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Jon Jones says people want him to move to heavyweight ‘because, quite frankly, they want to see me lose’

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS — Nary a fight week can go by without Jon Jones being inundated with questions about a potential move to the heavyweight division.

Jones, the UFC’s reigning light heavyweight champion, has made it clear that heavyweight is in his future at some point. His longtime rival Daniel Cormier is the current UFC heavyweight champion and Jones has openly welcomed a fight against former heavyweight titleholder Brock Lesnar. But at 31 years old, Jones is also in no hurry. And with a UFC 235 title defense against Anthony Smith waiting around the corner, “Bones” doesn’t see his situation at 205 pounds changing anytime soon.

“I think people want me to go to heavyweight because, quite frankly, they want to see me lose,” Jones told MMA Fighting at UFC 235’s open workouts, “or get close to it, or take some serious damage — and at heavyweight, the risk goes up tremendously. These guys are a lot bigger than me. And they say all the time, when you get a talented little guy versus a talented big guy, the odds are in the big guy’s favor, right? So I think that’s the pressure.

“I don’t think it’s fair, really, because I’ve always been a light heavyweight. Despite who the champion’s been, I’ve never challenged anybody at heavyweight. And I feel like I’ll move up to heavyweight on my own terms, when I feel like the UFC’s playing ball with me contractually to entertain that. No one’s entertaining any idea of switching the contract for any superfights, so we’re just kinda stuck at this spot here, fighting at light heavyweight.”

Jones (23-1, 1 NC) has been in high spirits all throughout UFC 235 fight week. After a nightmarish four-year stretch that saw him stripped of a UFC belt three different times and fail multiple drug tests, he is finally back in his natural element of competition. He regained his light heavyweight title in December with an effortless third-round TKO over Alexander Gustafsson, then jumped at the chance for a quick turnaround against Smith in Las Vegas.

In Smith, Jones faces a former middleweight who has found new life since moving up to the 205-pound division. “Lionheart” is a perfect 3-0 at light heavyweight with a trio of knockouts over former champions and current contenders — even despite being one of the smaller fighters in the division. Smith said Thursday that he was already close to being on weight, sitting around 206 pounds a day before weigh-ins.

Jones, on the other hand, said he was around 215 pounds and feeling good on Thursday, and he believes the size discrepancy could play into his favor.

“As you can see right now, I’m not sucked out,” Jones said. “I feel great, my energy’s high, and I think it will be a little bit of a disadvantage [for him]. I predict that I will be lean [on Saturday] and lighter, I won’t be showing up around 226 … probably more like 221 when I actually fight him, and he’s going to get a full light heavyweight that’s lean and fast. And I think I’m going to get kind of a big middleweight, so that will be working against him.”

Given the two men’s backgrounds, it’s not surprising that Jones is positioned as an overwhelming favorite heading into UFC 235, with some sportsbooks listing him as high as a 14-to-1 favorite to successfully defend his title. But Jones has also made the mistake of overlooking opponents in the past — his first fight against Gustafsson in 2013 stands out as the most notable example — so he is staying acutely aware of not falling into the same trap all over again.

“It’s a dangerous position for me to fight someone like that because he has nothing to lose,” Jones said. “He can go out there, close his eyes and swing for the fences. I wouldn’t advise you doing that. But yeah, he has nothing to lose in this situation. Believe it or not, I don’t really realize why so many people are counting this guy out. He had 30 amateur fights, he has 40 professional fights. That’s 70 fights. This guy is by far the most experienced guy I’ve ever fought, and he’s youngest guy I’ve ever fought in the UFC.

“So, we look at him as a legitimate threat. And I know he’s using that against me somehow, saying, ‘Why does Jon keep saying that he’s taking me serious, why does Jon keep saying that he’s taking me serious,’ as if I’m trying to convince myself that I’m taking the fight seriously. My coaches know that I’m taking the fight serious. My body knows that I’m taking the fight serious. And he’ll see on Saturday that I took this fight serious.”