With former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones constantly making headlines, it’s easy to forget that he hasn’t actually set foot in an octagon since defeating current 205-pound champion Daniel Cormier at UFC 186 in January of 2015.
But in the main event of this weekend’s UFC 197 in Las Vegas, Jones will be making his first octagon appearance in more than 15 months when he attempts to take the first step towards reclaiming his belt in a five-round affair against sixth-ranked Ovince Saint Preux for the interim light heavyweight title.
Originally, Saturday’s slug-fest was set to feature the second meeting between Jones and Cormier in a light heavyweight title fight that was supposed to finally decide the division’s true champion. But at the beginning of April, a leg injury caused Cormier to postpone Saturday’s rematch and Saint Preux was given the opportunity of a lifetime.
Once mma’s undisputed pound-for-pound king, Jones’ often chaotic life outside of the octagon led to struggles with substance abuse and several run-ins with the law including an incident involving a three-car accident that caused the UFC to strip him of his title and suspend the New York native in April of 2015.
Along with being arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence after crashing into a telephone pole in May of 2012, Jones also tested positive for metabolites of cocaine in December of 2014, and his involvement in last year’s accident essentially forced the UFC to suspend the troubled former champion.
”I was a drug addict,” Jones told USA Today Sports. ”One thing people don’t realize is that you can be a drug addict even if you’re a stoner. If you are waking up every day and smoking, smoking before you eat, smoking before you train, smoke before you sleep, smoking before you watch a movie, smoking before your study session, you are an addict. It doesn’t have to be a hard drug to be an addict.”
With his personal problems addressed and his sights set on what he does best, Jones was finally ready to mount an attack on the division’s elite and work towards getting his belt back. But Cormier’s injury threw a wrench into those plans, and now Jones will be facing a deadly opponent who he hasn’t fully prepared for.
A former college football player at the University Of Tennessee, Saint Preux is an elite athlete with the octagon potential to offer Jones the same type of headaches he had with Alexander Gustaffson. And if you’re not buying into to the possibility of an upset, a quick look at OSP’s UFC resume and the recent history of seemingly-invincible superstars might change your mind.
But unless Saint Preux does something career-altering to steal the spotlight, Saturday is all about Jones’ triumphant return to a sport he once dominated.
Whether you support Jones, or feel that he deserves to lose at such a critical point in his career, is irrelevant. He defended his title on eight separate occasions during his time at the top, and if he was able to become one of the greatest fighters in mma history while living the life that eventually led to his downfall, imagine how dangerous he could be in the future.
And now, that’s all that matters.