Jon Jones returned to glory at UFC 232 when he defeated his rival Alexander Gustafsson by TKO in the third round to reclaim the UFC light heavyweight title.
It was not an easy road back for Jones. The light heavyweight great was coming off of a 15-month USADA suspension and was looking to win back his belt. The pressure was high and some fans believed Jones would suffer from ring rust. Yet for Jones’ coach Mike Winkeljohn and the rest of the team at JacksonWink MMA, that was never a worry.
“I wasn’t [worried],” Winkeljohn said to BJPENN.com. “In Jon’s case, it was a good thing. No injuries, getting focused, just getting that passion back a little bit. Behind the scenes he was very fearful, everyone is kind of second-guessing it, but at the same time he had this passion we hadn’t seen before. Everyone is going to see a new Jon Jones and he is going to be even better for his next fight.”
Jones’ passion shone through in his training camp. He was constantly in the gym preparing for Gustafsson — even before the fight was announced. He started his training camp earlier than ever and it showed in the cage at UFC 232. He came out with a solid game plan, evidently taking Gustafsson more seriously than he did in their first fight. And in the end, he got the finish he was looking for.
Finishing the fight was important because of the fact that many fans believe Gustafsson beat Jones in their first fight. Jones wanted to prove without a doubt that he is the better fighter.
According to Winkeljohn, we can expect lots more finishes from the champ going forward.
“Oh yeah, there is no doubt and Jon is all about getting a finish. He wants to finish his fights from now on,” Winkeljohn explained. “Here is the deal, when Jon is on top and starts dropping elbows, nobody wants to be there. It is a bloody mess, everybody will turn and he will tap him out. That is how I see fights going in the future. They are going to be so fearful of getting taking down that striking will be even easier than it has been and Jon will finish everybody from now on.”
Jones Jones benefited from having fought Gustafsson once before. Heading into the second fight, he and his team prepared differently than they did the first time around.
“We knew a lot of things. I’m not going to lie, the first fight, we were caught off guard with Gustafsson shooting on Jon. That got Jon’s ego involved,” Winkeljohn said. “That changed things a little in Jon’s mind, we got gassed for a little bit. This time we were ready for anything Gustafsson came up with. Our goal was to keep him so mesmerized with chaos, with Jon’s ability to strike from anywhere that Gustafsson wouldn’t know how to shoot, when to shoot or how to box. Jon did exactly that, he is a master at that.”
With this impressive performance, Jon Jones is once again the UFC light heavyweight champ. Winkeljohn explained how important this was for the fighter, and how he drew inspiration from the great Muhammad Ali as he geared up for his return.
“Very important, it is a big part of his identity, not only the belt but being considered the best pound-for-pound fighter of all-time,” Winkeljohn explained. “That is something Jon and I have always talked about, I want it for Jon and he wants it for himself, is the legendary status. He thinks highly of Muhammad Ali of everything he did. Ali was off for a long time and came back. There are a lot of similarities there between Jon and Ali, and we all appreciate his ability to persevere.”
Jon Jones is frequently mentioned in MMA’s greatest of all time debate, but according to Mike Winkeljohn, there should be no debate at all.
“If you look at who he has taken out, and he has never lost except for the disqualification, so yeah Jon is by far the best of all-time,” he said. “He is just getting better and that is a scary thing for the rest of the division.”
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 1/6/2019.