Jon Jones knows he has a target on his back heading into UFC 232.
With his second PED-related suspension about to reach an end, the embattled former light heavyweight champion is scheduled to rematch Alexander Gustafsson for the 205-pound title on Dec. 29 in Las Vegas at UFC 232. Jones’ return has been a controversial one, to put it mildly. Many within the MMA community were critical when he was issued a reduced 18-month suspension for his second USADA offense, and several of his peers have voiced doubt regarding the legitimacy of his past accomplishments because of his multiple failed drug tests. A common question that has been debated is whether Jones can still be in consideration as the greatest fighter of all-time despite his drug-testing issues.
But Jones is taking the criticism in stride ahead of his long-awaited return to the cage.
“I think it’s great,” Jones said Monday on ESPN’s First Take. “I’ve been able to do great things in this sport, and unfortunately I had a hiccup with this steroid situation, and I’m grateful that USADA came out and proved my innocence by saying, ‘Hey, this was a little bit of a misunderstanding,’ and it just goes to show how dominant I’ve been in the sport.
“I feel like people have always wanted to kind of say, ‘Well, the reason why he’s so good is because his brother is around the NFL,’ or, ‘He’s so good because he has really long arms,’” Jones added. “People have always made excuses for my success instead of just saying, ‘You know what? This guy is actually really intelligent. He has a really good fight IQ, and this is what makes him a champion.’ I feel like I have a lot to prove. I’ve always had a lot to prove.”
One of Jones’ most vocal critics has been his biggest rival, current UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.
“DC” has questioned the decision of the independent arbitrator who gave Jones a reduced 18-month suspension for his most recent steroid scandal — a scandal which stemmed from a failed drug test relating to Jones’ UFC 214 rematch against Cormier. Jones initially defeated Cormier via brutal head-kick knockout, however the result of the bout was ultimately changed to a no contest and Cormier was awarded back his UFC title.
Asked about Cormier’s claim that Jones wouldn’t have been suspended at all if he was actually innocent, “Bones” was blunt in his response.
“What is my reaction to that? Can we swear on this show? Screw Daniel Cormier,” Jones said. “Screw Daniel Cormier. My last situation was a terrible situation, steroid allegation type of thing. It wasn’t an allegation — I did have a trace amount of steroids in my body. Thank goodness went through their whole process to prove my innocence. Through science, we were able to prove that there was a very trace amount of steroids in my body. One of the people said, ‘The amount of steroids in Jon Jones’ body was like taking a pinch of salt and throwing it into an Olympic-sized swimming pool.’
“And that’s something that, we have no clue how it got into my body. We did everything in our power to figure out how it got into my body, where this came from. I’ve spent thousands of thousands of dollars throughout all of this, testing and getting supplements tested. We were still not able to figure out where it came from.
“Instead of judging and just saying, ‘Oh, this guy’s lying, because he’s always been a winner,’ you look at the science and USADA is a credible drug-testing agency,” Jones added. “They always have been. They tested Lance Armstrong and just lots of great athletes, the highest level athletes throughout history, and they don’t make mistakes. So the fact that I’m here back fighting is because they don’t make mistakes and I was able to be proven innocent.”
Jones also noted that he considers his legacy as the greatest fighter in the sport to still be intact, despite what his critics may say, and he plans to prove that once more at UFC 232.
“What I have to do is I’ve got to go out there and be exactly who I am, exactly who I’ve always been,” Jones said. “I know in my spirit that I’ve never cheated in this sport. Like I said, USADA was able to prove that it was a such trace amount that it had no affect on my performance. I’ve always passed every drug test.
“I am the best fighter in the sport,” Jones added. “I always have been the best fighter in the sport. Nothing’s changed, so I should perform in exactly the way that I’ve always.”