Jon Jones is widely considered one of the greatest, and most controversial, fighters in MMA history. The former UFC light heavyweight champion, who was suspended by the United States Anti-Doping Agency for 15 months for failing a second drug test of a banned substance, was recently notified he can return to the Octagon on Oct. 28.
In an exclusive interview with ESPN, Jones (22-1) spoke about his ongoing feud with Daniel Cormier, the USADA suspension, battling depression and his current relationship with the UFC.
How would you describe this past year?
This past year has been a major learning experience. It has been a test of faith. But we're here.
Do you remember how you reacted when you got the news that you failed the test last August?
I remember getting the news. It took me by surprise, man. It was a major shock. I was devastated. It was a day I'll never forget.
Did you think at that moment that your career might be over? No, I never thought my career was over. I just knew that it would be majorly detoured, and I knew that it was a time to be patient.
At the time, people were speculating that you would be suspended for four years or two years. If I would have told you on that day that your suspension would be for 15 months what would you have said?
At the time, I wouldn't have believed you. At the time, I felt pretty hopeless.
How long did it take for you to get over that feeling? It took me about six months to get to a place of happiness again without my belt, my sponsorships, my job.
Do you feel like you've fully regained that happiness?
I regained my happiness. I think I regained it by seeking professional help. I ended up going and seeing counselors throughout the summer and I had to relearn how to love myself as a father, as a husband, as a brother and as a friend. I had to get back to being Jonathan Jones, and I had to learn how to put Jon "Bones" Jones -- I had to learn how to differentiate the two. And that's when I became happy again. Just getting back to remembering all the things that I had to be happy about, like my family and my beautiful daughters. That's what really makes me happy.
What kind of professional help did you get?
Counselors, psychiatrists. ... I ended up checking myself into a trauma facility so I can learn how to deal with trauma and loss. It helped a lot.
When were you there?
End of June.
Where was it?
The place is called the Guest House in Ocala, Florida.
How long were you there for?
I did in-patient for 30 days. I lived there. They taught me how to deal with my mom's death and the loss of my career. My mom died in June [of 2017] and then I lost my title in August, so those are two devastating losses, and I found myself in a pretty deep depression, so I went to seek professional help. I'm really glad I did because I feel so much better now.
What was it like when you saw Daniel Cormier recapture the light heavyweight title in January?
It was easy to watch. I understood the situation that I was in. I understood the show must go on.
Do you have any idea why your test came back positive?
No, until this day, we were never able to figure out how it got into my body, and that's really scary to me. Very scary. It leaves me with a certain degree of paranoia. And now I'm just extremely precautious about everything I put in my body when it comes to everything. Before this happened, we were taking extra precautions by hiring professionals that were regulating everything that was going into my body and being in contact with USADA. So, on the supplement side of things, I was super, super cautious and super careful and now I'm cautious and careful across the board. When I say that I mean, eating food from certain restaurants and ordering drinks from certain places. Nowadays I carry a water bottle with me almost everywhere. I try not to be too predictable about the places I eat at, and that's kind of shitty.
You're afraid someone might try to spike your food or drink?
Yeah. That's something I have to live with for the rest of the career -- the idea that that could happen.
Cormier: 'I just wanted consistency' with Jones suspension
Daniel Cormier discusses his relationship with Dana White and the UFC's handling of the Jon Jones suspension.
Are you content with the 15-month suspension from USADA?
I feel like this whole process has taken a lot of time. Proving your innocence can take a lot of time. Me and my team, we didn't really care how long this would take. We just wanted to get all of our facts out and prove our innocence, no matter how long it took. So, if 15 months is how long it took, I feel happy with it.
It would have been nice to get no time, but obviously proving your innocence takes time. So I think they were very fair. Once they were able to establish that this wasn't my intention, they let me go. So I think they treated me fairly.
According to the arbitrator's ruling, you received a 30-month reduction in your suspension because you cooperated in providing "substantial assistance" and information to help eliminate doping. As a result, you have been accused of "snitching."
Did you snitch on anyone?
USADA asked me to do a lot of things throughout this case, but one thing I didn't do is snitch on anybody in MMA. I definitely didn't give up any information on anyone in the sport, nor do I know of anybody who's doing these things in the sport. I think the whole snitching thing is pretty silly. It's interesting to watch people jump to conclusions about things they don't know what they are talking about. And that's all I want to say about that topic.
So then are you bothered when you see people call you a snitch?
It doesn't bother me for a few reasons. I understand who I am in this sport. I understand that I'm always going to be somewhat of a controversial athlete in our sport. I understand that I'm going to be a guy that's very fun to talk about whether it's for the good or bad. I'm just grateful to be relevant at the end of the day. When you are one of the better athletes in the sport, people are going to talk about you.
I feel like everyone is never minding all the science that went into all this and they are trying to chalk it up to some kind of rat situation, as if they are saying Jon was guilty but he ratted to get out of this, but that can't be farther from the truth.
Your 15-month suspension coincided nicely with the Nov. 3 show at Madison Square Garden. Were you asked to fight on that card?
It was offered to me, but by the time it was offered to me, I had about five or six weeks to prepare for the fight. I didn't want my first fight back to be in a situation where I felt rushed, so I declined.
Are you fighting Alexander Gustafsson on Dec. 29?
As of right now, that's something that is on the table and we are in talks, but it looks like I will be. Nothing is signed on my end yet.
Would that be for the belt?
That would be for the light heavyweight championship.
Daniel Cormier is disappointed that he is going to get stripped of the 205-pound title. Do you understand where he is coming from?
I understand where he is coming from, and I understand his frustration, but I think he needs to look outside himself and see where I'm coming from in this situation. If USADA came to the conclusion that all the science points to this being a complete accident and unintentional, a part of me feels like the belt should be handed back to me. A part of me feels like I shouldn't even have to fight for the belt against Alexander Gustafsson because I was proven innocent. In a way, the belt was never his in the first place. He was given the belt.
Do you care to fight him a third time?
No, I don't. I already have all the marbles when it comes to Daniel Cormier. I've beaten him twice. This game has never been personal. What is personal to me is chasing greatness, not individuals. So in the case of myself and Daniel Cormier, he needs to fight myself one more time if he ever wants to be considered one of the all-time greats. I don't need to fight him again to be considered one of the all-time greats. I have many more years to prove it.
What do you think when you saw him win the heavyweight title?
I was legitimately happy for Daniel Cormier. I felt like he was extremely deserving of becoming a UFC champion. I felt like for the first time, the night he won, he became an actual UFC champion. I think he was an extremely successful light heavyweight, but I don't ever think he was the light heavyweight champion. I consider myself the light heavyweight champion since 2011, despite what happened. He joined a club of champions, and I was legitimately happy for him because from afar I know how hard of a worker he is, and I think the heavyweight championship couldn't be in more deserving hands.
Any interest in fighting him for the heavyweight title?
Not really. Challenging Daniel Cormier for the heavyweight championship would be me making it personal, and it's not personal. I'm not the one who went home crying the first and second times we fought. That was him. There's nothing inside of me that wants to take things from him or make his life harder in any way. I just want what's rightfully mine. He can have what's rightfully his and we can all get along.
He has been critical of USADA since your suspension came out. Do you feel like his concerns are warranted?
No, I don't. I think this is just another way for him to blame something for him getting knocked out in our last fight. At the end of the day, the way it was described to me, the amount of steroids that were found in my body was the equivalent of throwing a pinch of salt in an Olympic-size swimming pool. There was so little of it in my body, there's no scientific way possible that this could have affected my performance. There's no reason for him to be mad at USADA. USADA didn't get him knocked out.
Have you ever knowingly taken a PED?
No, I have never knowingly taken a PED, and I also passed a polygraph test in January to confirm that is a true statement. I think it's funny how when you're one of the best in the sport people are so quick to never mind a polygraph test, as if I have powers over a test that has been working on people since before I was born. I just love how that part is discredited.
Are you worried these positives tests will stain your legacy forever?
No, I'm not worried. I believe being in the all-time great conversation, I just think it opens you up to opinions. I just feel a strong sense of support and love and I feel like I have some true die-hard fans. I also know that there are going to be people out there who made up their minds a long time ago that they are not going to like me, and there is nothing I can ever do to win those people over. So I have learned to just be extremely grateful for this amazing lifestyle that I get to live every day and know that critics come with it.
I saw you wrote something about Georges St-Pierre recently on your Instagram. You seem mad at him. Why?
I was offended by Georges St-Pierre's recent comments [about PEDs], and I was surprised by them because Georges and I over the years have always been very respectful toward each other, so it was a little hurtful. But I'm over it, and even though I haven't received an apology from Georges I still respect him a lot.
How would you describe your relationship with the UFC?
My relationship with the UFC is tremendous. Mainly because of Ari Emanuel and Hunter Campbell. Those two guys are what I've always wanted when it comes to a professional relationship with my employer. We talk on the phone almost weekly or biweekly. Half the time it's not even business related, it's just them asking me how my day is going and things like that. I really have a strong sense that they care about me outside of me being their athlete, they care about me as a person, so I thank them so much for all the support they've shown me over this past year. I owe them a great deal.
What about with Dana White?
Things are good with Dana. I have an open mind and an open heart when it comes to Dana. What I'm looking for is for us to be closer than ever when I get back into the sport so that we can do great business.