Former UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones pronounced himself back and ready to fight again after another performance-enhancing drug suspension and a stint in rehab that kept him out of the octagon more than a year. He’ll have a shot at reclaiming the vacant belt in his return, a daunting Dec. 29 rematch against former title challenger Alexander Gustafsson.
“I don’t feel [the transgressions] can be erased, but I feel like in the society we live in, people are able to forgive and forget as long as you show signs of trying to be better than you were the time before,” Jones said at Friday’s news conference at Madison Square Garden.
“We all had things we’re not proud of. We’ve all made mistakes. The difference in being who I am is you can Google me and figure out what’s gone on with my life. I’m not beating myself up. I forgive myself, which is important to do. Mistakes … it’s what we do with them. And I have a lot more chapters left in my book.”
Now 31, Jones (23-1) will fight for the first time since July 2017, when he stopped Daniel Cormier at Honda Center in an outcome changed to a no-contest when Jones failed a post-fight drug test. He was stripped of the title and suspended for a third time, but an arbitration panel later ruled that Jones had ingested the banned substance accidentally and cleared his return.
Jones previously defeated Sweden’s Gustafsson (18-4) by unanimous decision in 2013, a bout widely viewed as Jones’ toughest challenge in the UFC one of the most action-packed in the sport’s history. Nicknamed “The Mauler,” Gustafsson has lost only to Jones and Cormier since 2010.
The return marks Jones’ third from an extended layoff; he faced comebacks in 2015 following a car crash that injured a pregnant woman and in 2016 after a positive drug test.
“I’ve been training my butt off in boxing this whole time. I’m better than I used to be,” Jones said. “I came back … and every time I’ve been out, I’ve showed up. I feel that fighting spirit is in my heart and it’s not going anywhere.”
He expressed no interest in fighting Cormier for a third time even though Cormier, who made his first defense of his heavyweight belt Saturday night in the UFC 230 main event against Derrick Lewis — a fight that ended too late for this edition of the Times — has said he’d like to meet Jones in a light-heavyweight title fight before he retires next year.
“If he wants to come back to light-heavyweight, he can fight one of the contenders. He got knocked out last time we fought,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t fight D.C. at heavyweight. I’ve beaten him twice. I have nothing to prove.”
Gustafsson, who received a light shove from Jones after stepping in front of him in the news conference faceoff, said he plans to avenge the prior loss.
“It’s the biggest fight of my life. I won’t respect him like I did last time. I have the opportunity to beat him and I know he bleeds like everyone else,” Gustafsson said.
The Dec. 29 card at UFC 232 in Las Vegas also includes a super-fight between women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes, the bantamweight champion.
Nunes said she wanted to fight her Brazilian countrywoman because “it’s my chance to be remembered as the best [women’s] fighter ever. I want that for sure. I want my name remembered.”
Cyborg, a forceful puncher, says she plans to impose her will on the lighter champion.