The beginning of 2015 was bittersweet for UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who defended his title against Daniel Cormier at UFC 182 only to have it come to light that he tested positive for cocaine in an out-of-competition test.
Though the drug certainly didn’t help Jones in his fight on Jan. 3, it did alert people that there might be a behind-the-scenes problem. Jones himself propelled the notion when he checked into rehab for a night. Since then those close to him have gone on record saying that the champion doesn’t suffer so much a drug problem as a "partying problem."
And one of those who echoes such sentiments is his striking coach, Mike Winkeljohn, who trains with Jones in Albuquerque, N.M. "Wink" made an appearance on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, and said that it doesn’t help that Jones has bad influences around him.
"No, he doesn’t have a problem," he told Ariel Helwani. "He parties. In my opinion, it’s definitely not an addict type of thing at all. I think he sometimes finds himself hanging out with idiots."
Jones, who became the youngest champion in UFC at 23 when he defeated Mauricio Rua at UFC 128, will try and defend his title for a ninth time on May 23 against Anthony Johnson. A native of upstate New York, he said during the lead-up to the Cormier fight that he is now relocating permanently to Albuquerque, which will help with his focus.
His coaches are all for the idea.
And Winkeljohn, who along with Greg Jackson runs one of the most successful gyms in the country, is a straight shooter. He referred to himself as a kind of elder family member who harps on doing the right things in and out of the gym. And he didn’t sugarcoat his feelings on his initial discovery of the failed test.
"Well, it’s disappointing," he said. "There’s no doubt about it. It’s disappointing that he’d be partying before a fight. With that being said, I don’t think it helped him in the fight, I think it probably hurt him in the fight, because partying…it’s taking away from his focus, and he’s not rehabbing the way he should. But, the main thing about it is, okay, now it’s out there, he did it, we got to fix it, he’s got to overcome it and be better for it. It’s so hard. I’m kind of like the older uncle yelling at him all the time.
"With that being said, I also believe in Jon Jones. I believe in his legacy. I believe he’s going to make it to the top. Honestly, he’s a young kid with everything thrown to him. And it’s a tough situation. Almost every other athlete that has been put in that situation, in some ways it’s crash and burn."
Winkeljohn said he’s surprised that Jones avoided a worse fate, given the sudden fame and fortune.
"Honestly, I would have thought long ago, if you would have asked me five years ago, I would have thought, gosh, Jon would have fallen off a cliff, because of the influences from all these idiots hanging out with him," he said. "I thought he would fall off the cliff. But Jon has good balance. Apparently he stood at the edge of the cliff, but he didn’t fall off, so now he’s getting back on the path."
Jackson said a few years ago that the one man who could beat Jon Jones was Jon Jones himself. In 2015, Winkeljohn still thinks that’s the case. When asked if it’s a fear of his that Jones could tarnish his legacy before reaching the greatest summits in MMA, he said it was.
"Sure, I’m definitely worried about it," he said. "We’ve had that conversation. So, not only does he hang out with idiots, he acts like an idiot sometimes, and if he keeps doing it he will become an idiot himself."
The good news is that Winkeljohn thinks Jones has taken back control of his life, and is headed in the right direction as he gets ready for "Rumble" Johnson.
"I think he has it under control, and you’re going to see a great fight in May when he comes back," he said. "He’s already back to training a little bit, slowly but surely getting back into it. He’s never done that before in the past. Jon is just a believer. He has a lot of self-confidence. I really enjoy teaching him, because he’s almost like a video game. If I ask Jon to do something, he just does it. And how cool is that -- that I have that situation? That I can kind of control what he does in the cage. He listens to all my codes and stuff. So not only am I proud of where we’ve got him, but I’m looking forward to taking him to a higher level."