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Malki Kawa on Jon Jones: 'I've never seen him this focused'

Esther Lin photo

Jon Jones' manager, Malki Kawa of First Round Management, has an idea about how the perfect return for mixed martial arts' top pound-for-pound fighter would play out.

"In a perfect world, New York State gets approved and he makes a comeback in Madison Square Garden," Kawa said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.

Of course, obstacles remaining before that can happen, the chief one being that MMA is still illegal in New York.

At this point, though, Jones' crew has plenty of experience in dealing with life's curveballs. As anyone who follows the sport can tell you, the former UFC light heavyweight champion has dealt with legal issues this year, which put into question his future in the sport.

But with Jones receiving probation after pleading guilty to a felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident following an April incident in New Mexico, and the UFC officially lifting its suspension of the fighter last week, the only questions which remained were whether Jones still wanted to fight, and if so, how long it would be until he returns.

"At some point, they were going to reinstate him," Kawa said. "The only thing I never knew for sure was whether or not he wanted to fight. We talked about a lot of different things, about whether or not he wanted to fight, so I always wondered, does he really, really want to do this?"

"I always knew there would be a day where he said 'yeah, I definitely want to do this,'" Kawa continued. "But I didn't know if it was right when he suspension got lifted, if it would be a year from now, if it would be UFC 200, if Madison Square Garden would be enough. I didn't know if he'd say yeah I want to do this. He really was frustrated, you know what I mean? He just needed the time away, and now that he's had that been able to reflect and see what's important to him."

Ultimately, Kawa believes, the unplanned time away from the sport has helped Jones get his head back in the right space.

"As he really had time to himself, he really started to reflect and figure out what he really wanted," Kawa said. "And what he really wanted was to fight. It came into question, he was under a lot of pressure, a lot of stress, a lot of expectations. Some of this is stuff he put on himself. ... Before that last fight, he wanted a break, he wanted a long break, and every fight kept on presenting itself, and every time the UFC wanted him to fight, he just didn't say no. It mounted up and he got the time away. Once he got the time away, and had time to really think about what he wanted, at the end of the day it ended up he wanted to fight."

While the details of when exactly we'll next see the sport's best fighter in the Octagon remains to be worked out, Kawa says he knows one thing is for sure: Jones is more focused than he's ever been.

"The only word that can really describe Jon right now is ‘focused,'" Kawa said. "I've never seen him this focused. He's super focused. He's more focused than he's ever been before. Everybody's got their opinions. He did this, he did that, whatever. That's all fine and dandy. He's still the greatest fighter we've ever seen, right. I'm watching him through many different camps, and the coaches have told me how he does many different things through many different camps. This is the first time that he doesn't have a fight scheduled, he's in Albuquerque, and he's actually training. Most of the time when he doesn't have a fight, he doesn't train at all. There's no weightlifting, there's no jiu-jitsu practice, there's no boxing, there isn't anything. So, this is the first time we can sit here, all of us, and say he's actually putting in some work. And he's really putting in some work."

Until then, Jones' team will hold out hope for a storybook return.

"New York would have to get approved, and in my opinion, the stars align for everyone, the UFC, the state of New York, Jon makes his comeback and wins his belt, his home crowd, that would be pretty cool," Kawa said.

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