LOS ANGELES — After all the drama and chaos of one of the wildest weeks in UFC history, Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson will step into the cage Saturday for a rematch of one of the best light heavyweight title bouts ever.
The fight has been buried by news of the relocation of the event and talk about picograms and grains of salt, but all that could be mostly forgotten should the main event of UFC 232 at The Forum in Inglewood, California, look anything like their first bout in 2013.
Gustafsson’s length and boxing skills made life miserable for Jones in what was by far the stiffest test of his championship reign, but Jones prevailed with a unanimous decision.
“I’m his kryptonite,” Gustafsson said. “He doesn’t like to fight me. I’m bringing something he doesn’t like to handle. I’m the guy. The Jon era is over, and I am here to take over it. I’m here to take the belt and beat him once and for all.”
The bout will be for the vacant light heavyweight title. Daniel Cormier, who also holds the heavyweight title, was to be stripped of the belt once the fight began Saturday, but he vacated it Friday rather than let the organization make the decision.
Jones, 31, can become a three-time champion with a win over Gustafsson. He concedes his victory in the first bout was difficult, but attributed it to too much partying and not enough training.
“Training for the second fight, me and my coaching staff, we realized how underprepared we were the first time,” Jones said. “Alexander brought a different game to the fight, and it was something that none of my teammates had prepared me for. We just overlooked him completely. I was exhausted in that first fight, but I still had enough heart to pull out the victory. I kicked it to a whole different gear in the late rounds.”
Jones views the rematch as a chance to prove the separation between himself and Gustafsson is far wider than it appeared in the first fight.
He also hoped to move on from the controversies that have marred an otherwise spectacular career, but the recent testing issues that forced the event to be moved from T-Mobile Arena have put his transgressions in the forefront again.
“There’s asterisks on everything these days, but in my mind, there is no asterisk on my accomplishments,” said Jones, who remains indignant about his most recent drug testing issues. “I was afraid of an asterisk on my career when I was uneducated on this stuff, but as I’m learning what this really is, I’m actually mad it was even mentioned. It’s invisible. I’ve taken off the asterisk next to what I’ve done. I know what I’ve done. I’ve done every pushup, every situp. Shown up to practice early, leaving late. Wrestling camp since I was 12, endless tournaments.
“After I beat him on Saturday, I’ll be right back on the track I’ve always been on, which is being one of the all-time greats, and I know that in my heart no matter who believes me or not.”
Gustafsson, 31, isn’t buying it. He said Thursday that he thinks Jones is a cheater.
“He’s not confident,” Gustafsson said. “He has to put (expletive) in his body to feel confident. That’s all it is. It won’t help him this time.”
Jones scoffed at the suggestion, but he knows Gustafsson isn’t the only person with that opinion.
“Of course you care about losing fans,” Jones said. “Everybody wants to be liked. I think at the end of the day, most things are forgivable, especially in American culture. I feel like in America people love a good comeback story. I feel like they love to build athletes up, and a lot of people really enjoy watching people fall. But a lot of people really enjoy watching people climb up after the (expletive). And so I’m aware of that. And my goal is just to climb up and get it right once and for all and show people a great comeback story.”