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Coach Mike Winkeljohn says ‘in some ways’ he shares in responsibility for Jon Jones’ travails

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UFC 197 Photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Over the years, many superlatives and adjectives have been used when speaking of Jon Jones, most often in the realm of “greatest” or “youngest.” Yet since spring of 2015, when he was involved in a hit-and-run incident in Albuquerque, the word “beleaguered” has crept in front of all titles. The “beleaguered” champion.

That sentiment was exacerbated at UFC 200 in July, when Jones — at the eleventh hour — was removed from the main event unification light heavyweight title bout with Daniel Cormier after testing positive for a banned substance (an estrogen blocker that Jones said was the result of a sexual performance pill). He is currently serving out a one-year suspension that is retroactive to July 2016.

Yet after developing a reputation as a partier and admitting that he would sometimes get blackout drunk a week before a fight, there are some who are throwing up their hands at Jones. His coaches, Mike Winkeljohn, Greg Jackson and Brandon Gibson, are not among them.

His Albuquerque team has been behind Jones the whole way, and Winkeljohn says he even takes some of the blame for what has happened to Jones.

“It’s tough, there’s no doubt about it,” Winkeljohn said on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “There’s a lot of disappointing times that Jon’s had in the past, and that in some ways we’re all kind of responsible for, in that we haven’t given him the proper guidance.

“But this last one, really it was him just doing childish things. He wasn’t cheating, he wasn’t doing anything that way — I don’t know what the media did to propel it as such. But he’s just not being smart enough and I think they threw him under the bus because of his past problems. They’re looking at him saying, hey, you should have asked if this drug could have been tainted with anything.”

Jones has had an embattled career after becoming the youngest ever UFC champion back in 2011 when he beat Mauricio Rua at just 23 years old. Since that time he has had multiple moving vehicle violations, including a DUI in his home state of New York, and he tested positive for cocaine after his UFC 182 bout with Cormier.

After the 2015 hit-and-run, he was stripped of the light heavyweight title, and he has since been stripped of the interim title as well for the latest suspension.

As for the latest incident, which cost Jones millions of dollars and forced the UFC to make on-the-fly changes to its biggest card of the year, Winkeljohn says it’s more a lesson for Jones — and all fighters, really.

“It’s kind of a slippery slope, because now people are like, okay, you didn’t ask about anything you eat and digest,” he said. “I know it’s on them, but it’s kind a crazy thing how these guys are tested. And I think now that they know they’re being held accountable, and somebody’s going to be overseeing everything they put in their bodies.”

Though Winkeljohn said he took some responsibility for perhaps not giving Jones the right guidance, he did point out that ultimately Jones has to correct his own course.

“I think that, yeah, I think that probably I should have yelled at him more often, that type of thing,” he says. “It’s mostly that he’s made his own bed, there’s no doubt about it. But hopefully we keep talking to him, and I think he’s turned the corner. He knows, and I think he’s driven to better himself and get back to what’s important in life and not just having fun.”

“Wink” said he wouldn’t do anything drastically different in handling Jones going forward.

“It’ll probably be close to the same, because I’ve always tried to be tougher with him,” he said. “It’s just, like I’ve always said, no one beats Jon Jones but himself. So it won’t change a lot, but I’ll probably be a little tougher with him, yes.”

As Jones gets ready for a summer return to the UFC, he’s been keeping busy. He partook in the Submission Underground 2 grappling event on Dec. 11 in Portland, Oregon, against the recently retired Dan Henderson. And as such, he’s been showing up at the gym to train specifically in the grappling aspect.

“But we’re easing our way back in to the stand-up stuff as well, and trying to develop his game so that when he comes back he’s better than ever,” Winkeljohn said.

Asked if Jones would be up for an immediate title shot when he’s cleared to fight again, his coach said that was the plan.

“Oh, I think he’s ready for an immediate title shot when he returns, no doubt,” he said. “Jon is I think the pound-for-pound best in the sport.”