As Dominick Reyes was in the middle of a sparring session with one of his training partners as he prepared for a showdown with Jon Jones at UFC 247, he accidentally got an eye poke during one of the exchanges.
Immediately, Reyes’ training partner paused, apologized and asked if Reyes was OK to continue. Without hesitation, the 30-year-old light heavyweight contender put up his gloves and moved forward to finish the round.
“I said just keep going, it’s training, we’ve got to get ready for this guy,” Reyes relayed when speaking to MMA Fighting.
Getting ready for Jones not only means taking on the greatest light heavyweight fighter in the history of mixed martial arts. But Reyes also believes there’s more to this particular challenge than what lies inside rules.
Throughout his career, Jones has gained a somewhat notorious reputation for eye pokes in many of his biggest fights.
He’s been admonished by referees on numerous occasions in the past for the accidental foul, including several past title fights against Alexander Gustafsson, Daniel Cormier, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Glover Teixeira. Jones has also faced warnings for pawing at his opponents with open fingers, which can often times lead to those inadvertent eye pokes.
Despite repeated issues, Jones has never faced a point deduction for the eye pokes, or extending his fingers when reaching towards an opponent. Reyes is well aware of that fact as he gets ready to throw hands with Jones on Feb. 8.
“It’s something where it is what it is. Not much I can do about it except give the referee an advanced, ‘Hey man, please look out for this, he’s notorious for this,’” Reyes said. “It’s going to be hard for me to get in. I’m not going to run my face directly into fingers. It is what it is. It’s just another challenge that he presents.
“I think more than just the fingers being outstretched is that he stays busy with that lead hand. I think that’s what keeps guys at bay, he paws with it and he paws exactly at his range. That’s been a gigantic weapon of his. It sets up the rest of his arsenal. It helps him find his range.”
In a 2016 documentary called “The Hurt Business,” Jones admitted eye pokes had become a problem for him, also stating “it’s very illegal, but I do it.” At the time, Jones said putting his outstretched hand on an opponent’s head was an effective maneuver to keep them out of punching distance.
Unfortunately, many times those extended fingers resulted in eye pokes.
Reyes knows it’s a constant problem, which is why he fully intends on warning the referee in Houston about the potential for eye pokes coming from Jones and that he should be admonished if it happens.
“It’s a blatant rule break,” Reyes said. “You can’t do it. It’s in the rules. It’s been talked about many times. Either you’re going to do it, or you’re not going to do it. It’s up to me on fight night to talk to the ref and make him aware.”
Obviously, Reyes expects that his skills will ultimately trump Jones in the fight. But that doesn’t mean he will look the other way if the reigning light heavyweight champion is breaking the rules.
That’s why he hopes the referee will do his job and punish Jones for the rules infractions if they happen. In the end, Reyes doesn’t want to win in controversial fashion because points have been deducted from Jones’ scorecard but he also doesn’t want to lose because his opponent got away with cheating.
“This is a championship fight – I’ll win however the hell I can,” Reyes said. “You’ve seen ‘The Waterboy.’ It’s the championship game, you can’t hold anything back. There’s no holding back. I’ll take it however I can get it.
“Listen, the rule is, we’re taking a point away. That’s the rule. If he’s going poke me in the eyes, now I’m compromised, (and) that gives him a huge advantage. If I can’t see, if half my vision’s gone, that’s point worthy.”