when he left it, he says he understands the situation, and that he has gained a lot in his time away.

"I am grateful for the opportunity to resume my career and I am excited to show how much I’ve grown as a person outside of the octagon," he posted on his Facebook on Friday after being reinstated to compete again. "It took me losing almost everything I had worked for to realize how much I had. I am blessed and humbled by the continued support of the MMA community and I can’t thank my fans enough for their unwavering support through my ups and downs. This marks the beginning of a new chapter in my life and my career and let me assure you, the best is yet to come."

It’s not a clean slate — it’s just a new premise. More ups for Jones means this latest episode will begin to fade away. More downs could mean that Jones himself will. The latest chapter on Jones is all about his direction.

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