Jon Jones is back. He's headlining this weekend's UFC 197 where he's heavily favored (-550) against Ovince Saint Preux (+375). The question is whether or not he's back to being the 'Bones' Jones we once knew or whether a 15-month layoff has changed him.
There was a time when Jones was the top dog in the UFC. At age 23, he was the Light Heavyweight Champion and was considered the pound-for-pound king. But that was back in 2011, a year in which he fought four times. He hasn't lost since then and he's still rated the pound-for-pound best, but he's only fought six times in the last four years combined.
That's because Jones is no longer the UFC's golden boy and his career has been tainted. He's now 28, was busted for cocaine use, was charged with a felony hit-and-run and recently was hit with five traffic tickets after bad-mouthing a cop. He's got a lot of image repairing to do.
For starters, it'll be a change to see him in the Octagon opposed to on TMZ.com. Originally, we were anticipating his rematch with current Light Heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, who has reigned over the division with Jones out. Jones beat him last January, but was then stripped of the belt, which Cormier claimed in a bout with Anthony Johnson at UFC 187. Cormier had to pull out of UFC 197 due to a foot injury, which is why Saint Preux was called upon to step up into his place.
Saint Preux will be a challenge for Jones, but not nearly the challenge that Cormier would have been. Saint Preux is rated as the No. 6 Light Heavyweight according to UFC.com, which isn't great. The Light Heavyweight Division isn't exactly the deepest in the UFC and although he's slotted one spot above Rashad Evans and two spots above Mauricio Rua in the rankings, that's not saying a lot these days.
Saint Preux is coming off a decision win over Rafael Cavalcante in February, but that was just his third win in his last five fights. With losses to Glover Teixeira and Ryan Bader in that stretch, he's mostly getting this title shot because of injury. It's not that he fully deserved it. He'll need to have the fight of his life to beat Jones this weekend. Either that or Jones will have to have plenty of ring rust.
The issue with projecting Jones struggling in this bout is that we've never seen that happen. While he's made questionable decisions outside of the Octagon, he's made nothing but great decisions inside of it. He's 21-1 and has won 12 straight fights. He defends 94.5-percent of his takedowns, has powerful striking and has a huge edge on the ground in this bout. He also has a significant advantage in experience. It's just a matter of how the 15-month layoff has affected his conditioning, athleticism and motivation.
The general assumption is that we'll get an angry, fired up and focused Bones Jones. If that's truly the case, Saint Preux probably won't make it to the end.