Jon Jones’ complicated path to MMA greatness
Jon Jones was just 23 years old when he became light heavyweight champion in 2011, making him the youngest belt holder in UFC history. He looked unbeatable and the sky was the limit, it seemed. But it has been a bumpy road for “Jonny Bones” ever since, with a mixture of breathtaking victories and heartbreaking failures.
A selective timeline:
April 12, 2008: Jones makes his professional MMA debut at a Full Force Productions event in Boxborough, Massachusetts, beating Brad Bernard by TKO at 1:32 of the first round in a catchweight bout (210 pounds). He will fight again one week later, then one week after that, both stoppage wins.
Aug. 9, 2008: Less than four months after his pro debut, Jones takes a 6-0 record into his first fight in the Octagon, as a replacement on two weeks notice, and beats Andre Gusmao via unanimous decision in a prelim bout at UFC 87 in Minneapolis. The main event that night pits welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre against Jon Fitch. In the co-main, Brock Lesnar records his first UFC victory, a unanimous decision over Heath Herring.
Dec. 5, 2009: Jones loses! (Technically.) In a bout he is dominating, Jones is disqualified by referee Steve Mazzagatti for using illegal 12-to-6 elbows that hurt Matt Hamill to the point where he cannot continue. Much controversy ensues, including UFC president Dana White bitterly slinging insults at the ref.
Feb. 5, 2011: Jones submits previously unbeaten Ryan Bader at UFC 126 to improve his record to 12-1 and immediately afterward is informed that, in just over a month, he will replace injured teammate Rashad Evans in a title fight against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
March 19, 2011: Jones defeats Rua via TKO and, at age 23, becomes the youngest champion in UFC history. The UFC 128 main event is actually his second victory of the day. On the morning of the fight, Jones had turned superhero and foiled a robbery in Paterson, New Jersey, chasing down a suspect while he and his coaches were out for a run.
Nov. 24, 2011: Jones is taken into custody in the parking lot of a strip club in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the city where he lives and trains. A traffic stop reveals he is driving on a suspended license. Charges are later dropped.
May 19, 2012: Jones wraps his Bentley around a utility pole in Binghamton, New York, and is taken into custody by police after refusing a sobriety test. Jones is uninjured, but his two passengers suffer minor injuries. He later pleads guilty to DUI, is assessed a $1,000 fine and has his license suspended for six months.
Aug. 8, 2012: Jones signs a worldwide sponsorship deal with Nike, becoming the first UFC fighter to do so.
Aug. 23, 2012: Jones incurs the wrath of White after declining to accept a short-notice replacement bout with Chael Sonnen after scheduled opponent Dan Henderson withdraws with an injury. As a result, UFC 151 becomes the first event canceled by the promotion. White verbally attacks Greg Jackson, the coach who advised Jones against taking the fight, as a “f—ing sport killer.”
Sept. 22, 2012: After being hastily scheduled for the UFC’s next pay-per-view event, Jones nearly is submitted early by Vitor Belfort but fights out of an armbar and ultimately wins the UFC 152 main event via fourth-round submission.
April 27, 2013: Sonnen finally gets his date in the cage with Jones and nearly ends up as champion — despite Jones dominating. While mauling Sonnen in the UFC 159 headline bout, Jones dislocates his big toe. Nonetheless, he gets the TKO finish with 27 seconds left in the first round. Had Sonnen survived to the horn, the doctor likely would not have allowed the champ to continue with the grotesque injury.
Sept. 23, 2013: Jones is taken to the limit for five rugged rounds by Alexander Gustafsson but escapes the Fight of the Year with a unanimous-decision victory. The UFC 165 main event is Jones’ sixth title defense, setting a UFC record for light heavyweights.
April 14, 2014: Accused of writing homophobic slurs to a Swedish fan on Instagram, Jones says his phone was stolen and his account was hacked.
Aug. 4, 2014: Jones appears with Daniel Cormier at a Las Vegas news conference to promote their scheduled title fight, and the two end up brawling on the hotel lobby floor. Later in the day, they are interviewed via split screen on SportsCenter. Following the interview, Cormier is heard saying he wishes he were allowed to go to where Jones is so he could spit in his face, and Jones responds, “You know that I would absolutely kill you if you did something like that, right?”
Sept. 23, 2014: For his role in the Cormier brawl, Jones is fined $50,000 by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which also rules that he must put in 40 hours of community service.
Jan. 3, 2015: Jones and Cormier finally fight, and Jones controls the UFC 182 main event from start to finish. He earns a unanimous-decision win.
Jan. 6, 2015: Just one day after being featured on Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” list of the “brightest young stars” in sports, Jones sees his public image take a jolt when the Nevada State Athletic Commission reveals that he tested positive for the main metabolite in cocaine prior to the Cormier fight. Jones announces he has checked into a rehab facility. The drug test occurred a full 30 days before UFC 182, and because cocaine is not on the list of substances banned while out of competition, the fight was allowed to go on.
Jan. 7, 2015: Jones checks out of the rehab facility in Albuquerque after one night.
Jan. 17, 2015: The UFC fines Jones $25,000 for violating its Athlete Code of Conduct policy for the failed drug test.
Jan. 19, 2015: Jones tells Fox Sports, “I’m not a cocaine addict by any means or even a frequent user. I just made a really dumb decision and got caught.”
April 27, 2015: Jones is involved in a hit-and-run in Albuquerque that injures the pregnant woman driving the other vehicle. Jones turns himself in to police hours after initially fleeing the scene.
April 28, 2015: Jones is stripped of his championship and suspended indefinitely by the UFC.
Sept. 29, 2015: Jones pleads guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident involving injury. He is sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation.
Oct. 23, 2015: The UFC reinstates Jones to its active roster.
March 29, 2016: Jones is jailed in Albuquerque for violating probation. A week earlier, he was cited by police on five charges related to drag racing, and footage from a police body camera captured Jones calling the officer a “f—ing liar” and a “pig.”
March 31, 2016: For the parole violation, Jones is ordered to take anger management and driver improvement classes.
April 23, 2016: Jones returns to competition after a 15-month absence and defeats Ovince Saint Preux via unanimous decision to capture an interim light heavyweight belt.
July 6, 2016: Jones is pulled from his scheduled UFC 200 rematch with Cormier after being flagged by the US Anti-Doping Agency for a potential doping violation.
July 7, 2016: Jones holds a news conference in Las Vegas and denies cheating. His manager announces they will appeal the failed test. “Being labeled as a cheat,” says a tearful Jones, “hurts me more than anything else I’ve been through in my career.”
Interim UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is brought to tears during his news conference after being pulled from UFC 200 for potential doping violations.
Nov. 7, 2016: One week after a hearing, Jones is issued a one-year ban from USADA retroactive to the failed test. The hearing had revealed that the substances for which Jones tested positive were clomiphene and letrozole metabolites, found in Tadalafil, an erectile dysfunction medication that Jones acknowledged taking.
Jon Jones sits down with Hannah Storm to discuss his yearlong suspension from the UFC and what he learned about himself during that time.
Nov. 9, 2016: Jones is stripped of his interim title by the UFC, making him the first champ to be stripped twice.
Dec. 15, 2016: The NSAC announces it has levied the same one-year suspension Jones received from USADA.
July 29, 2017: After another 15-month absence from the cage, Jones finally meets Cormier again and connects with a devastating head kick to score a third-round knockout to regain the light heavyweight championship.
Jon Jones reacts to reclaiming the UFC light heavyweight championship after defeating Daniel Cormier at UFC 214 and what this means for career.
Aug. 22, 2017: Jones is notified of a potential violation of the UFC’s anti-doping policy stemming from a drug screening on July 28 — one day before the UFC 214 rematch with Cormier. The anabolic steroid Turinabol was found in his system in a test administered by USADA.
Sept. 13, 2017: The California State Athletic Commission overturns Jones’ July win over Cormier, ruling the bout a no contest. The UFC strips Jones of the title and reinstates Cormier as champion.
Stephen A. Smith extends compassion to Jon Jones after the CSAC’s ruling revoking the UFC fighter’s license.
Sept. 18, 2018: USADA announces that, after an appeal process, it has assessed to Jones a 15-month suspension retroactive to July 28, 2017. He is deemed eligible to fight again as of Oct. 28.
Oct. 10, 2018: The UFC books Jones to return to the Octagon on Dec. 29 in a rematch with Gustafsson. The UFC 232 main event will be for the light heavyweight belt, which the promotion is stripping from Cormier for failing to defend it.
Nov. 2, 2018: The UFC holds a news conference at Madison Square Garden with Jones and Gustafsson, and as the fighters are squaring off for photographers, Jones pushes the Swede. He later explains himself to ESPN: “I was just like, ‘We’re in New York, let’s give the fans some excitement.'”
Dana White and Jeff Novitzky explain why UFC 232 is being moved to Los Angeles after Jon Jones’ test results show a presence of metabolite from his 2017 test.
Dec. 23, 2018: In an unprecedented move, UFC 232 is relocated from Las Vegas to Los Angeles after a random drug test of Jones discovers a trace amount of the anabolic steroid for which he was banned last year. USADA declares Jones not at fault, but he is unable to be licensed in Nevada in time for Saturday’s fight.
Dec. 28, 2018: Jones is drug tested on the day of weigh-ins, and a trace amount of Turinabol, the same steroid metabolite that earned him his ban, is again found in his system. This test result will not come to light until a Jan. 23 report by MMA Fighting, which quotes California commission executive director Andy Foster as saying Jones was not punished because there are “no grounds to charge somebody twice for the same violation.”
Dec. 29, 2018: Jones, dominant the whole way, defeats Gustafsson by third-round TKO and once again is UFC light heavyweight champion.
Dec. 29, 2018: Jones passes multiple postfight drug tests.
Jan. 5, 2019: Dana White tells TMZ Sports that Jones will file a license application with the Nevada commission “later this month” and, if granted a license, will defend his belt against Anthony Smith at UFC 235 on March 2 in Las Vegas.
Jan. 29, 2019: The NSAC votes unanimously to grant Jones a one-fight license that subjects him to additional drug testing by the commission but will keep him eligible even if he tests positive for the same banned substance, as long as it is at the same picogram level.
Feb. 22, 2019: “Every week, maybe twice a week, someone is at my house taking blood and urine,” Jones tells MMA Junkie, referring to the ramped-up drug testing he agreed to in order to be licensed to fight in California, then in Nevada. “I’m OK with it. I’ve got nothing to hide. I’m excited to learn about what’s in my body.” There have been no positive tests reported.
March 2, 2019: Jones coasts to a unanimous decision over Anthony Smith. There’s a scary moment in Round 4, however, when Jones lands a knee to the face while Smith is grounded. For the illegal strike, referee Herb Dean deducts two points. Had Smith been unable to continue, it would have been a DQ loss for Jones, with Smith the new champion. But the fight goes on, and Jones carries all three judges’ scorecards by 48-44.
April 19, 2019: A waitress at an Albuquerque strip club alleges to police that Jones, denied a private dance, “was roughhousing with her,” put her in a choke hold, kissed her on the neck and touched her genitals. A criminal summons is issued for Jones.
Chael Sonnen explains that round two should have been awarded to Thiago Santos and he should have gotten the decision vs. Jon Jones.
July 6, 2019: Jones scores his narrowest victory, defeating Thiago Santos by split decision. All three judges score the bout 48-47, with two favoring the champion.
July 21, 2019: Albuquerque TV station KRQE reports that Jones, facing a battery charge stemming from the April strip club complaint, failed to appear for a bond arraignment in June, prompting a bench warrant to be issued. Jones’ team tells the station that he was unaware of the charge and that, once he was told, Jones went to court and paid a cash bond.
Israel Adesaya says he plans to fight Jon Jones after he cleans out the middleweight division and that Jones is trying to take his moment.
Oct. 2, 2019: The seeds of a budding rivalry are planted as Jones responds on Twitter to criticism by middleweight champ Israel Adesanya, who was in attendance for the win over Santos and found Jones’ performance lacking. “Just don’t become delusional kid, [mess] with a beast like me, and I will expose you,” Jones tweeted. The social media beef is kept alive with regular shots back and forth. Adesanya says he’ll move up a weight class and challenge Jones in 2021 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, which will be the home of the NFL’s Raiders.
Oct. 15, 2019: Jones pleads no contest to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct for his behavior at the strip club. Under the terms of the plea deal, if Jones is not arrested or found to have violated the law in the next 90 days, the case will be dismissed. There have been no violations reported since, and the case does not appear on Jones’ court record.
Nov. 22, 2019: UFC president Dana White confirms to ESPN that Dominick Reyes will be up next for Jones, challenging for the belt on Feb. 8.
Jon Jones says he could see his next fight after Dominick Reyes being against Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight title.
Feb. 3, 2020: Jones continues to make overtures about jumping to heavyweight, saying he will strongly consider that after the Reyes bout. And he has a specific opponent in mind. “I feel like I really want to fight [heavyweight champ] Stipe Miocic,” he says. “I feel I could beat him.”