A day and countless national television and radio interviews later, Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier found themselves in a better place Tuesday, understanding each other better than they did before coming to blows in the lobby of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Monday.
“We’re both smart, college-educated guys and both understand marketing and selling the fight … but that we went too far and embarrassed ourselves,” Jones told The Times on Tuesday afternoon before a publicity event at LA Live’s Club Nokia with Cormier to hype their Sept. 27 pay-per-view light-heavyweight title fight at MGM Grand.
At their face-off Monday in Las Vegas, champion Jones (20-1) leaned his head onto challenger Cormier’s forehead, drew a shove to the throat and responded by charging the challenger, throwing a left hand as those close by and the promotional backboard on the stage fell by the wayside.
Jones was later pulled from atop Cormier after being seen throwing at least two more punches, then standing on the platform to roar, “Yeah! Yeah!”
On Tuesday, Jones said he didn’t regret “standing up for myself,” joking by slamming both fists on a table in front of him and barking, “This is America!”
The champion said upon reflection he soberly took stock of his place as champion for a sport whose push for mainstream acceptance is still a work in progress.
“I realize our sport is going against the wave, that some people consider our sport taboo and barbaric,” Jones said. “I realize my actions didn’t help, and that’s why I was the first one to come out and apologize to D.C., the public and the organization.
“I realize my actions could’ve almost set us back. But I think it’s temporary. The exposure that’s come from it is something that shouldn’t be ignored. We were on ‘Good Morning America’ this morning, and literally people are talking about it everywhere -- it was the sports story of the day.
“So it’s something I’m not proud of, but it definitely had its advantages.
“I try to carry myself as a true professional, a role model, a leader. Disgracing the UFC was never my intention, but I felt obligated to defend myself. In the day of bullies, maybe the bigger man should walk away. But sometimes it’s OK for the bigger man to stand up for himself.”
Cormier (15-0) understands bullying. He recounted Tuesday of stories growing up in Lafayette, La., when boys harassed him.
“For a really long time, I struggled to defend myself,” Cormier said. “These kids would pick on me. One year, it was Easter. There were eggs. And this kid just popped me in the eye with the egg and punched me. I got up and left -- and struggled with that for a long time.
“Kids can sense that fear, there’s a stench. A number of occasions … I was an easy target. So my mom put me in sports, in wrestling, to teach me to defend myself and when I need to, I go back to that and defend myself. I have a 3-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter … I don’t want them to go through the stuff I did. So when that happened, I’m like, ‘I’m not standing for that anymore.’
“Whenever someone aggressively confronts me, I’m going to stand up for myself. That thinking shaped me to go to college [Oklahoma State], the Olympics, to do all the things I’ve done in my life.”
Cormier landed the Jones bout when top-ranked contender Alexander Gustsafsson suffered a knee injury in training.
“It doesn’t have to be all wrestling,” Cormier said of the coming fight. “I think the only way he thinks he loses is in wrestling, but I can win in so many other ways. I’m going to try to take him down, that’s part of fighting. He is too, he has the best ground and pound in the division. But my wrestling is more than a defense.”
The fight caps tension that has built since the pair were introduced backstage at the 2010 Cain Velasquez-Brock Lesnar heavyweight title fight in Anaheim.
“I was introduced as Cain’s wrestling coach, and it seemed condescending that Jon said, ‘Well, I bet I can take you down,’ ” Cormier said. “I’m like, ‘No, you couldn’t.’ I was a year out of the Olympics. He said he was just striking up conversation. For me, if you’re trying to start up conversation, you don’t insult someone.
“I hung onto it. It festered. This morning on a radio show we did, he said I’m childish and petty. I said, ‘Do you understand how this could be interpreted?’ ”
The pair realize, they say, the words and amateur scuffling will give way to a title fight before a capacity crowd and a pay-per-view audience expected to be better than Jones’ richest yet, a 2012 title defense over Rashad Evans.
“We have to make sure the lines are different between the UFC and WWE, and UFC and boxing,” Cormier said. “We have to come off in a way that that doesn’t represent the sport. We’re not a couple of thugs … but there’s a lot of emotion in fighting. High emotion. High stress.”
Just to be safe, there was no face-off planned at Tuesday’s event in Los Angeles.