LOS ANGELES -- After defeating Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 on Saturday, Jon Jones made a point to say (multiple times) there is no asterisk attached to this result or his renewed status as the UFC's light heavyweight champion.
And when it's all said and done, maybe he'll be right. Maybe history will ultimately agree. But he'll have to excuse anyone who doesn't feel that way right now.
It's possible that in the history of the UFC, there has never been a more polarizing outcome to a fight than Jones' third-round victory on Saturday. At least from the standpoint of the conflicting narratives coming out of it.
Depending on what or whom you wish to believe, Jones is either a victim of new and imperfect drug testing methods or a serial drug offender the UFC allowed to compete under nefarious circumstances. That's a serious gap.
As far as Jones is concerned, he's told the truth and the polygraph test he passed earlier this year confirms that. He has never knowingly ingested a banned substance, he has said, and the cause behind every failed test, metabolite and picogram he's had to answer for in the past two years is a complete mystery to him.
He says he has become MMA's "guinea pig" (his words) and that testing methods have become so sophisticated, they can detect a metabolite in one's system for years, even if the parent drug has never been re-administered. That while the sport is coming to terms on how it will handle that, he is living it in real time.
That's Jones' side. His problem is that very few want to hear it.
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It feels like the prevailing public sentiment coming out of UFC 232 is that something doesn't smell right. To put it simply: asterisks.
"Honestly, it doesn't matter," said Jones, when asked if he acknowledges that. "Nobody has been there with me doing the pushups, running the miles, sprints, wrestling tournaments, dealing with criticism. In my heart, in my team's heart, we know we've done nothing wrong.
"I have greatness on my shoulder right now, and I can't allow what naysayers say [to] affect anything I have going on here."
But frankly, everything we know about Jones suggests that last part isn't true. In addition to being an extraordinary fighter, Jones has always cared, intimately, about his reputation, how fans have viewed him and how the press has covered him. That is a well-known fact about Jones.
And if Jones ever wants his narrative and the public's to re-align -- if he ever wants those two perspectives to come together again -- he has to be nothing short of perfect from here on out. He has to meticulously follow every rule down to the last detail. He has to exhaustively research every single thing he puts in his body. He has to be the most careful person on the planet between fights, and he needs to continue to be the most dominant person in each of them.
Because there currently is still a chance for Jones to remove any asterisk that accompanies his career. But the next one he collects will surely be permanent.