Former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was officially reinstated to the promotion last week, but according to his manager Malki Kawa, the fire that’s been burning inside of him to return to competition and redeem himself has been smoldering for months.
Jones was suspended and stripped of his title back in April after he was involved in a hit-and-run accident before being sentenced in September to 18 months of probation.
As he prepares for his return to action in 2016, Kawa says Jones is ready to conquer the light heavyweight division all over again while getting a second chance to make up for mistakes in the past.
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"He understands what he has to do," Kawa told FOX Sports. "Certain decisions that he’s made, I’m sure he wishes he could have them back and he’s a really, really great guy and the fact that he gets to go back out there and show everybody what type of guy he really is and what type of athlete he really is."
"How many of us go through life and do some things and we wish we could have had a second chance of doing them a little bit different? That’s kind of like what he’s got right now: an opportunity to do everything he did right, do it all over again and everything he has ever done wrong, to do that right again. I don’t think you could ask for anything better and it’s a good position to be in."
It’s no secret that Jones’ first fight back in the Octagon will be against the same man he last defeated to defend his UFC title for the eighth consecutive time.
In Jones’ absence, Daniel Cormier won the vacant title and just recently defended it at UFC 192 in Houston against Alexander Gustafsson. Cormier has spoken openly about his desire to rematch Jones and now that he has the belt it’s a foregone conclusion that they will meet again next year.
That said, Jones has defeated Cormier once already, so the next fight is just about reclaiming what he never lost, and the fact that it’s coming against the same guy he defeated in January is really just a matter of circumstance.
"The reality of it is we all know DC needs this fight just as bad as anyone does. Jon doesn’t need to fight DC for anything, the only thing that Jon needs to fight DC for is to get the belt back around his waist and be called the champion again by the UFC and the reporters," Kawa said. "In reality, in our hearts and everything, we understand that we never lost that belt.
"We understand that he’s the greatest of all time, in my opinion, he’s the greatest of all time. He’s the greatest fighter I’ve ever seen fight. The string of people he’s beaten, including Daniel Cormier — and I think Daniel Cormier will go down as one of the greatest as well — so a lot of respect towards Daniel Cormier. I think he’s a phenomenal fighter, he’s just not better than Jon."
Bad blood fueled the last fight between Jones and Cormier until the two fighters reached a boiling point at a press conference in 2014, where a brawl broke out in the lobby of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
It’s a regrettable moment for both fighters, but Kawa says Jones isn’t the same person now that he was the last time he fought Cormier. Actually, facing Cormier for a second time isn’t what gets Jones out of bed everyday — it is because the former champion is so self-motivated right now the entire division should be worried.
That includes the person currently toting the title.
"It could be anybody right now. Jon is the most focused I’ve ever seen him," Kawa said. "With that being said, it’s taking very little to motivate Jon and when that happens there’s a problem. Because when Brandon Vera talked too much, Jon wanted to prove a point. When ‘Rampage’ (Jackson) did what he did, he wanted to prove a point. He has his most dominant victories when guys are extra motivating him.
"I’m not going to say Cormier is helping this thing, Jon’s already motivated and focused without Cormier. Jon doesn’t even think about Cormier. He beat Cormier. Jon has beaten Cormier, it wasn’t close for Jon, the incentive of fighting Cormier again is that he gets to take the belt and say ‘this is my belt and I’m going to put it back around my waist and be called the champ.’"
As of now there’s no definitive timeline for Jones’ first fight back in the UFC, but there are plenty of dates he’d be interested in. At the top of the list is the proposed UFC card in New York City at the famed Madison Square Garden in April, which is Jones’ home state.
Outside of that, Jones and his team are just waiting to talk to the UFC to figure out the perfect landing spot for his return, and then it’s all steam ahead as he prepares to walk into a title fight without the belt for the first time since 2011.
"It just depends on getting a good fight date set and once we get that set he’ll get a good fight camp and we’ll go from there," Kawa said. "He’s had the time off, his body’s rested, he’s healed, he’s in great shape, he’s mentally, physically all in the right place. It’s just a matter of us getting with the UFC and getting a firm date set and making this thing happen.
"There’s a lot of big dates coming up for the UFC — one of them’s Madison Square Garden, one of them’s UFC 200, there’s obviously Super Bowl weekend. There’s obviously a lot of big fight dates out there, it’s just getting the stars to align."