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Dominick Reyes: ‘The lore of Jon Jones is bigger than he actually is’

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Jon Jones has a resume that should intimidate even the steeliest challenger.

A 25-1 record, with the sole loss coming by way of disqualification in a bout he was dominating. Two undisputed UFC light heavyweight title reigns. Ten successful defenses. And a hit list that includes almost every elite name to ever compete at 205 pounds.

Knowing all that, Dominick Reyes is ready to jump into the lion’s den when he meets Jones in the championship main event of UFC 247 in Houston on Feb. 8. The unbeaten 30-year-old is the next man who will attempt to hand Jones his first true defeat.

Reyes and Jones faced off at a press conference in Las Vegas this past December, and Reyes’ first impression of “Bones” wasn’t what he expected.

“I wasn’t intimidated at all,” he said on Thursday during a media luncheon in Los Angeles. “It was interesting in the faceoff, that’s the first time I ever met Jon in my life, ever came face to face or even near him. We were face-to-face and my heart rate didn’t raise at all. I felt at home. I was like, ‘This is it, this is Jon Jones.’

“The lore of Jon Jones is a lot bigger than he actually is.”

That lore includes wins over MMA legends like Vitor Belfort, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, and Mauricio Rua as well as more contemporary rivals like Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson. None have been able to get their hand raised against Jones.

The same can be said of Reyes’s opponents so far. While Reyes hasn’t faced the same level of marquee competition, he is 12-0 as a pro, and his most recent win was an emphatic KO of former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman. Bringing his own undefeated record to the table, he’s doesn’t allow doubt to creep into his head.

“I absolutely do think [Jones’s previous opponents may have psyched themselves out],” Reyes said. “It’s easy to fall into that. Every single person is trying to tell you that. ‘Oh my God, you’re fighting Jon Jones. What are you gonna do?’ I’m gonna fight. I’m gonna do what I’m great at. I’m gonna do what I love doing. And that’s just what I’m gonna do. People think it’s a lot more. It’s still a fight, it’s just a fight.”

Going back to his initial impression of Jones, Reyes couldn’t pinpoint exactly why he was so calm with the greatest challenge of his career literally staring him in the face. What he does know is that if anyone is looking for cracks ahead of the fight, he thinks it was Jones who showed signs of mental weakness.

“I thought he was going to be glowing or some s*it,” Reyes said. “My whole life I grew up watching this guy exuding all these different kinds of energies, and when I saw him in person, and when I faced off and I was this far away from him, I was like, this guy’s just a man with very many insecurities. I can see it all over him.”

“He doesn’t want to lose,” he continued. “His ego drives this guy. I’m driven by love and passion. A lot different there.”

Reyes’ four fights prior to the UFC lasted an average of 51 seconds, so it’s fair to say there were expectations he could someday challenge for a title after his Octagon debut. First-round finishes of Jeremy Kimball and Jared Cannonier only increased the hype, and though a close split decision win over Volkan Oezdemir raised some doubts as to whether he was a viable contender, his headlining win over Weidman assured him of his own abilities.

The atmosphere surrounding that fight, Reyes’s first-ever main event, went a long way to getting him into the championship mindset as well.

“Obviously this last fight, knocking out Chris Weidman in a minute is no easy feat,” Reyes said. “I don’t think anybody’s ever beaten Weidman in the first round. I think dealing with that whole fight week, and then once I was backstage and I was completely relaxed, and I was watching the fights and I was like, ‘Man, I want to get into a scrap tonight.’ Greg Hardy was in there. (I said), ‘I just want to throw down, bro. I kind of want to get hit!’ And he was like, ‘Yeah bro, me too!’ And then we both started getting pumped, and I was like hell yeah, this is gonna be dope. I was just chilling.

“The warm-up was great, and then on the walk I just felt so at peace, like I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. I felt like everything was aligning, perfectly aligning for me. And after that fight it just seemed like this is the next step. I’m ready.”