Jones: Sonnen in the 'promote fight' business, Iím in the 'remain champion' business
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Jon Jones spent over a month isolated in Las Vegas filming The Ultimate Fighter 17. In that time, daily interactions with Chael Sonnen became the norm.
Sonnen was largely brought in as an antagonist, a role he filled perfectly opposite Anderson Silva. Yet even Jones was surprised -- and, admittedly, a little confused -- at the man that showed up every day for taping.
Not only was Sonnen approachable and friendly, he was genuinely likeable. In the end, the dynamic between the two coaches couldn't have been further from expectations.
Of course Sonnen is back to his antics now, cutting pro wrestling style promos on UFC Tonight and issuing daily, often hostile, countdowns on his Twitter account. But after having seen the other side, Jones isn't impressed.
"Chael's [mouth] doesn't bother me at all," the UFC light heavyweight champion assured MMAFighting.com. "I think if I was to take it personal, if I wasn't to understand it, it would bother me. But I have a pretty clear understanding of who Chael is, what he's accomplished, and my understanding kind of takes the power away from his words and his persona.
"You can see that the talk has picked up a little bit. But Chael is in the Ďpromote fight' business. I guess that's how he got in this situation in the first place. I'm in the Ďremain champion' business. So, I'm excited. I'm excited to go out there and do what I do best, and that's win championships."
Despite the pair's time together, Jones isn't blind. He understood from day one what this match-up entailed.
Sonnen, the ultimate marketing machine, received an instant title shot in a completely different division, just months after crumbling to a Silva second-round TKO.
"It's definitely safe to say this is one of those fights that's for the fans," Jones freely admitted. "Chael doesn't have the greatest record, but he has a huge following. He's a statement maker, and people like to see him compete."
Jones takes Sonnen's words with a grain of salt these days. Though one aspect of Sonnen's character, his usage of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), has always struck a nerve with the champion.
UFC President Dana White recently flip-flopped on the controversial subject, announcing a stricter drug testing policy for known users of TRT. Jones, not surprisingly, was pleased to hear it.
"I think it's a gigantic step in the right direction," Jones exclaimed after learning of the UFC's new stance. "The use of performance enhancing drugs, I think it's ridiculous in sports. I don't think it's fair. I don't think it's right. And I'm glad that we're finally starting to do something about it."
With TUF 17 nearing its conclusion, Jones now looks back fondly on his time spent coaching seven budding middleweights on their road to the UFC. The experience was something wholly new for Jones. Still just 24 years old, he admits it was tough to be hurled so far out of his comfort zone.
The uncompromising filming schedule and merciless editing of reality television has left more than a few fighters frustrated by their presentation in the past. Though Jones, luckily, is happy with how this season turned out.
"I think I was portrayed great on the show," he said. "I was just being myself and that's what came off on the camera. They let us know from day one, if you're cool, that's what's going to come off on the camera. If you're a crybaby, that's what's going to come off on the camera. If you're being a jerk, then that's what's going to come off on the camera. So we were just ourselves and everyone saw us for how we were."
Fueled by improved production values, a more serious tone and an all-star coaching cast, ratings for The Ultimate Fighter 17 rebounded dramatically from past seasons, likely saving a once failing franchise. Though one additional factor came as a welcome surprise: the fights, for the most part, were both competitive and entertaining.
Bucking a recent trend, all 14 contestants are now scheduled to fight at least once in the UFC -- a gift from White for the cast's exceptional showing. Jones has no doubts that more than a few of the 14 will seize their opportunity and eventually become fixtures of the Octagon. But when asked which cast member stuck out the most to him, Jones didn't hesitate.
"Uriah Hall," he quickly responded. "I think everyone's interested to see what he's going to do in his UFC career. Kelvin Gastelum, he's another one who just kept surprising people. He's a great fighter, great competitor, and he's going to have a long successful career as well.
"All the guys, really. All the guys had a ton of potential. I think this was the most competitive season ever filmed, and I say that for a reason."
Ultimately Jones views the past seven months as a positive experience; one he would absolutely do again if asked. But now, as UFC 159 promos begin populating the airwaves, and April 27 approaches on the calendar, Jones' mindset is shifting.
Most expect Jones to win handily. Las Vegas oddsmakers have listed him as high as a 10-to-1 favorite. But anything can happen once those cage doors slam shut. Jones, a man who made the leap from rookie to world champion in less than four years' time, knows that better than most.
"I never feel overconfident. I'm definitely not complacent," Jones vowed. "I'm aware of defeat. I lose at something every day in practice. That keeps me on my toes to not have that happen come fight night.
"I understand who he is, both his gentleman side, and him being Chael the promoter. I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of both sides of him. I'm ready to beat him up."