UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has defeated some of the MMA’s best strikers, wrestlers and grapplers during his title reigns.
But Dominick Reyes, Jones’ opponent in the main event of UFC 247 on Saturday in Houston, says his athleticism is truly unique and something the champion has never encountered in the cage.
Jones scoffed at the notion, calling it “the dumbest thing (he’s) heard in a while.”
The 32-year-old quickly pointed out that archrival Daniel Cormier was a two-time Olympic wrestler, Ovince Saint-Preux played football in the Southeastern Conference and Ryan Bader was the defensive player of the year in Nevada while playing football at McQueen High School before becoming a two-time All-America wrestler at Arizona State.
Reyes, 30, insists he’s on a different level than any of those fighters.
“I was speaking on being a traditional athlete,” he said this week on a conference call. “Playing baseball, playing football, basketball, track and field. It requires a different amount of just athleticism and overall focus.
“It’s not just playing sports. It’s getting to a very high level of athletics. It’s learning the intricacies of movement. It’s really studying film before you actually study film. Guys don’t usually study film until they get in UFC, and they don’t really understand what it is. There are so many intricacies of being a high level athlete that most people do not understand.”
Reyes, a native of Hesperia, California, who is 12-0 in his career, played defensive back at Stony Brook University and had NFL aspirations, but he went undrafted in 2013 after back-to-back all-conference seasons. He took his first pro fight a year later.
Jones, whose two brothers played in the NFL, was dismissive of his opponent’s accomplishments.
“Dominick Reyes, one of the greatest athletes in Apple Valley history,” Jones posted on Twitter. “Being a big fish in a small pond for so long has really gone to his head.”
Jones has been at the top of the MMA world for almost a decade, going 14-0 in title fights. He said he’s ready to welcome Reyes to the big leagues.
“My opponent can say that he’s comfortable and not nervous and try to make people believe whatever, but I know deep down inside, he has to be,” Jones said on a conference call. “Absolutely has to be. Not only is he fighting in the main event, he’s getting more attention and more media obligations that he ever has before. Everybody is rooting for him back at home. It causes tons of pressure.”
The bout will be the fourth in 14 months for Jones, who had fought just four times in the previous four years because of legal issues and failed drug tests. He has said the plan is to fight three times this year, which would be the first time he’s had more than two fights in a calendar year since 2011.
Reyes doesn’t have the resume of some of Jones’ opponents, but the champion insists the bout has his full attention.
“If you don’t have great pride in every piece of the puzzle, you just can’t have a masterpiece at the end, and that’s how I genuinely feel,” Jones said. “I’m starting to fight guys who, when they joined the UFC, I was the champion. So since their very first practices, it’s been about beating me, right? So when you take that away from them, it means a lot. And so I get up for every fight.”
The pay-per-view main card begins at 7 p.m. and will stream on ESPN Plus. It includes another title fight, as women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko meets Katlyn Chookagian.
Main card bouts for the 7 p.m. pay-per-view event in Houston:
— Jon Jones (25-1, 1 No Contest) vs. Dominick Reyes (12-0), for Jones’ light heavyweight title
— Valentina Shevchenko (18-3) vs. Katlyn Chookagian (13-2), for Shevchenko’s women’s flyweight title
— Juan Adams (5-2) vs. Justin Tafa (3-1), heavyweights
— Mirsad Bektic (13-2) vs. Dan Ige (12-2), featherweights
— Derrick Lewis (22-7, 1 No Contest) vs. Ilir Latifi (15-7, 1 No Contest), heavyweights