LAS VEGAS -- It wasn't long ago that Jon Jones was persona non grata in the UFC.
Just three years ago, Jones felt the weight of the organization come down hard on him for his refusal to defend his UFC light heavyweight title against Chael Sonnen on short notice at UFC 151. The UFC ultimately cancelled the event, and in a scathing subsequent media call, UFC president Dana White proclaimed UFC 151 to be "the event Jon Jones and Greg Jackson murdered."
So it should come as no surprise that Jones, more so than anyone else in attendance at UFC 197's open workouts, could relate to what UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor is going through.
"Hats off to him for standing up for what he believes is right," Jones said a day after the UFC pulled McGregor from UFC 200's main event opposite Nate Diaz.
"At the end of the day, business is business, and the guy obviously has respect for himself and his talents. Fights like this will help fighters in the future. So, I respect his balls. ... I respect his willingness to fight for what is right."
McGregor stunned the mixed martial arts world on Tuesday by announcing his retirement on Twitter. The UFC yanked the Irishman from UFC 200 hours later -- however it made no nod towards McGregor's retirement. Instead, White attributed the decision to McGregor allegedly refusing to travel to Las Vegas to participate in pre-event promotion for UFC 200.
One day later, the situation between McGregor and the UFC remains mired in mystery, although Jones agreed with White's belief that McGregor will fight again inside the Octagon once the dust settles.
"I don't think he's retired," Jones said. "I don't think he's going to retire. Just a few days ago, on his Instagram, he said ‘hungry like day one.' So, a guy like a Conor, he is a fighter and he is a winner, and I don't think he would want to go out on a loss. I think if he doesn't fight again, his legacy is really that Diaz fight. So I'm pretty sure he'll back."
Many observers have speculated that the issue which led to the UFC pulling McGregor from his rematch against Diaz at UFC 200 was the result of a financial disagreement. White firmly refuted that notion on Wednesday, however many believe there to be more to the issue than the UFC is letting on, and McGregor's silence since posting his retirement tweet has done little to calm the chatter.
In many ways, the situation has spoken volumes about the immense popularity of McGregor -- as days before the long-awaited return of Jones from a 15-month layoff, McGregor's decision remained on the forefront of the conversation around UFC 197.
"Conor knows what he's doing," Jones said. "Like I said, I believe he'll be back. Conor has made a lot of money, so I'm sure he's in a position right now where he doesn't need to jump up and fight at the next event. I'm sure he can afford to take a long time off, so yeah, he'll be back."