Los Angeles, CA — In just over a week’s time, Dominick Reyes will become the latest man to challenge Jon Jones for the UFC’s light heavyweight title. Many have tried, all have failed. To date, Jones’ greatest (and only, with apologies to Matt Hamill) defeats have come outside of the octagon, mainly against himself.
Reyes, speaking to media outlets including Cageside Press in Los Angeles on Thursday, recalled the first time he saw Jones compete. It was against Shogun Rua in 2011, when a 23-year old Jones won the UFC’s light heavyweight title for the first time. “I was like, ‘damn, that guy’s pretty good.'”
Nearly a decade later, Jones is again the 205lb champion. He’s been stripped of the belt (more than once), but never defeated in all that time. Jones is the man many consider the greatest of all time.
Reyes approach, with that in mind, is that “he’s champion. It’s his belt to lose. It’s mine to gain.” And crucially, “I’ve got nothing to lose.”
“I go out there, I put my entire heart on my sleeve, I fight with everything I have,” Reyes added. “Worst-case scenario, I don’t come out on top, but I lost to Jon Jones.”
The UFC 247 main event has be dismissed by some, or at least the Reyes half of it, as an easy night for Jones. Reyes himself isn’t expecting Jones to dismiss him so easily. “I expect to get the best version of Jon we’ve seen in a minute. Everybody I’ve fought, I get the best version of them. I’m a guy that Jon definitely doesn’t want to take lightly, and he knows that. He’s a smart competitor. He knows I’m a guy you don’t want to take lightly at all.”
Reyes, in any case, is training for the best version of Jon Jones. Especially after he had to light up Jones in the trash talk department to get the fight. Jones had been claiming to be bored with the fight game, prior to Reyes engaging in a little banter. As to whether Jones was really bored, “I don’t know what the guy’s thinking. I only know what I’m thinking,” said Reyes. “He was saying he wanted somebody to get him excited about the fight. So okay, I’ll oblige. A little bit of trash talk, whatever I’ve got to do to get my shot, and I got my shot.”
“I’m here to fight. It’s not about the trash talk,” Reyes continued. “I’m not the best trash talker in the world, we know this. I’m a competitor. I was raised in the world of sportsmanship, of team sports, being a good sport. Act like you’ve been here before, work hard, you don’t have to say something, show him. You don’t have to talk all this crazy talk, show them what you’ve got. That’s who I am and what I’m about.”
For Reyes, who admitted that “trash talk is kind of new to me,” it’s not really talking trash anyway. “It’s just me responding to things that he’s saying. I’m not going to just let you say whatever you want about me or to me. I’m a man, I’m not going to accept this. That’s where I am with that. But I got my shot, I’m here to make the most of it.”
What was surprising to Dominick Reyes, however, is when the pair came face-to-face at their first stare-down, at the UFC 247 press conference back in December. “We were face to face, and my heart rate didn’t raise at all. I felt at home. I was like ‘this is it? This is Jon Jones?’ The allure of Jon Jones is a lot bigger than he actually is.”
The “idea” of Jones is behind a lot of fighter’s losses to the champ, Reyes agreed when it was suggested to him. “I absolutely do think that. It’s easy to fall into that. Every single person is trying to tell you that ‘oh my god you’re fighting Jon Jones, what are you going to do?’ I’m going to fight. I’m going to do what I’m great at, I’m going to do what I love doing.”
“People think it’s a lot more,” he said. “It’s still a fight. It’s just a fight.”
“When I saw him in person, when I faced off, when I was this far away from him, I was like ‘this guy’s just a man,'” he added. “With very many of insecurities. You see it all over him.”
Asked about what those insecurities are, Reyes suggested that “he don’t want to lose. His ego drives this guy.” Whereas Reyes himself, he added, is “driven by love and passion.”
UFC 247 takes place February 8, 2020 at the Toyota Center in Houston, TX.