Anthony Smith has walked in Jon Jones’ shoes.
Long before he was a top ranked fighter in the UFC, the 31-year-old light heavyweight was battling with a lot of personal demons that led him down a path of self-destruction.
Drinking and partying eventually led Smith to a drunk driving accident that landed him in the hospital with no memory of what happened the previous night. That ended up serving as rock bottom for Smith, who started to turn things around in the aftermath of that horrific moment.
Just recently, Jones was arrested for aggravated DWI, negligent use of a firearm, carrying an open container in his vehicle and driving without proof of insurance. It was his second arrest for driving under the influence and the third time Jones has been arrested under similar circumstances after he fled the scene in a hit-and-run accident back in 2015.
In the aftermath of Jones’ latest brush with law enforcement, many have called for the UFC to intervene and strip him of the light heavyweight title. Others have suggested that perhaps a stint in jail would serve as the wake up call that Jones needed to finally correct his constant bad behavior.
Smith promises none of that is the answer.
“It doesn’t matter what punishments you get, how much jail time you do, it doesn’t matter who leaves your side, it doesn’t matter fines you get, it doesn’t matter how many times you lose your title, it doesn’t matter how many sponsors leave you and it doesn’t matter what people say about you,” Smith said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I promise you, Jon Jones is not going to change until he wants to change.
“Until Jon Jones is ready to stop doing the stuff that he’s doing and stop feeling that nasty feeling you get when everything comes out. He’s not upset that he got caught. He’s upset because everybody knows about it now. Until he’s done doing the things he does, he’s not going to change. I know that for a fact because I was Jon Jones.”
As easy as it might be to criticize Jones for all his mistakes, Smith isn’t as quick to wag his finger at the current 205-pound UFC champion because he’s been there before.
That’s why he knows with absolute certainty that the UFC punishing Jones for his latest transgressions won’t really solve the long term problem.
“I’ve done the things that Jon Jones has done,” Smith explained. “I’ve been in a drinking and driving accident when I was the driver. I’ve gotten multiple DUI’s. I’ve been in jail before. None of that stuff changed until I was ready to change. That was it. I don’t hide it. Jon is trying to hide from everything.
“Until you can be a man with your head held high and say you know what I f*cked up and I’m done being a f*ck up, nothing is going to change. You see the fans saying ‘the UFC needs to do this, the UFC needs to do that.’ It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what they do. Until he’s ready to change himself and it’s cliché, it’s every self-help book you’ve ever read your whole life, but it’s the truth. I didn’t change until I was ready to change.”
Jones hasn’t addressed his latest arrest outside of a statement released through his representatives.
In that prepared statement, Jones said that he was “disappointed” in himself and the people he let down while adding that he took “full responsibility” for his actions.
Eventually, Smith expects Jones to do a full mea culpa before returning to his fight career, which is the same pattern he’s followed in the past.
“We all know how this story’s going to go,” Smith said. “He’s going to do his little rehab thing. He’s going to come out and do a 45-minute interview. He’s going to apologize. He’s going talk about how he’s going to change. He’s going to say he appreciates everybody. And then we’re not going to hear from him for a little while.
“Then he’s going to fight, he’s going to win and he’s going to thank everyone for sticking with him the entire time, and then a year later, we’ll be starting over again.”
Because this has been a pattern of repeated behavior with Jones throughout his career, Smith can’t say he expects dramatic changes based on what he’s seen so far.
Still, Smith can’t help but notice some real red flags being raised with Jones based on this latest incident where he was found alone in a car with a handgun, a bottle of liquor during the middle of a citywide lockdown due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t understand what’s going on with him,” Smith said. “There’s deeper issues there. Jon needs to find out honestly what makes him happy. Once he finds that out, we’ll figure out what he needs to lose before he changes. What’s your bottom?
“I know what mine was and I know what it took for me to change but it’s not losing his title. It’s not financial cause he’s already lost a sh*t ton of money. It’s not his public perception cause he’s already trashed that a couple times. I don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff going on and there’s a lot of demons he’s got to deal with. At this point, nothing Jon Jones does would ever surprise me. It’s crazy.”
Considering the muted reaction Jones received after this arrest tells Smith that he’s already gone too far in the eyes of even his most loyal supporters. The fact that no one seemed all that surprised by this latest incident tells Smith everything he needs to know regarding how Jones is being perceived.
“I don’t think anyone believed him when he said he was changed anyways,” Smith said. “So a lot of people aren’t surprised. I think it’s a negative no one was surprised. When you get to a point where you get arrested for another DWI and you’re firing off a firearm when it happens and no one is shocked and it’s not even that big of a news story anymore, I think you’ve irreparable damage.
“I think that’s the nail in the coffin for Jon. The fact that no one was surprised and it wasn’t that big of a deal, I think that’s the bigger issue.”
At this point, Smith knows that only Jones is capable of pulling himself back from the ledge to prevent something like this happening again.
He expects Jones to say all the right things over the next few months as he tries to walk the straight and narrow following this latest arrest. The real proof whether Jones has truly cleaned up his act or not will be judged through actions, not words.
“It doesn’t matter what Jon Jones says. It matters what Jon Jones does,” Smith said. “What he says and what his actions are, are two completely different things. I don’t give a sh*t what he says. I care about what he does and I’m not rooting against Jon Jones here.
“I hope Jon figures it out only because I’ve been there before and I know what the other side of that fence looks like and he’s stuck on the wrong side of it now.”