Note: This is the column I wrote for this week’s Crunch Time.
Fight fans are excited as one of the greatest mixed martial artists is returning to the octagon.
The UFC announced it had reinstated former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Oct. 23, to its active roster. The organization suspended Jones in April, after his involvement in a hit-and-run accident in Albuquerque, N.M.
At the time, Jones allegedly ran a red light and crashed his rental car in a collision involving two other vehicles before fleeing the scene on foot. After authorities issued an arrest warrant, he turned himself into the Albuquerque Police Department.
Around this time, the UFC suspended him and stripped him of the light heavyweight title. In his first court appearance, April 23, Jones did not enter a plea. In September, he reached a plea agreement with authorities to avoid jail time and was given an 18 month supervised probation. There will be no felony conviction for him if he meets all the conditions of his probation.
Jones took to social media to say he is thankful for a chance to return and looks forward to proving himself as a champion “inside and outside of the octagon.”
In the past, fans criticized Jones for several reasons, including poking the eyes of his opponents and his unwillingness to fight on short notice, which led to UFC cancelling its first event in 2012. Now folks are welcoming him back with open arms.
I’m not going to sit back and judge Jones, and say he has no place in MMA or make him out to be a monster who doesn’t deserve a second chance — we all make mistakes — but he has some personal growth to undergo, otherwise his actions outside of the octagon are going to cost him his fighting career.
From an athletic standpoint, I think Jones will still be the competitor he was before his suspension. When a fighter takes time away from active competition, there’s always the question of how much ring rust he’ll have to shake off when he returns to competition.
But Jones is far above most of his competition in the light heavyweight division. He defeated current light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier in his last title defense in January before the UFC stripped him of the belt.
It’s logical that UFC would book a rematch between Jones and Cormier, especially since they could bill it as the former champion coming back to claim the belt he never lost. Cormier is also excited about the opportunity to fight Jones, saying that the former champion’s reinstatement is the “best news” he’s heard in a long time. Jones and Cormier have traded verbal jabs over social media leading up to their first fight and even got into a brawl during a pre-fight press conference. Since Jones’ reinstatement, the two have resumed their trash talking.
But there’s speculation that Jones will have a tune-up fight before a shot at the title. In a statement, the UFC wrote that it is currently discussing a potential date for Jones’ return, but there was no mention of Cormier as an opponent.
While Jones’ image as a fighter hasn’t been tarnished, his life outside of the octagon has taken a few hits over the years.
The hit-and-run accident wasn’t his first run-in with legal trouble. In 2012, he was arrested for driving under the influence after he drove his vehicle into a pole. Before his fight with Cormier, he tested positive for benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t prevent Jones from fighting because benzoylecgonine is not banned out-of-competition by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Jones entered a one-night stay in rehab after the news came out.
Although it reinstated Jones, the UFC isn’t giving any leeway to their former champion.
In a statement, Lorenzo Ferttita, UFC chairman and CEO, stated that he and the promotion has made it clear that they have expectations from Jones and that his reinstatement is a “privilege, not a right.”
Part of Jones’ conditions in the plea agreement includes 72 separate appearances for charity or youth outreach. His public relations team has already bombarded various news sources with pictures of Jones appearing at local Boys and Girls clubs, juvenile detention centers and elementary schools.
Hopefully, these good deeds are genuine and Jones can keep himself on the straight-and-narrow.
Jones is regarded as one of the most dangerous fighters on the planet but his toughest opponent may in fact be, himself.