Jon Jones might not be a UFC champion at this particular moment in his career, but he says he's something far more important: sober.
Jones, 28, returns to the Octagon at UFC 197 on April 23 to face Daniel Cormier for the light heavyweight championship. It will be his first appearance since he was arrested on a felony hit-and-run charge in April. Jones eventually pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received 18 months supervised probation. The UFC stripped him of his 205-pound title shortly after his arrest.
The former champion has had issues with substance abuse. In May 2012, he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in his native New York. In December 2014, he tested positive for traces of cocaine in a Nevada State Athletic Commission screening. After he fled the scene of the car accident last year, police found marijuana paraphernalia in his vehicle.
At a UFC news conference last weekend in Las Vegas, Jones said he has been sober five months. He added it's the first time he has been able to say that in years.
"In my personal life, I've made tremendous changes," Jones said. "People who actually know me would know that. Sobriety is something I haven't had since I was young. So I'm very proud of that right now. If you have doubts that I've changed, those are warranted. I have a lot of proving to do. I think second chances are something that are earned.
"I think people who have been fans of mine can tell I'm trying. The accident happened not too long ago. I have a lot of proving to do and that's going to take time."
During an appearance Tuesday on ESPN's Russillo and Kanell, UFC president Dana White said he's excited to see what Jones (21-1) is capable of after the changes to his personal life.
"If you listen to the banter back and forth between [Jones and Cormier], Cormier is saying what a bad guy he is," White said. "[Jones] is saying, 'Hey man, listen, I've never fought sober. This is the first time I've ever been sober for a fight camp.' The whole time he has been training he has never been sober.
"He was destroying people then. What's he going to be like now that he's serious? It's amazing. He wants that belt back and there's nothing [Cormier] wants more than to beat Jon Jones."
Cormier (17-1) lost to Jones via unanimous decision when the two fought at UFC 182 in January 2015. After Jones was stripped of the title, Cormier claimed the belt by submitting Anthony Johnson at UFC 187. He then recorded his first title defense in a hard-fought, split-decision victory over Alexander Gustafsson in October.
A former U.S. Olympian in wrestling, Cormier appeared agitated at last weekend's news conference when fans booed him instead of Jones. More than once, he pointed out that he has been sober his entire life.
Speaking backstage to ESPN.com, Cormier said he hopes Jones has sincerely changed but isn't yet sold on it being true.
"His prior behavior does not lend itself to me believing he will change," Cormier said. "We've been here before. We've heard this speech before, about everything going good, everything being great -- and the guy has let people down time and time again. Do I root for him to fail? I really don't. I want to make that very clear -- I do not root for this guy to get into these things but if you're asking me, honestly, I don't believe it.
"Maybe. If down the line he has [changed] and years pass and he does nothing, hats off to Jon. And I will put that out there. But right now, I have to see it. I'm not going to just go off his words. His words, to this point, have let us down."
Jones fights out of Jackson-Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His only professional loss came via disqualification in December 2009 for illegal use of his elbow in an otherwise dominant performance against Matt Hamill.