COMMENTARY| Jon Jones holds the distinction of being arguably the greatest mixed martial artist in the world, and also the most disliked. MMA fans are as likely to praise his performances inside the Octagon as they're to criticize his actions outside of it.
When Jones entered the UFC in 2008 he was a relatively unknown prospect. Blending elite athleticism and a diverse skill set, "Bones" immediately made an impact. His second fight in the UFC, against journeyman Stephan Bonnar, was his coming out party. Jones battered the always game Bonnar with an array of unique strikes en route to an unanimous decision victory.
In Jones' ascent up the UFC ladder he ran through solid competition and won in spectacular fashion. Fight fans loved watching him perform in the cage, and respected his humility outside of it.
Perceptions have changed a lot since 2008, when Jones was a humble upstart. This article chronicles what Jones did to gain his current reputation, and whether it's fair or not..
Jones' PR deficiencies and general cluelessness about his own arrogance began to emerge when he told a reporter: "It's funny, I've been doing some autograph signings and I've been signing lately 'Jon Jones Champion 2011,' almost as if I've spoken it into existence." The problem with that statement is that it was made prior to his victory over then champion, Mauricio Rua.
In Jones' Defense: His supreme arrogance here could be written off as youthful determinism.
The next major issue was when Jones reversed his stance on fighting then teammate, Rashad Evans. This led to a falling out between the former friends. Evans left longtime trainer Greg Jackson, and lashed out against Jackson and Jones over their perceived betrayal. Whether Jones was right or wrong for his decision, the fans took sides.
In Jones' Defense: There's no room for friendship at the top of any MMA weight-class. Jones and Evans were bound to fight, and even if both could have handled it better, this decision seemed inevitable.
Jones, and his next opponent, Quinton Jackson, engaged in a bitter back and forth war or words. While "Rampage" deserves most of the blame for the excessive smack talk, neither fighter came out looking particularly likable.
In Jones' Defense: Jackson is one of the best in the world at talking trash, and he sucked Jones into a game he couldn't win.
Jones again invoked the wrath of MMA fans in his next title defense. After he secured a guillotine choke for the victory, the referee had him release the hold, and his opponent, Lyoto Machida, fell lifelessly to the mat. It was not a favorable image for Jones.
After the match, trainer Greg Jackson yelled to him; "Jon Jones, go check on Lyoto. Get some fans." This statement only furthered the belief held by many fans that Jones wasn't authentic.
In Jones' Defense: He was not in any violation of the rules nor did he intentionally show poor sportsmanship. Given the heat of the moment, Jones cannot be judged too harshly for not dropping him more gently. Jackson's comments were indicative of the concerns over Jones' image, and they certainly didn't help the perception Jones was a fraud. Jones cannot be held fully responsible for something his trainer said.
The hype for Jones vs. Evans was full of bad blood. The two elite fighters dragged one another's names through the mud, and came across more like teenagers fighting over a pretty girl than two of the best athletes in the world. The fight failed to deliver in the cage, which only increased fan resentment.
In Jones' Defense: He and Evans had a heated rivalry, and in situations like this, it can be difficult to control one's emotions. Evan is a top fighter, and few have put together exciting and successful performances against him.
Jones explained to USA Today why the UFC was comfortable promoting him as a face of the company: "I think if I was a knucklehead and I was a guy who you would have to worry about getting a DWI or going out and doing something really stupid, they simply wouldn't promote me." A month later, in May 2012, he was arrested for a DUI.
In Jones' Defense: There is absolutely no defense for his reckless behavior. As far as his comments, they were about a larger point, that he was reliable. It was poetic justice that he failed to live up to the exact example he mentioned as proof of his reliability.
When challenger Dan Henderson went down with an injury, Chael Sonnen stepped up to take his place against Jones, the only problem was Jones didn't accept the short notice fight. This led to UFC 151 being cancelled, and Jones receiving heavy criticism from the MMA community. UFC president, Dana White, lashed out against Jones for his selfishness. "This is one of those disgusting decision...you just affected 16 others people's lives/"
In Jones' Defense: Jones has a duty to fulfill his contract, not a duty to fight whomever the UFC decides to put in front of him on short notice. Unlike many other fighters, Jones has the power not to take every fight the company puts in front of him.
Top fighters make a percentage of PPV sales. This means they want fights that'll draw money, though they rarely make light of it since MMA is a sport. Jones felt comfortable telling the media why he didn't want to take a low profile rematch: "I don't want to fight Machida. He was my lowest pay-per-view draw last year." These comments made him appear to be all about the money, and not the love of the sport.
In Jones' Defense: High risk low payout fights are exactly what fighters attempt to avoid. Jones' decision was rational.
Instead, Jones took on Sonnen, the man he'd previously refused to fight on eight days' notice. This matchmaking was heavily maligned for being a money grab fight. Sonnen was coming off a loss and hadn't competed at light heavyweight in years. With this, Jones sent further message to the fans that he was more concerned with money than putting on the best fights.
In Jones' Defense: Almost every prizefighter would jump at a low risk high payout fight.
In interviews leading up to his upcoming fight against Alexander Gustaffson at UFC 165, his arrogance has been on full display. Jones was upset people had been comparing him to his competitor. "If you watch my fights and you watch Alexander's fights, he gets hit a lot with a lot of different punches," said Jones. "With me, I've gone through some fights where fighters don't touch me once."
In Jones' Defense: His comments have some validity, they're just unnecessary for the fight promotion, and for his image.
Jon Jones may not be a bad guy. Chael Sonnen had wonderful things to say about him after filming The Ultimate Fighter against him. He stopped a robbery before a title fight, which is a pretty amazing feat. Most importantly, he has made raising his children his main priority and used MMA as a way to provide for his family.
Jones is his own worst enemy with the media. He somehow comes across as a phony and too honest, all while making arrogant comments. He's one of those people who knows how good he is, and what's worse, he's too forthcoming in communicating it.
Many of the decisions he has made in his career are rational from a business perspective. Other MMA fan favorites would would have made similar decisions given the opportunities. However, they would have come across as more humble and genuine while doing so. Even though he may not be a bad guy, it's easy to see why MMA fans hate Jon Jones.
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