Despite a bumpy road of late, UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon (Bones) Jones says he is back in his comfort zone ahead of his UFC 152 title defence Saturday against Vitor (The Phenom) Belfort.
"I'm home," the 25-year-old Jones told reporters after an open workout Wednesday at the Xtreme Couture gym. "MMA, it's my livelihood, it's my sanctuary.
"And even though this gym isn't my gym, I feel as if I'm in a sanctuary. Fighting and moving my body and breaking a sweat, that's what makes me feel alive. I'm just grateful to be here. I'm grateful that there's people here that care and I'm going to entertain them."
He will do so against a beefed-up Belfort, who volunteered to move up a weight class and fight Jones (16-1) when other light-heavyweights backed off.
Belfort will be giving up 10 years and four inches in height to the six-foot-four Jones.
"I love challenges," the Brazilian said cheerfully. "I've been part of this sport for 17 years. I came from the era of Dan Severn, Mark Coleman. It's a joy, it's just a blessing to still be around."
A bearded Jones was wearing a Nike Bones Knows T-shirt. But the son of a New York state pastor acknowledged that he is the first to admit he does not have all the answers.
"Let alone figuring out what life is like being a champion, figuring out what life is like being a 25-year-old father growing up under a microscope, it's tough man, it really is," he said.
"But if I were to sit here and make my life sound as if I had the hardest life, it would be a shame. There's people out there who live way harder lives than I do. So I'm not going to complain.
"I'm just extremely grateful to be where I'm and I'm going to continue to try to do my best and I hope that the fans bear with me because it's not always going to be perfect."
In recent months, Jones has endured a drunk-driving charge and a very public spat with UFC president Dana White over his opponent at UFC 151 after Dan Henderson withdrew from through injury.
Jones (16-1) refused to fight middleweight contender Chael Sonnen on short notice, prompting an enraged White to cancel UFC 151 and unload on Jones.
White and Jones are slated to meet here for the first time since the messy disagreement.
"I'm excited about the meeting," Jones said. "Me and Dana are investors in the same sport. Us not being on the same page makes no sense for anyone."
Still he said he stood behind his decisions and while he was bothered by the dispute, "forgiveness is an important thing."
The main event Saturday is phenom versus phenom
Belfort was only 19 when he won the UFC's first ever heavyweight tournament at UFC 12 in February 1997. He went on to win the light-heavyweight title.
Jones became the UFC's youngest champion when, at the age of 23 years 242 days, he dethroned Maurio (Shogun) Rua at UFC 128 in February 2011.
Jones had beaten three former champions since in Quinton (Rampage) Jackson, Lyoto (The Dragon) Machida and Rashad Evans. Only Evans went the distance.
While oddsmakers have made Jones an 8-1 or 9-1 favourite, the champion says he faces "another amazing opponent" in Belfort.
"Vitor is phenomenal," Jones said. "I fought a lot of intimidating guys. More and more I'm learning to just be comfortable fighting guys who are simply intimidating.
"He's fast, he's powerful, he's physically muscular. I'm just becoming more and more comfortable fighting beasts."
Jones had fun during his open workout, going over to shake hands with a couple of Belfort fans only to playfully pull his hand back at the final second. A Brazilian TV personality then repaid the favour.
While he said he was feeling the effects of his weight cut, Jones seemed in good spirits despite the headlines he has been making away from the cage.
"I just think people go through a lot tougher situations. LeBron (James) left Cleveland and had a whole state passionately hate him.
"What I'm going through is very small when it comes to the grand scheme of real-life controversy. There's people out there who are starving, there's just a lot of serious things going on in the world. So at the end of the day, all my drama, it's all based around a game, it's really just a sport. It's MMA drama, it's not real-life ... so I can deal with people hating me or loving me. It's what it is.
"Ultimately my job is to entertain people ... I guess keeping everything in perspective helps me deal with things. Realizing that my world is not that serious. It's a game. We're all here just to watch a sport be played. It's not life or death."
Belfort was equally philosophical — "I've got peace in the process, enjoying the journey. So I'm a winner." — and upbeat.
Asked about having a short camp to get ready for Jones, he said sometimes you can't be prepared.
"You cannot be prepared to being a father. You're a father," he said.
"I'm ready, man," he added.