Like it or not, like him or not, Jon Jones is Albuquerque’s own.
He belongs to us — not as native-borns Johnny Tapia did and Holly Holm does, but he nevertheless is an Albuquerquean. He lives here.
And he’s fighting tonight, at least in part, for you.
Unlike many who compete under Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA banner but come here for just a few weeks before a fight, then return to California or North Carolina or wherever they call home, Jones (22-1) has put down roots here in the high desert.
In his personal quest for vindication from a string of legal and personal missteps, the upstate New York native cites the relationships he has formed here.
“I think it’s a big fight for my legacy,” he said on a teleconference earlier this week in advance of his Saturday night grudge match with UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier on UFC 214 in Anaheim, Calif. “… Over the last two years I feel like I’ve really done the right things to get my life back in order.
“The perception is that my life is still a little bit out of control. If you knew me and if you lived in Albuquerque, and you saw all my relationships with people and the community and the way things are turning around for me, you would see things differently.”
In the past, his relationship with Albuquerque has been as toxic as his rivalry with Cormier (19-1).
In April 2015, three months after his victory by unanimous decision over Cormier in their first fight, Jones — then holding the UFC title for which he’s challenging tonight — ran a red light and broadsided a car being driven by a pregnant woman. Jones fled the scene. A pipe containing marijuana was found in his rented SUV.
In January 2016, he was pulled over on an Albuquerque street for speeding (75 mph in a 35 mph zone) and had neither a driver’s license nor a vehicle registration.
That March, he was cited for drag racing late at night on Central Avenue — a charge he vehemently denied while cursing the policeman who pulled him over. After spending a couple of nights in jail due to a possible parole violation, he was sentenced to undergo anger management counseling.
Since then? The lovely sound of silence. Jones hasn’t been seen in an Albuquerque courtroom or jail cell for 15 months. He sees his relationship with Albuquerque as mended.
He’d like to expand that to include the entire MMA community.
“I’ve forgiven myself for the things that have happened,” he said, “and I feel like I’ve done all the right things to get my life back together.”
Jones, dominant in the first Cormier fight, is a heavy favorite tonight despite having fought only once in the past 31 months — that an unimpressive victory by unanimous decision over Ovince Saint Preux in April 2016.
He is supremely confident.
“I’m excited to get this win,” he said, “so that it will outweigh what happened two years ago (referencing the hit-and-run crash) and allow everyone else in the MMA community to start to move forward and to heal in the way my friends, family and teammates have moved forward from it already.”
Jones and Cormier have been oil and water from the start. In August 2014, at a news conference held to formally announce their first fight, they engaged in a brawl at a Las Vegas, Nev., resort. They’ve been trading insults in interviews and on social media ever since.
This week, they’ve agreed — well, for the most part — that it’s time to shut up and fight.
UFC 214, Anaheim, Calif.
Main event: Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier; Donald Cerrone vs. Robbie Lawler on pay-per-view beginning at 8 p.m.