(Reuters) - Former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones marked his return to the Octagon after more than a year on the sidelines with a labored points win over Ovince Saint Preux to take the division's interim belt in Las Vegas on Saturday.
Jones was stripped of the title he had held since 2011 last April after being charged in a hit-and-run case, an incident for which he was subsequently sentenced to 18 months probation.
Jones, who became the UFC's youngest ever champion when he dismantled Brazil's Mauricio Rua at the age of 23, had been slated to fight title-holder Daniel Cormier on the UFC 197 card before injury ruled his original opponent out and Saint Preux stepped in.
After 15 months away, Jones rarely looked comfortable inside the cage on Saturday, though his opponent offered little threat beyond a stiff jab and the occasional haymaker.
Jones picked up the pace in the fourth round, taking Saint Preux down against the cage and unloading short elbows, before dominating the fifth and final round to earn a unanimous decision.
He quickly made it clear the interim belt was not enough to satisfy him.
"I don't think I want that belt, it's not the real belt," he said.
"It definitely took me a while to pull the trigger tonight and I felt like I used 20 percent of the technique I actually know," Jones added.
"I really needed that fight before I fight for my title."
With the promotion pulling Irishman Conor McGregor from the main event at UFC 200, Jones could fight Cormier for the title as early as July.
The two met in January 2015 in Jones' final fight before his legal issues. Jones won that bout by a unanimous decision to defend the light heavyweight title for a record eighth consecutive time.
(Reporting by Peter Rutherford; Editing by John O'Brien)