If a movie is eventually made about the life of light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, a win over Thiago Santos in the main event of UFC 239 on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena may not even make the script.
Adding Santos to the list of light heavyweight contenders to rise through the rankings only to be turned away by one of the most dominant champions in mixed martial arts history would be far more footnote than M. Night Shyamalan-style plot twist.
The pay-per-view card begins at 7 p.m. with the first preliminary bout starting at 3:30.
A far more interesting turn might be whether the protagonist has the ability to become a hero by the time the story has concluded.
“It’s my job to just be the best person I can be to make sure the ending of my movie is, ‘This guy really got it together,’” the 31-year-old said Thursday. “I’m still every day just trying to make better decisions to ultimately make the fans and people who believed in me proud.”
Jones has provided enough highs in the cage to create interest in his story and enough lows out of it to make screenwriters’ dreams come true, including positive drug tests, drunk driving accidents and arrests and fight cancellations.
He hopes to chart a more steady course through the rest of his career. Jones is in the midst of his second consecutive fight week free of drama and hopes to defend his belt four more times before the end of 2020 if everything goes according to plan.
“We’re still working on (the rest of the movie),” he said. “Every day I wake up with the choice to try to be a good dude or fall into one of many pits you can fall into along the journey. Right now, I’m just taking it one day at a time trying to be a better dude, and if I do that every day, I think the story is going to turn out all right.”
Santos hopes to take on a featured role as the unknown underdog who emerges to dethrone the champion. If he is David to Jones’ Goliath, Santos’ stone is the power he possesses in his hands and feet.
While the 35-year-old Brazilian isn’t being given much more than a literal puncher’s chance, his 15 career knockouts include three straight since moving up to light heavyweight last year.
Santos also has a story of his own. He came out of the infamous Cidade de Deus neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro to become a paratrooper in the Brazilian military and earn his way to the UFC through an appearance on the Brazilian version of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
He doesn’t figure to be overwhelmed by the moment of stepping in the cage with Jones.
“(My military experience) has helped me a lot,” he said through a translator. “This is like a mission to me and I’m always just focused on my mission. I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in life and even in my fight career. I’ve had many defeats and many losses. It’s all prepared for this. Winning this belt would be the culmination of a lot of work and a lot of moments, and it would be a significant moment for a lot of people I’m trying to help.”
It will take beating the man often considered to be the best to ever compete in the UFC. Jones still feels he has more to prove before allowing himself into the discussion, but believes he will at least be in the conversation should he keep winning and continue to stay on the right path outside the cage.
That’s still a major challenge, though Jones understands that more now than he did when he first won the belt in 2011.
“That Jon was a lot wilder, a lot younger, and felt invincible,” Jones said. “I don’t think I was as appreciative. Today, I know I’m very human. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Today, I know I can lose it all, so what I do differently is do everything to keep it all and do the right things.
“I feel like I’m trying to allow my character to catch up to my abilities and my talent.”
There is still a gap there to overcome, though Jones believes it is narrowing. In response to a question about whether he is a good guy trying to be bad or vice versa, Jones pondered the query before answering the latter.
“Religiously, we’re all sinners,” he said. “We’re born into sin. It’s our nature to sin. It’s a decision to do the right thing when no one is looking.
“I think all of us, as humans, none of us are (anything). It’s our choice to try to be more than that. So, I would have to say I lean closer to being an imperfect human that’s trying to do the right things and be good.”
In the cage, he has been close to flawless. He’ll look to continue that trend on a card that also features a women’s bantamweight title bout pitting champion Amanda Nunes against former champ Holly Holm.
UFC 239 main card
— Jon Jones (24-1, 1 no contest) vs. Thiago Santos (21-6), for Jones’ light heavyweight title
— Amanda Nunes (17-4) vs. Holly Holm (12-4), for Nunes’ women’s bantamweight title
— Jorge Masvidal (33-13) vs. Ben Askren (19-0, 1 no contest), welterweights
— Luke Rockhold (16-4) vs. Jan Blachowicz (23-8), light heavyweights
— Diego Sanchez (31-11) vs. Michael Chiesa (15-4), welterweights