You might not like it, but Jon Jones is here for good.
By now the media outlets have covered virtually every angle of the Jon Jones scandal, or multiple scandals as the case may be. Over the past few months Jones’s image has taken a beating even as his star has been on the rise. He has reportedly inked a deal with Nike, has t-shirts already on the market, and will be on his 4th defense of the Light Heavyweight title. Realistically things shouldn’t be much better than they are now, however, a series of missteps has plagued Jones’s tenure as the undisputed 205lb title holder.
Jon has seemingly always suffered from an inability to connect with the Mixed Martial Arts audience, at least at the level of the ‘hardcore’ fan. Although MMA fans are notoriously fickle and are a generally hard to please crowd on the subject of fighter popularity, it can’t be ignored that Jones often enters the ring to a chorus of booing and jeers. Despite being one of the most talented fighters that has ever graced the Octagon and media-proclaimed ‘legend killer’, the appreciation of the viewing public has thus far alluded the young champion.
A DUI incident earlier this year brought to light a perception that many already had of Jones, namely a ‘fakeness’ first touched upon by former training partner, Rashad Evans. It also didn’t help that Jones was the UFC spokesperson for the Budweiser ‘Don’t drink and Drive’ campaign. To further compound the issue, the accident involved 2 female passengers neither of which was Jones’s fiancee. Normally, even these things can be written off with enough press and money, but ‘Bones’ has fostered a squeaky-clean, highly-religious image from the very beginning. In the mind of the fans, being a ‘fake’ in a combat sport is a capital offense, even as one of the best fighters on planet earth.
Perhaps like other young stars it was simply too much too fast. Jones certainly didn’t anticipate superstardom in a field as difficult as Mixed Martial Arts, especially after only training professionally for 4 years. Also, being surrounded by top names like George St. Pierre, Rashad Evans and other Jackson-camp products, a title reign was anything but guaranteed. Nevertheless, with wins over Shogun Rua, Lyoto Machida, Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans, Jones has all but cleared the landscape of the division. It wasn’t easy. Jones has beaten a who’s who of top fighters at the weight class as well as notable up and comers, essentially everybody at the top of the list. On the way he’s become one of the sport’s most marketable and valuable commodities, as well as the poster boy for UFC supremacy. The combination of Jon’s dedication to martial arts, his innate physical gifts, and outstanding performances in the Octagon has led to arguably the most dominant championship reign in Light Heavyweight history.
It is all of these factors that has baffled most in the MMA world. A confusing decision to decline a UFC 151 bout with Chael Sonnen, a Middleweight fighter coming off a loss and who was not currently training for a bout. It is subjective whether Jon should be to blame for the cancellation of UFC 151, the biggest issue is that a fighter with as many accolades as Jones choose to pass on a fight with an opponent who’s primary strength has proven to be useless against him. Jones has fought against Vladimir Matyushenko (the former Soviet Wrestling Champion), as well as Matt Hamill, who was a three time division III NCAA wrestling champion. Given his success against similar opponents, any explanation would fall short. To add fuel to the fire, a lot of Jones’s peers have taken to Twitter to express their disappointment over how the UFC 151 situation was handled. In short, opinions of Jon Jones are at an all time low, and there’s little that can be done outside of the Octagon to sway back to the other direction.
The good news in all this is that Jones can still fight. Even at his worst publicly, it has never affected his fighting skill. The only time we’ve ever seen a hint of adversity with Jon was against Machida, who also lost the very next round.
The formula to win over the public is just to keep winning. American sport athletes are known for the ability to bounce back as long as they keep performing. Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and even Michael Vick all come to mind. Jones will only be the latest in a line of athletes who have emerged from the lowest point in their careers. On September 22nd the Champion will have an opportunity to prove himself against another formerly Middleweight fighter in Vitor Belfort. Although most wouldn’t give Belfort a shot at winning the title, if Jon is able to pull off an impressive victory it will go a long way to fixing the UFC 151 debacle.
After all, the fans will find a way to love you if they can’t get rid of you. We may have a lot of negative things to say about Jon, he may not have made a lot of good decisions, but youth can cause that. The remedy for getting the public back on your side is to keep doing what he does, beating up anybody who steps in a ring with him. You might not like it, but that’s exactly what’s going to happen, and Jon Jones is going to be with us for a lot of years.
Get used to it.