Jon Jones looks to further his MMA legacy with another successful defense of his UFC light heavyweight championship.
The controversial Jones meets the undefeated Dominick Reyes this Saturday in the main event of UFC 247. Jones (25-1-1) is one of the greatest fighters in the history of the UFC, but Reyes (12-0) is one of Jones’s toughest challenges since his most recent return in December 2018.
Though only two years separate the 32-year-old Jones from the 30-year-old Reyes, the two competitors have very little in common in their MMA careers. Reyes only has six years of experience, while Jones has been fighting professionally for the past dozen years. There is also a great disparity between the quality of their opponents, as Jones has defeated some of the sport’s most elite fighters, while Reyes is fighting in only his seventh bout in the UFC.
Jones spoke with Sports Illustrated to discuss Saturday’s fight, his longstanding rivalry with Daniel Cormier, his thoughts on the best fighters in the world and whether Reyes is too overconfident for the fight at UFC 247.
Justin Barrasso: In a world of super fights and champ-champs, you have stayed true to your light heavyweight division all this time. Anyone familiar with the sports knows your reputation as possibly the best fighter in history. You’ve flirted with heavyweight at times—Brock Lesnar seemed interested, while Israel Adesanya has shown interest in a fight. But what does it mean to have stayed at light heavyweight for so long? And what keeps you motivated when you continue to clean out the division?
Jon Jones: Being able to do something that’s never been done before is what keeps me motivated, and that keeps me in the light heavyweight division. I’ve already broken a lot of records in the light heavyweight division, but I also want to use this weight class to break even more records outside of the division. I feel like the light heavyweight division is my lane. If it’s not broke, don’t try to fix it. Things are just going well. I feel like I’m really starting to master what I’m doing in the weight class that I’m doing it in, and being a part of history is a part of my motivation.
JB: Dominick Reyes is obviously your focus for this Saturday, but it is nearly impossible to think about you in the cage without at least a passing thought about Daniel Cormier. Is he ever on your mind as you train? Were you disappointed he lost to Stipe Miocic? Or your focus lies elsewhere?
JJ: Daniel Cormier’s not on my mind anymore these days. I feel like he was a great chapter in my career. He was a great test, a test that I passed. And these days I wish him nothing but the best. Sincerely.
JB: Narrowing in on this Saturday’s fight, what do you respect most about Dominick Reyes?
JJ: I feel like he’s saying all the right things. I respect a man who can at least put on a happy face.
JB: Can overconfidence hurt Reyes? Or is that necessary when preparing for a fight against you?
JJ: I don’t think he’s overconfident. He’s confident, but not overconfident. I can see the fear in him through the little things he says.
JB: You have dominated nearly three generations of fighters. There is not much you have yet to accomplish in mixed martial arts. But Saturday is an opportunity to make a statement against Reyes and remind people what you can do in the cage. Is this fight going to be a statement for you?
JJ: For me, I try not to overthink it. To Dominick Reyes, this is one of the biggest fights of his career. This is like a make-or-break opportunity for him. In my heart, this is just what I do. I say it quite often—it’s just a piece in this puzzle that I’m trying to create, a puzzle that will look like greatness when it’s all done. I have to take every piece of this puzzle extremely seriously and give it my best effort and best energy in order to ever be great.
That’s the way I look at it. It’s not a big fight, it’s just another fight. It’s just the path that I’m on. I’ll treat him like I treat everybody else—with respect—and I’ll try to dominate.
JB: Pound for pound, who is the best fighter in the world? Yourself? Israel Adesanya? Khabib? Stipe? Ferguson?
JJ: I would say, pound for pound, it would have to be between myself and Demetrious Johnson. Even though he’s tasted defeat, he has an extraordinary skill set. I would have to say it’s between myself and Demetrious.
JB: People have their reasons for disliking you, though no one denies your ability inside the cage. Take us into your psyche. Do boos, or criticism on social media, bother you? Is it easier to train when you are fueled by the dislike of others? I’m slightly altering Machiavelli here, but is it better for you to be loved or hated?
JJ: I think it’s better for me personally to be loved. You know, hate doesn’t feel good for anybody. Obviously hate can motivate you, can drive you to prove people wrong, but to be pushed and supported by people who love you, that is a very powerful thing. Light always outweighs darkness, in my opinion. Even though there are a lot of people who don’t like me, I strive to be loved and to give love. And to inspire and motivate others.
JB: Reyes is a tough fight and could be your toughest fight in years, and you’re also fighting time. One day, time passes everyone. How will you prevent that from occurring this Saturday?
JJ: I don’t think time is going to be an issue in this fight. If I was fighting some young, crazy athletic 23-year-old that was a phenom and doing jiu-jitsu since he was a little kid, or a crazy kickboxer, that would be a little different. But this guy is fairly new to our sport, and he’s pretty much the same age as me. I don’t think that will be a factor in this fight on Saturday.
JB: And you see yourself walking away from this fight as champion?
JJ: I really do, in all my heart. One thing about fighting is you can’t really control what’s going to happen out there, but I have a strong conviction that I am meant to do something special in this world. And I don’t think Dominick Reyes is the guy to ruin that.