TORONTO -- For the past month, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has taken a verbal beating of the likes never seen in mixed martial arts. He's experienced the wrath of UFC president Dana White, fellow fighters and a significant portion of fans, many of whom helped make him a very wealthy young man.
There is no need, just hours before Jones defends his title Saturday night against Vitor Belfort at UFC 152, to rehash every detail that led to the recent animosity directed at him. Jones realizes his decision last month not to face Chael Sonnen on eight days’ notice helped trigger the eventual cancellation of UFC 151 and ignited the hostility that has shown little sign of letting up.
But Jones isn’t backing away from who he is nor apologizing for his actions. He’s been down the personal-attack road too often since claiming the 205-pound crown 1½ years ago to become thin-skinned now.
What Jones has accomplished in the Octagon and the rewards he has garnered as a result can’t compare to the wealth of knowledge he’s acquired outside the cage. At 25, Jones has been introduced to experiences many men twice his age can’t comprehend. Those experiences -- good and bad -- have come rapidly and repeatedly.
But through it all, not once has Jones caved in. He has accepted blame and has stood by his convictions when people have questioned them.
Jones is maturing, intellectually and emotionally, with the eyes of the mixed-martial arts world squarely upon him.
“Aside from figuring out what life is like as a champion, I’m figuring out what life is like being a 25-year-old father and growing up under a microscope -- it’s tough,” Jones said. “It really is.
“If I was to sit here and make my life sound as if I have the hardest life, it would be a shame. There are people out here who live way harder than I do. Keeping everything in perspective is what helps me deal with things. My world just isn’t that serious.”
Jones’ accelerated maturation process didn’t begin last month. In July, his New York State driver's license was revoked for six months as part of a DWI sentencing.
Relying heavily on faith has allowed Jones to put all these events in perspective.
“I’ve had a DWI this year; I’m certainly not perfect,” Jones said. “There are parts of my life where I haven’t handled success very well. Having Christ in my life has helped me shy away from doing a lot worse things. Christ has definitely helped, but I’m not perfect -- no one is.”
Coming to grips with his personal shortfalls hasn’t completely alleviated the emotional stress of being the subject of nonstop verbal attacks.
Jones admits some comments directed at him from all directions proved difficult to swallow at times. But since arriving in Canada, Jones has worn a huge smile.
The emotional healing has begun. He’s excited to step in the Octagon and defend his title against Belfort. Fighting, Jones believes, represents the next step toward repairing strained relations.
“I’m looking forward to putting on a great fight at UFC 152 and putting this past us,” Jones said. “I’ve trained very hard for this Vitor Belfort fight, and I do believe that, with a good performance, I can help put this behind me.
“I believe this whole situation will bring me and the UFC a lot closer. We’ll have a better level of respect for each other.”
Jones expects to defeat the hard-hitting Belfort in impressive fashion Saturday night. He prefers to finish the fight early, but is prepared to go the full five rounds if necessary.
No matter the fight’s outcome, Jones has already found room in his heart to forgive. He holds no animosity toward his antagonists.
“It [the criticism] bothered me a lot,” Jones said. “But it’s been a while now, and I’ve come to terms with what was said.
“I don’t hold any hard feelings. Forgiveness is an important thing. It sets me free from the situation. I forgive other fighters; I forgive Dana White and the fans who’ve spoken out in an unfair and negative way. I forgive everyone.”