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Coach on Jon Jones’ various suspensions: ‘He really feels like this time off has prolonged his career’

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The former two-time light heavyweight champion’s MMA career has been off the rails has been off the rails since 2015, but maybe that’s a good thing?

Interim UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones Press Conference Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

When fighters talk about training smarter and not harder, this probably isn’t what they mean.

Over the past decade there has been a push in mixed martial arts to step away from the classic ‘gym war’ culture that often saw fighters essentially training for MMA fights by fighting their way through camps. It made a certain amount of basic sense, after all what better way to learn than by doing? But, it also left many notable talents with seemingly significantly shorter careers for all the damage they took outside the Octagon.

As such, many MMA gyms have started to focus on less hard sparring and more technique training. Jon Jones, however, has found a whole other way to avoid the rigors of fight camp and the grind of the gym: get suspended... a lot.

The former two-time unified light heavyweight champ has only fought four times since defending his belt against Alexander Gustafsson in 2013. However, he’s been stripped of three different belts over that same period (including an interim title).

‘Bones’ was first suspended by the UFC following an April 2015 hit & run accident, in which Jones was said to have fled the scene of a traffic collision on foot after running a red light. A pregnant woman was injured in the accident and Jones ended up sentenced to 18 months probation. His second suspension came following a positive drug test surrounding UFC 200 in 2016. Jones successfully argued that the test failure was the result of an off-brand sexual enhancement pill. Following arbitration with USADA, he was suspended for 1 year.

The latest suspension arrived in the wake of Jones’ rematch against Daniel Cormier at UFC 214, last year. Jones tested positive for the anabolic steroid Turinabol. Eventually, he was suspended 15 months by USADA for the second test failure — with hints that the Jackson-Wink talent may have turned over evidence of other drug cheats to lighten his sentence.

So, in the end, maybe this whole nearly-career-derailing saga has been a good thing?

That’s the angle coach Brandon Gibson took in a recent interview with the MMA Hour. There, Gibson argued that all that “time off” could be exactly the right thing to help prolong Jones’ MMA career (transcript via MMA Fighting).

“He’s not getting his brains battered in [during his time off],” Gibson explained Monday on The MMA Hour. “He’s not getting concussions. He’s taking care of his body and his mind, and this is such a — at this top one percent, these guys are tough. That’s not an aspect that comes with sparring or anything like that. The time off where we’re not having impact, where his body’s not getting beaten up and broken down, where we’re just continuing to evolve the skill and the technique and the strategy and develop Jon that much more as a martial artist is key. And you said he’s 31, he has a long fight career ahead of him still, and he really feels like this time off has prolonged his career that much more.

“If he was still fighting three to five times a year like he was when he was younger, I think that will burn guys out early. I think that’s where you start seeing the guys in their mid-thirties that are slow, that are not reacting, that can’t pull the trigger, that just aren’t recognizing things like they used to, and I think a lot of that comes with just the toll of the training camps in addition to the fights. So just having these kind of pre-camps where it’s just all technical-based, I think has been really good for him. I think it’s going to show in the fight. We had a long layoff before Ovince Saint Preux, and we had a long layoff before the second DC fight, and he came out sharp and focused, and new in a lot of ways.”

Jones is now set for another rematch, this time against Alexander Gustafsson. And once again the two men will be fighting for the light heavyweight title — vacated by Daniel Cormier once the bout starts. That fight goes down on December 29th in Las Vegas, NV and will be co-mained by the women’s featherweight superfight between Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes. Hopefully, whatever the outcome, Jones will make it through his latest return without finding himself on the receiving end of yet another extended layoff afterward.