ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jon Jones took time on the microphone after beating Daniel Cormier to win back the UFC light heavyweight title Saturday night to shower praise on Cormier and his two-year reign as champion in Jones’ absence.
Jones, who fought just once since early 2015 due to an arrest and suspensions, made sure to say he felt like Cormier was a legitimate champion while he was gone.
“I’ve always felt that way about Daniel, but it was spontaneous,” Jones said at the UFC 214 post-fight press conference. “I’ve always felt like he’s a pretty classy guy, a guy to be respected. A standup champion, model champion. Unfortunately, I came into this game at a young age with big ideas. Despite how good of a person he is, there’s no mercy in combat and I had to do what I have to do. It’s either me or him. So, what happened happened. But he should be respected. I don’t think he should be questioned, whether he was a true champion or not in my absence.”
Perhaps Jones is now looking to take some inspiration from Cormier heading into his second run as UFC 205-pound champion. “Bones” was the youngest champion in UFC history, at age 23, when he beat Mauricio Rua in 2011. That reign was marked by absolute greatness — Jones is thought of as the best MMA fighter of all time — but also multiple outside-the-cage issues.
There were DUI arrests, a felony hit-and-run arrest, a positive cocaine test, rehab and a one-year suspension for failing a drug test for two prohibited substances. Jones said he’ll be a different titleholder away from the Octagon this time around.
“This fight feels like my first championship ever, almost,” Jones said. “Because I feel like I have a new beginning. I went through such a dark period and depression and all these things. And now the light is here at the end of the tunnel and I feel like I’m leaving my past behind me. And I’m erasing everything that I’ve done before. I feel like this is a start to a new career, a new championship. I feel like I want to be a better champion than I was in the past.
“So, I feel like a new champion. This is my time to start all over and to be a better champion and be the champion that the fans deserve.”
Jones, 30, defeated Cormier by third-round TKO in the UFC 214 main event. The first two rounds were close. Two judges had it 19-19 heading into the third. But Jones ended it authoritatively with a head kick and ground and pound.
Despite the violent finish, Jones believes he’s capable of better. He criticized his defense; Cormier hit him quite a few times with “big punches” in the first two rounds. Jones, though, believes that will all be corrected and he’ll be better than he ever has been moving forward.
“I feel like the best is yet to come,” Jones said. “At age 30, I feel like I’m in my physical and mental prime. Just believing that will allow me to train at a higher level and just expect more out of myself. I feel like my best years are still ahead of me. I think it should be very scary to a lot of these light heavyweights that I’m still the youngest guy in the division and I’m gonna be here for a long time.”
Jones (23-1) admitted to having rough times over the past three years. He was stripped of his belt for a felony hit-and-run arrest in 2015 and then yanked from a Cormier rematch at UFC 200 last year due to a failed drug test. Jones has been open about his personal struggles and said this week that it has been freeing.
He underscored that again Saturday night and now it has come full circle. Jones is the champion once again, finishing his biggest rival and the man who held the gold in his absence.
“We made a shirt that said “Unbroken,’” Jones said. “I’ve made that my kind of life motto or slogan, whatever. Just to be unbroken and to believe in your dreams, despite how you get sidetracked in life. Just to remember why we started this and remember how great we all can be. It just shows that you can’t be broken — can’t bend me, can’t break me. I feel that way right now. I feel stronger than ever.”