TORONTO — Jon Jones has landed in Baltimore by now. His injured right arm is still in a holding pattern.
The UFC light heavyweight champion, fresh off Saturday night’s gritty title defense against Vitor Belfort, was en route to watch his brothers play in Sunday night’s Patriots-Ravens game, tired and sore but with his arm no longer in the sling he wore to the post-fight press conference 10 hours earlier.
Does that mean the X-ray he was said to be heading for after leaving Air America Centre at around 2 a.m. had revealed no damage? Not at all.
“I haven’t got it X-rayed yet,” Jones told me just before boarding his Baltimore-bound flight at Pearson International Airport. I’d spotted him in the waiting area, reclining his 6-feet-4-inch frame across a row of seats and catching up on lost sleep from his late night. In fact, if I hadn’t gone over and nudged him after hearing a boarding call for his flight, he might not have made it to see Arthur Jones and the Ravens take on rookie Chandler Jones and the Patriots.
The first thing I noticed when Jones sat up was that the sling was missing. “I had to take it off so I could switch shirts,” he said, rubbing the arm as he spoke. “But the arm is pretty messed up. My hand is still swollen, and the whole arm is jacked up.”
Why no X-ray, then? “I just didn’t want to go to the hospital last night,” said the 17-1 champion, whose victory was his eighth straight, the last four of them title defenses against past champions. “I was pretty excited about the win, and I just didn’t want to spend the night in a hospital.”
When does he plan to get his arm examined? “I’m going to Baltimore to watch football, and maybe I’ll get the arm checked out while I’m there,” he said. “Or I might wait until I get home. I’m just trying to keep pressure off of it and deal with the pain until I can get to a doctor and see what’s going on with it. The pain is definitely bearable, though, so I’m not in any rush.”
The injury occurred in the first round of Saturday night’s UFC 152 main event, when Belfort locked on an armbar and came closer to finishing the indomitable Jones than anyone he’s fought. “I’ve never had my arm pop like that before,” the 25-year-old said in the cage after the fight. He also let it be known that there was no way he was going to tap out, saying, “I worked too hard to give it up.”
So he escaped the submission attempt and fought on. His arm was numb, we later learned, but as the fight was unfolding there was no visual evidence that he was any worse for wear. Jones didn’t favor his right arm or shy away from using it. In fact, the right elbow was a primary weapon as he cut up Belfort and dominated the resolute Brazilian before finishing the job with a submission of his own 54 seconds into the fourth round. It was only in the in-cage interview afterward that we learned of the damage that had been done.
Then, nearly an hour later, after arriving late for the post-fight press conference with his arm in a sling, Jones said he’d been told by medical personnel at the arena that he might have sustained nerve damage to his biceps. “That’s what someone there had guessed,” he clarified on Sunday. “But it’s hard to say anything official by just looking at it.”
Whatever the injury diagnosis ultimately might be, Jones is unlikely to feel sorry for himself. He’s had a lot of practice lately in dealing with adversity. Over the past several weeks, in the wake of his decision to not accept a replacement opponent and save a UFC event from cancellation, he’s been assailed by fight promotion president Dana White as well fans and other fighters. He persevered through that painful episode, as he did through an excruciating armlock applied Saturday night by a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
“Yeah, absolutely, man,” said Jones. “It’s good to know that you can overcome. It takes a lot of strength and power every time you run into a different situation, so I’m grateful for the situations.”
Indeed, Jones was in good spirits as we spoke. He lit up when the arts critic in me gave his choice of walkout music — Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” — a rave review, not just for entertaining the fans and getting them clapping along instead of booing him, but also for subtly conveying the song’s message: the importance of remaining loving and true to oneself no matter how much others try to change or control you. “The music,” said Jones, “did exactly what we hoped it would.”
And with that song in his head Jones was off to Baltimore, ready for some football, but not until he’d thanked me for waking him so he didn’t miss his flight. Before heading to the gate he reached out to shake hands … with his left.