As UFC 214 draws nearer on the calendar, the anticipation for the rematch between current light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones begins to take on additional gravity. Yet there’s always a hypothetical nature to a Jones-Cormier fight. They were supposed to meet at UFC 197, until Cormier fell out of the fight with an injury and was replaced by Ovince Saint Preux. Then they were booked to fight at UFC 200, only to have that scotched when it was announced that Jones had failed a USADA-administered out-of-competition drug test (subsequently landing him a one year suspension).
And Jones’ longtime coach, Mike Winkeljohn, likes what he sees at the training compound in Albuquerque. “Wink,” who was a guest on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, said that Jones is not only in the right mindset for his return, but he’s got a few new wrinkles in his game.
“Everything is good,” Winkeljohn said. “[Jones]’s coming in with a smile on his face. I’m going to tell you what, Jon’s coming in and he’s finding new ways to hit people with elbows. He keeps bringing them real close to people’s faces and then just stopping with a smile, and continuing on with the process. So he’s got some new things that are even meaner for Daniel this fight.”
Jones defeated Cormier at UFC 182 in Jan. 2015 via unanimous decision to extend his title defense streak to eight. It was Cormier’s first loss in professional MMA. The win solidified Jones as one of the greatest martial artists of all time.
Yet things haven’t gone his way outside the cage since then. He has but one single fight — the decision over Saint Preux last April — and has had numerous run-ins with the law, the most significant which involved a hit-and-run situation with a pregnant woman. He was stripped of his title at the time, and though he won the interim 205-pound title at UFC 197, he has since been stripped of that too for his USADA violation.
Still, plenty of people consider Jones the real champion in the division, and the rematch with Cormier offers a sense of resolution to one of MMA’s biggest feuds.
One of the questions before Jones-Cormier II was booked was whether or not Jones should take a “tune-up” fight before stepping back in there with Cormier. Winkeljohn said that such a step wouldn’t be necessary.
“I love [Jones] fighting for the belt,” he told Ariel Helwani. “I don’t think he had any need for a tune-up fight to fight Daniel Cormier. I think as much as I do respect Daniel, I think this is a good fight for Jon, because the first time Daniel couldn’t take him down. Jon was able to take him down. Jon was able to beat him everywhere, and I think that plays into our favor with this fight.
“We can expand on that and change some things that Daniel will try, so that he fails once again.”
Winkeljohn said his confidence in Jones to win back the title wasn’t to shrug off Cormier in any way. “No, that’s not it, I think everybody’s a threat,” he said. “But Jon, he studies so much in the fact that we had a lot of things, he had a lot of things figured out. Jon had a lot of things figured out in that first fight, because he watches fight tape, he studies so much that I think that’s kind of one of those things he’s got it mostly figured out already, and it should play out the same way. That’s why I was okay with it.”
Given Jones’s ongoing struggle to stay out of trouble, there’s been plenty of caution in dealing with him for his return fight. UFC president Dana White went on record saying he could never trust Jones in a main event again, though he obviously has cooled on that stance given that Jones and Cormier will headline UFC 214.
From the insider’s perspective, for the guys that coach and work with Jones on a daily basis, there’s not a lot of concern — especially from Winkeljohn, who has had his own private meetings with him Jones in camp.
“I know I’ve had that talk with him, and I’m sure all these coaches had that talk with him — or at least I hope they would’ve,” he said. “But, he’s on the straight and narrow. I would say Jon Jones, nobody beats Jon Jones but himself. And he’s been focused in training camp and through last week on the right things. So with that being said, should be a great fight for Jon.”