These are heady times for Jon Jones, the UFC's longtime undisputed and somehow-still interim light heavyweight champion. He's scheduled to meet with the US Anti-Doping Agency on Oct. 31 for an arbitration hearing, where he'll appeal findings related to positive tests for a pair of banned substances in July. He'll also meet with the Nevada State Athletic Commission about the failed drug test, which led to his removal from a main event rematch with Daniel Cormier at UFC 200, in November. Jones is optimistic about his chances of avoiding a lengthy suspension and making a speedy return to the Octagon. Redemption for Jon Jones is just around the corner, you guys. For realsies this time.
In the meantime, Jones made an impromptu return to competition on Saturday with a handful of no-gi matches at a North American Grappling Association (NAGA) tournament in Phoenix, Arizona. Jones was in town for a sponsor appearance at the Europa Games expo, which happened to be hosting the tournament as part of the festivities, when Jones said (via Instagram) that he "was randomly called out by some MMA fans to try a grappling match today after my autograph signing."
But Jiu-Jitsu Times caught up with Don Daubert, a 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu purple belt and one of Jones's opponents, and to hear him tell it the genesis of Jones stepping on the mat was less trash talk and more friendly invitation. "My friend Erik and I saw [Jones] at a NAGA merchandise stand," Daubert said. "So, I said, 'Hey, let's go fan boy out and see if he will give us a picture.' But he ducked into this changing tent. So we waited for him for a picture, but he came out in jiu-jitsu gear, and I asked him if he was rolling today, and he said yes. I then said, 'Hey, if you are ever interested in rolling with someone [Daniel Cormier]-shaped while in Phoenix, let me know.' He talked to someone and then said, 'Hey, I want to fight him,' and pointed at me."
Here's what happened next:
And here's what happened after that:
It's a hell of a thing watching a sort-of-champion—who for all his missteps and penchant for self-sabotage is probably the best MMA fighter anyone has ever seen—guillotine presumably good grappling hobbyists with almost no effort. It's not just seeing Jones re-contextualized in a place that subtracts the strikes he uses to rip holes in people's heads: it's that he's descended from rarified air to dominate us mere mortals.
A certain category of awful human being watches sports and thinks they could do a better job from their couch. One time a guy who was installing my cable told me that he could beat up Tim Sylvia, then the UFC's heavyweight champion who'd become a plodding, ponderous fighter while defending his belt. Of course my untrained, sub-200-pound cable guy couldn't beat up the fucking heavyweight champion, but he still thought he could: when top-tier athletes face other top-tier athletes, the parity between their skills skews our perceptions of what we're seeing. It takes Jon Jones stepping onto a crowded mat and roughhousing with normal people to see how dominant he is in absolute terms.
And as a PR tool, Jones' appearance in Phoenix does more for reviving goodwill in the combat sports world than all those community service hours spent using his life's story to teach lessons to middle-schoolers in New Mexico. He appeared respectful and pleasant, bro-hugging afterward with his victims. He was also graceful in defeat, when a young grappler wearing jeans finished the armbar that Vitor Belfort couldn’t.
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