Jon Jones ‘never felt better’ entering return at UFC 285

The UFC legend spoke to Yahoo Sports MMA insider Kevin Iole about his emotions as he prepares for his first fight in three years and why he’s confident entering Saturday’s bout against Ciryl Gane for the vacant heavyweight title.

Video transcript

KEVIN IOLE: Hey, everybody. I am Kevin Iole. Welcome to Yahoo Sports. And I can't tell you how excited I am to talk to my next guest here. It's been three years, and Jon Jones, the GOAT of MMA, you and I have had a lot of conversations, but I can't say that I've been looking forward to any of them as much as I am this one. You're fighting Ciryl Gane, Saturday, UFC 258, how you've been?

JON JONES: I've been awesome. I've been great. I can't complain, man. Just focusing on me. Focusing on me and personal growth and growth as an athlete and as a friend and community member and as a father and as a family man. I've just been focusing on family, focus on growth. And I can honestly say I've never felt better.

KEVIN IOLE: That is amazing. I'm so happy for you. I remember many years ago, I think it was '08 or '09 when you and I met at the food court at the mall, and we had a long conversation and we talked. And I think toward the end of that conversation I asked you, you're a big dude with a big wingspan. Do you think you ever fight heavyweight? And you looked at me like I was crazy.

Now you're going to heavyweight to fight for the vacant title, meeting Ciryl Gane at T-Mobile arena. What would it mean to you, Jon, to win the championship and become the heavyweight champion after all you've been through?

JON JONES: Oh man, it's been a long journey, a lot of fights, a lot of years, man. It would be awesome. It's just a dream come true. A dream come true. I've been talking about it for a long time. And it took a lot of courage-building to make that leap and to get on that journey, that weight gain journey, and the confidence-building journey that it takes to fight some of these gigantic gladiators. We're here. We're here now. And I feel very resilient, Kevin. I feel like I'm a hard man to break and--

KEVIN IOLE: I'll say.

JON JONES: Yeah, I just feel stronger than ever, Kev. And I'm just grateful. I'm grateful to be here.

KEVIN IOLE: You know what, it's interesting. And when I asked Gane's coach yesterday, Fernand Lopez, I said is it fair to say that the heavyweights are not as athletic as the light heavyweights and that the light heavyweights are going to be more athletic and able to move more and the heavyweight, bigger and stronger. And he said five years ago, that would have been true. But maybe not so true now that now the heavyweights are just as big and just as athletic or bigger and still as athletic as the light heavyweights are. Do you buy that Ciryl Gane's athleticism may pose a problem for you?

JON JONES: I think Ciryl is a very athletic guy. I think he stands out in a weight class where a lot of these guys don't even like to go for jogs. What I'm used to is guys that are lean, ripped, explosive, quick. Guys that have a gas tank from round one to round 5. And I don't think there's many guys like that in the heavyweight division, including Cyril Gane. Cyril--

KEVIN IOLE: For real?

JON JONES: Yes. I mean, in his last fight with Francis, Francis could barely move his feet at the end of the fight, and Cyril was looking just as slow as he was. One of my goals is to let the fans see immediately that wow, Jon really may be in a class of his own right now. There is no one like Jon. There is no one like Jon in the UFC. That's what I plan on showing.

I feel just as athletic. The standards in my mind are the same that they used to be. I'm expecting just Alexander Gustafsson-type war--


JON JONES: --you know what I mean. Like that's the stuff that I'm used to. That Thiago Santos-type war, where we just going back and forth. These heavyweights, they don't really have that pace in them. And so I think the fans are impressed by Gane because they haven't seen me yet.

KEVIN IOLE: You said something to Jimmy Smith on Sirius, and I just wanted to read you the quote because I thought it was fascinating and very interesting on your part. You said, "I stopped studying footage as much. I started just looking forward to another day at the office. The fear was gone. I really didn't fear those guys and I wasn't happy with my pay either.

I was starting to fight guys like Dominick Reyes, who had been dreaming of fighting me probably, since he was in college. And he was just relatively unknown to the general public. I wanted more. I wanted to be nervous again. I wanted to have fear again. I think fear is healthy. And now we're in this position. The heavyweight division has never been scarier, and I'm glad to be in the middle of it." You don't sound too scared. You sound like you're fucking confident.

JON JONES: Fast reader, Kevin.

KEVIN IOLE: And I didn't even stumble.

JON JONES: I know. I see you, bro. I see you. I am nervous. I am nervous. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. I'm sure Ciryl is nervous. Anybody who cares about what they're doing has some degree of nervousness. But it's my job to put on my game face and to get out there and do what I got to do. There's guys out there with much more difficult jobs than this. And I owe it to my championship spirit. I owe it to my faith to speak like a winner.

To have conversations with myself that a winner would want to hear. That's something that Mr. David Goggins was just telling me. He was like when you start to talk to yourself make sure you say things to yourself, that a winner will want to hear. You know what I mean. So it's my job to talk big (BLEEP). To sound maybe slightly arrogant, to speak very highly of myself. I owe it to myself. And I have to believe before I can make the world believe.

So the truth is I'm nervous. It's scary to get back out there in front of millions of people, in probably the biggest fight I've ever been a part of. Taking off your shirt in front of the world, and risk and all the vulnerability that comes with fighting in that ring. But it's my job. It's the life that I live in. It's the life that I chose. The life of a warrior. You got to do hard (BLEEP), and that's what I'm going to do. Excuse my language. I don't know what your fan base will [INAUDIBLE] allow. Just censor me out.

KEVIN IOLE: You can say whatever you need to. Let's ask, what do you plan to come in at? Like a lot of people haven't seen your body yet. I've seen clips of you training and everything, but I don't remember seeing a clip or you just walking out of the cage and showing what you look like. I'm sure you could have been a heavyweight years ago in terms of just putting on some weight. But what was the process like, and why did you make it take so long to get to this point that they viewed you as a heavyweight?

JON JONES: So I believe I'll come into the fight weighing about-- I've been floating around between 250, 247. I may get it down to 245 just to do it. Just because I'm used to cutting a little bit of weight. As far as what I look like, I feel like I'm not super crazy ripped or anything. I don't look like Francis. I don't think I look like Ciryl. I think as I mature as a heavyweight, I think I will start to lean out more and get a little bit more definition. But one thing I know is that it's not a bodybuilding competition, it's not a physique competition, it's a performance-based competition.

And I do believe that I'm probably one of the strongest heavyweights in the division right now. I put up some pretty serious numbers in that gym. So despite what I look like, I feel most importantly, I feel amazing. And what was the last question you asked?

KEVIN IOLE: That was it. Just talking about what it's going to do, why it took so long.

JON JONES: Yeah, it took a while. I just wanted to do it right. I wanted to do it right. I wanted to have my body fat in a good place. I wanted to have most importantly, my heart in a good place to be able to carry this big body through 25 minutes of grueling hand-to-hand combat.

KEVIN IOLE: Let's just run this question by you. Your brother Chandler plays for the Raiders. I'm here in Las Vegas. Now, of course, I am not a Raiders fan as you can see all the Steelers stuff back there--

JON JONES: Somebody boo this guy.


KEVIN IOLE: But who's got the better body, Jon Jones or Chandler Jones?

JON JONES: Oh, I'm going to give it to Chandler.

KEVIN IOLE: He was moving with that fumble he recovered. He was moving.

JON JONES: Are we talking waist down? What are we talking? What are we talking here?

KEVIN IOLE: Waist up.

JON JONES: Waist up, OK. It's hard to say. It's hard to [INAUDIBLE]. Chandler is a specimen. He's really strong. He's actually the strongest athlete I've ever put my hands on. There was a time we were at a hotel a few years ago, and he was sitting down on a couch, and I came and stood right in front of him, and I put my hands down on his wrist like this, and I was like, I'm always going to be your big brother, you better remember that.

Chandler, while sitting there, he took his wrist and he goes like this, look at me in the eyes, and he just almost lifted me off my feet. I had never felt such a--


JON JONES: --strength. Chandler, he's a beast, dude. I think he could start MMA this year and by two years from now, be one of the top fighters on the planet. I genuinely believe that.

KEVIN IOLE: He's fighting those 6 foot 8, 300 some pound offensive tackle so--

JON JONES: Moving around them. Moving around them just fine and moving those guys out of the way man. He's something special. Does the right things, eat healthy, gets massages several days a week, palates. Chandler is a very private guy but. I'm fortunate enough to see his lifestyle, and he does all the right things.

KEVIN IOLE: You seem like you're doing all the right things now. Do you ever look back when you were getting in trouble and having issues happen? Do you ever think of what might have been like if John Jones never got in trouble, never was using drugs, or any of whatever was going on, how good you could have been, do you ever think that way?

JON JONES: Yeah. You know the crack, it set me back really--


Oh, that's funny. That's not funny, actually. It's not funny at all.

KEVIN IOLE: At least we're laughing, right?

JON JONES: Yeah. Yeah, I'm just trying to enjoy it. I'm just trying to enjoy it all. You can't cry over spilled milk, Kev. My journey makes me who I am today. The pain. The pain. The dumb decisions, it makes you the man that you are today. And I'm grateful because my strength, and my resilience, I'm proud of. I have life experience. I'll be able to sit down with kids one day and let them know, hey you may not want to do that. You may not want to go down that route.

I'll be able to talk to my kids about the ways I messed up, and the ways I've embarrassed myself and my family, and things like that. And I'm grateful for it. I've survived it all. And I feel like it makes me more relatable to people.

KEVIN IOLE: Of course.

JON JONES: There more people like me on the planet then people would be willing to acknowledge or admit there's very few people that have lived a perfect life, and I'm proud to say that I have it. And that I'm still here. And I think that is the motivation. I think that's why I have such a strong fan base is because people see that I'm still here. And I think people gain strength from that.

I have a guy recently that reached out to me. I met them years ago. Supposedly I had met him like five years ago in Texas. And he just texted me a few days ago. He still had my number, and he was like, hey John, I know you may not remember me, but I want to say, thank you for everything you've done for me. You've saved my life more than once.


JON JONES: Yeah. So, I'm glad to represent imperfect humans because that's what we are.

KEVIN IOLE: I guess everybody loves a comeback story, and nobody more than me. I love to see that. And I love to see you happy and smiling and feeling good about yourself and your life. But what turned it around for you, like what was the impetus for you to become this-- this was the Jon Jones I remembered in 2008 and 2009, right.

JON JONES: Right, right.

KEVIN IOLE: What changed to make you this guy again?

JON JONES: Man, it was just enough embarrassment, man. Enough getting in your own way. You get to these moments in life where you have time alone, and you think to yourself, I got a special thing, which way am I going to go with it?

And I think just somewhere along the line over these last three years, I've just got to look at myself and having an honest evaluation of who I was and what I was doing with this great ability and great gift, and I decided to give it my best. And I feel like I owe it to the universe to be the best that I can be. And that's just where I'm at now. I've had greater pride in my surroundings, in my inner circle, and I feel like I'm a reflection of some of the mentors in my life.

KEVIN IOLE: How long is this run in heavyweight going to be? Are you doing it just to see what it's like, are you going to be committed for the long term to heavyweight? I know you signed a new or you redid a new contract, like seven, eight fights?

JON JONES: Yeah, I had eight fights. I had eight fights. And it's pretty much the same contract. We just increased the pay. I'm just taking things one day at a time, Kev really. I'm excited to see how my hard work is going to pay off.

I can't predict the future. I do expect great things. When you give it all you got day in and day out, and you win every day, the small victories lead to big ones. And so, I'm just taking it one day at a time, and I can't really make any promises of how many fights I'm going to have or whatnot. I know that I want to compete twice this year. And I want to be credibly dominating. And we'll just see. We'll just take it one year at a time, fight by fight.

KEVIN IOLE: I know you've probably heard it already, and you're going to hear it again this week as all the media activities are coming up. Some people are going to ask you, are you going to feel like the champion because Francis never lost? Francis himself said that. So I'll say this, do you feel like if you go out and put on an effort against Ciryl Gane that wows everybody and they can compare your fight to Francis' fight with him, do you think that'll change the perception, that people will say Jon Jones is the GOAT now after beating this guy?

JON JONES: Yeah. I do believe a dominating performance against Gane will leave no doubt of who the actual champion is and always was. And who the best fighter is. That's my goal. My goal is to leave no doubt and to end the debate.

KEVIN IOLE: Well, it should be fun. Can't wait to see it on Saturday night. UFC 285 a T-Mobile arena on ESPN plus pay per view. Jon Jones, bidding for GOAT status again. I'll say it Jon, thanks. Good luck to you.

JON JONES: Hey, Kev, I may give you a big old hug when I see you, bro.

KEVIN IOLE: I look forward to it, my man. I'll hug you back. See you, bro.

JON JONES: We're going to do that.

KEVIN IOLE: Thank you.