You could easily mistake Jon Jones for a villain if you read MMA message boards, listened to certain MMA pundits or consulted Twitter in the past two weeks.
The UFC light heavyweight champ is aware of this, and yet he's not ready to play a role once reserved in the UFC for guys like "Tank" Abbott and Tito Ortiz.
"I'm not going to say I've embraced the role of being a villain because I'm not a villain," Jones said today. "I'm not a bad person. I pride myself on inspiring others."
Since he turned down a short-notice title defense against Chael Sonnen at UFC 151, which prompted the UFC to cancel the Sept. 1 pay-per-view event, Jones (16-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC), who now meets Vitor Belfort (21-9 MMA, 10-5 UFC) at UFC 152, has inspired far more criticism than support.
Subsequent tweets from the 25-year-old fighter poking fun at Dan Henderson, whose injured knee scrapped a fight with the champ and provided the catalyst for UFC 151's cancelation, and subsequent comments to the media defending his decision to turn down Sonnen, haven't helped him escape the mob.
Jones, however, said he's not running from anything or anyone. He's simply being him.
"I'm going to start making comments of things I think are true and get more comfortable with myself, and it's a crazy journey," he said. "I'm not used to people hanging on every word that I say, and everything I tweet is like a new article, or everything I say is a new article. But I've got to be comfortable with myself, man. I never had an official PR
training, nor do I want one. I want to express who I am as a person, and this is who I am."
While Jones admitted being the bad guy isn't exactly bad in the long run for his business, and his reputation may end up helping him at the pay-per-view till, he thinks his image isn't founded in reality.
"As a person, I'm the nicest dude ever to everyone who's ever met me," he said. "You go to the fan expos, and everyone who leaves Jon Jones' line is happy. When I meet people every day on the streets, I'm the nicest person. Every day when I walk into Jackson's gym, I hand out boxes of equipment; I order stuff all the time for my teammates and give it out.
"I'm the nicest person ever, and I know that for a fact. I'm comfortable with myself when it comes to that."
But at the same time, if fans get a sense that he's cocky or arrogant (and that's a central refrain among those wielding pitchforks), he said it's because that disposition is a job requirement.
"For all the people that think I'm cocky, if you really listen to what I say…if you talk to me about fighting, you may just hear something that's a little arrogant," Jones said, "Because right now, I train so hard to not even get hit, let alone talk about losing a fight. So, I love this sport so much, I owe it to myself to think of myself in the highest regard.
"So I'm not going to apologize if I'm a little full of myself when it comes to MMA. Because you've got to be full of yourself. That's the way you master yourself. You master your abilities. To be the biggest critic of yourself, and to be able to praise yourself and speak highly of yourself. I'm not apologetic about that, that slight arrogance that I may hold when it comes to being a martial artist."
UFC 152 takes place Sept. 22 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The event's main card, including the light heavyweight title fight and a flyweight title fight between Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez, airs live on pay-per-view while preliminary-card fights air on FX and Facebook.