Friday 15 December 2017

Comment: The future of Jon Jones in UFC - heavyweight champion or a jail cell

UFC star Jon Jones
UFC star Jon Jones

One of my favourite MMA podcasts is ‘The Co-Main Event’ hosted by Chad Dundas and Ben Fowlkes. It’s a nice blend of serious analysis mixed with a healthy dose of irreverent humour.

Between rounds on the podcast they have a segment called AYFKM – Are You F**king Kidding Me. This is usually reserved for somebody in the MMA world who has not exactly showered themselves in glory of late. I hope I’m not stealing their thunder, but I fully expect Jon Jones to appear in next week’s AYFKM.

Jon Jones is a phenomenal MMA fighter; maybe one of the Greatest Of All Time.

I had the good fortune to interview him over four years ago and he could not have been nicer, a gentleman.

Jones was signed by the UFC after compiling a 6-0 record in four months. His first UFC fight was taken on two weeks’ notice and two years later, after going 5-1 in the UFC, Jones landed a title contender eliminator fight against Ryan Bader.

He blew past Bader and was then fast tracked to a title shot after an injury forced Rashad Evans out of his championship fight with Shogun Rua. After one of the most one sided and devastating beatings in a title fight, Jon Jones was crowned the new UFC light-heavyweight champion in 2011, three years into his MMA career, at the tender age of 24, the youngest in the promotion’s history.

Jon Jones screams for the fans during weigh-ins for a UFC 182 bout against Daniel Cormier, in january.
Jon Jones screams for the fans during weigh-ins for a UFC 182 bout against Daniel Cormier, in january.

Back then his media performances were almost as impressive as his sporting achievements. He positioned himself as a God fearing Christian and generally, an all-round good guy. Tattoo’d on Jones’ chest is ‘Philippians 4:13’ referring to the passage in the bible that says ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’. Before his UFC 128 fight in 2011 himself and coach Greg Jackson ran down and apprehended a mugger while they were looking for a tranquil spot to meditate in a nearby park.

What’s not to like?

No sooner had the UFC found their poster boy than the image started to get a little frayed.

2011 may have been the zenith of Jones’s popularity. Since then he has had a number of brushes with authority and has seen his persona dragged through the court of public opinion time after time. In the last number of years the more familiar we’ve gotten with Jon Jones, the more he has revealed himself to be quite the asshole.

In addition to questionable social media posts he has continually run afoul of the law. His quick accent to the top of the UFC’s light-heavyweight division has recently been dwarfed by the fall from grace in his personal life.

In May 2012 Jones was arrested for crashing his $190,000 Bentley into a telephone pole and driving under the influence.

He followed up with a positive test for cocaine in December 2014. Because it was an out of competition test and deemed not to be a performance enhancing substance, the result wasn’t revealed until after his January 2015 fight.

Jones’ ‘piece de resistence’ came in April 2015. Having partied hard he decided to crash at a friend’s house. In the early hours of the morning Jones left in a rented car, was texting on his phone and ran a red light crashing into the car of a 27-year-old pregnant lady who suffered a broken arm due to the impact.

Jones fled the scene returning only to collect a wad of cash and some drug paraphernalia. He eventually turned himself in and pled guilty to charges.

The UFC stripped Jones of his title and suspended him indefinitely.

The following September Judge Charles Brown ordered Jones to serve 72 weeks of probation and make 72 appearances speaking to local youth.

In October the UFC reinstated Jones and in January this year he appeared in an hour long interview with Ariel Helwani proclaiming how he had seen the error of his ways, cut ties with the negative influencers and generally cleaned up his life.

His rematch is with Daniel Cormier is set for April 23rd at UFC 197. Jones beat Cormier in January 2015 having tested positive for cocaine. It transpired that his training camp for this fight was minimal. Even with below par preparation Jones dominated Cormier in a five round decision.

The UFC and fans alike probably hoped was the Jones we would see at UFC 197 would indeed be a better representation of Jones than we had become accustomed to. Given that he has nearly completed his community service hours maybe we were going to get a return to the wholesome 2011 Jon Jones.

Last week it emerged Jones was stopped by police and cited for driving without a license, driving without proof of insurance and driving without registration. You could say this is minor enough stuff.

However, Jones took to Instagram and channelled his inner Allen Iverson to downplay his latest brush with the law.

"Guys, I've gotten my sobriety back. Almost five months sober now, living happier and healthier, got rid of a lot of people that didn't need to be in my life, completed 65 appearances talking to the youth in the community, about to win a world title in a few weeks and they're talking about tickets."

Jones just doesn’t seem to get it.

He seems to think his media persona of a God fearing Christian coupled with his incredible deeds as an MMA fighter give him a pass to do whatever he likes.

The famous Allen Iversen ‘we’re talking about practise’ rant was to a room of journalists covering basketball, by a basketballer addressing the issue of whether he attended basketball training enough as the star player on his basketball team… It should be obvious that the subject matter of ‘we’re talking about practise’ is basketball.

Jones seems to mix all areas of his life into one and assume that an achievement over here offsets a misdemeanour over there.

Except it doesn’t.

Getting sober is his personal choice, performing the community service is his sentence for a crime, winning back his title is a sporting achievement, all of which he mentions in his Instagram video as reasons we should overlook his traffic violation tickets.

Following the law is something we all have to do. It’s not contingent on whether we’ve done fabulous things in other areas of our life. It’s mandatory or you face the consequences.

Jones' latest deed in itself is not worrying. His reaction to the reaction is the worrying part. He seems surprised that it made the news. Even with his track record he doesn’t see why this might have drawn attention to himself.

Jones has recently said he wants to regain his title by beating Daniel Cormier, rematch and beat Alexander Gustafsson, beat Anthony Johnson and then move up to heavyweight and capture that title. In my mind the only person that can prevent Jon Jones from doing all these things is Jon Jones himself.

The saying goes that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

I’m not entirely sure Jon Jones is a bad man but he has been corrupted by his powers. The sooner he acknowledges his achievements in the Octagon don’t parlay into ‘Get out of Jail Free’ cards the better. His most recent altercation has not violated his probation but next time he might not be so lucky.

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