MMA fans were sadly mistaken if they thought Sweden would play host to the highly anticipated rematch between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson. On Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour, the UFC light heavyweight champ said there was “no chance” of him defending his title in Gustafsson’s backyard.
“It won’t be Sweden, no chance,” said Jones. “I have no reason [to go there]. I’m the champ and he’s the challenger. I don’t really find it appropriate to go in his backyard.”
Jones defeated Gustafsson nearly a year ago in what many consider the greatest title fight in UFC history. It marked the first time in Jones’ professional career that he had faced legitimate adversity and a real chance of losing.
Gustafsson took the champ to hell and back for a full 25-minute exchange of heart and will. In the end, Jones stood in the center of the cage as the lone victor after earning a unanimous decision, but it would be far-fetched to consider Gustafsson a loser.
The Swedish boxer became a superstar for his efforts against Jones. He even shares the front cover of EA’s new UFC video game with the light heavyweight champ.
An incredible performance and endless support from fans has awakened a newfound confidence in Gustafsson. He walks with the swagger of a UFC champion, despite not having an actual gold strap around his waist.
Jones, on the other hand, has been branded enemy No. 1 by the fans for his delay in signing the contract for a rematch with Gustafsson. During a media scrum in Berlin, UFC President Dana White claimed Gustafsson had signed on for the rematch, but Jones was the lone holdout delaying the process of getting a deal done.
Without elaborating on the issue at hand, Jones posted a vague response to White’s comments on Twitter.
The UFC and Jones have since met and agreed on a Sept. 27 date for the Gustafsson rematch. With the contract situation finally in the rearview mirror, Jones gave his side of the story for the reasoning behind the delayed signing:
I identified it as being kind of like a strong-arm technique on [the UFC’s] part, to kinda get fans pushing for a fight by prematurely announcing a fight. It’s not that I didn’t sign a contract; I hadn’t even heard that date before. So I thought it was very unprofessional, and I thought it was kind of a bully technique of negotiating.
It looks like [the UFC was playing into the narrative of me ducking Gustafsson] for sure. It was annoying, but I just needed to kind of weather that storm and let everybody call me a chicken for a few weeks until I actually got to go in there and negotiate a contract to take that fight and do things in a more professional manner. I knew that them announcing that fight early was to get the fans harassing me pretty much, and I knew I just needed to never mind the masses and do what was right business-wise for me and my family.
Weeks of being called out for “ducking Gustafsson” and being labeled a “chicken” has really weighed heavily on Jones.
There have only been a handful of times in his career where he felt he truly needed to make an example out of his opponent. The first time came when he fought Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for the UFC title a little over three years ago. Another time was his showdown with his former teammate Rashad Evans, and the last instance came against Chael Sonnen.
When the cage door closes on Sept. 27, Jones plans on doing everything in his power to remind fans why he is the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
“This is the fourth [fight] where it’s one of those situations where success is the only option, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that happens,” said Jones. “I think it’s safe to say you’ll see a new level in my game in this fight.”
Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA writer for Rocktagon.