Jon Jones' DUI arrest likely won't affect his MMA career, but how will the public react to him now?
It's not necessarily the fighter who has the highlight-reel knockout power or the mind-blowing submissions who is always most in demand by a fight promoter.
Rather, it's someone who has that unique ability which transcends skill in the cage and who's able to sell both tickets and pay-per-views who promoters drool over most.
UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones had long ago developed into a dominant fighter, but only recently had he taken that next step and become a massive box-office star.
That's why his arrest early Saturday in Binghamton, N.Y., on a charge of driving under the influence has to be so troubling to the UFC brass.
Binghamton, N.Y., Police Sgt. Chris Lason told Yahoo! Sports that Jones was arrested at 5:02 a.m. Saturday. Jones, 24, ran his 2012 Bentley Continental GT into a telephone pole at the intersection of Helen St. and Grand Blvd. Jones was charged with DUI, paid an appearance bond and was released to family, Lason said. There is no report of whether Jones, who lives in Ithaca, N.Y., was injured.
[Fan's take: How will Jon Jones' DUI affect the public's view of him?]
The UFC is in dire need of new stars and Jones has given every indication he's ready to ascend to the top in that realm. Though UFC officials do not release pay-per-view figures, media estimates were that Jones' last bout, at UFC 145 in Atlanta on April 21, sold in excess of 700,000 units. The event attracted a crowd of 15,545, which paid a live gate of $2.3 million.
Those are the kind of numbers which stamp a fighter as a legitimate box-office star.
Jones' ascension was the best news possible for UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta and president Dana White, as the promotion has been dealing with a dearth of stars in recent months. Welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre has been sidelined for more than a year with a knee injury and isn't expected back until November at the earliest. Former light heavyweight champ Tito Ortiz is expected to retire. Middleweight champ Anderson Silva is 37 and talking of retirement. Also, in the last 18 months, big draws such as Brock Lesnar, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture have called it quits, considerably thinning the ranks of the hot-ticket UFC stars.
Jones seemed poised to reverse that trend, and he still might. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson was involved in an accident in Southern California in 2008 and was charged with hit-and-run driving, felony evading and reckless driving.
It had little impact upon Jackson's career and five months later he knocked out Wanderlei Silva in a memorable slugfest at UFC 92.
Jones has had a squeaky clean image to this point, and that has made him attractive to potential sponsors. He's already appeared in a Bud Lite commercial with White and has made no secret of his desire for an endorsement deal with Nike.
Jones' agent, Malki Kawa, said prior to UFC 145 that he's talked with several blue-chip sponsors about Jones. It's likely those talks will go on hold for a while as the sponsors wait to see what the fallout from the accident might be.
Jones is scheduled to fight Dan Henderson at UFC 151 on Sept. 1 in Las Vegas and there is no reason to believe he won't be able to fulfill that date barring any serious injuries sustained in the crash.
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What won't be known is how the public will react to Jones after the arrest. Jones has tried hard to portray a positive image thus far in his career, once going so far as to tell a group of reporters that if they cast him in a good light, they'd never have trouble with him.
The public, however, has still been skeptical of Jones' sincerity up to this point. He was booed at his last few fights, but seemed to have won over the crowd at UFC 145 with his performance in a win over Rashad Evans.
White did not return a telephone call seeking comment on Jones, though he said via text message that he had yet to speak with the champion.
White is usually lenient with his fighters and gives them wide latitude when they make mistakes. He'll undoubtedly do the same with Jones and will assuredly welcome him back into the fold with little to no criticism.
The UFC, though, needs the public to do the same. If it overlooks the mistake of the misguided 24-year-old, Jones still can become the ticket-selling superstar that the Fertittas, White and many in the media have envisioned.
The UFC will survive, and thrive, with or without Jon Jones. White and the Fertittas have built the brand name so that it is bigger than any individual fighter. It's the brand which carries them through the tough times.
Surviving, and thriving, though, will be a whole lot easier with Jon Jones winning title fights, selling out arenas and setting pay-per-view records.
The UFC will quickly work on damage control, but the ultimate answer is out of its hands.
This time, it's going to be the public who decides.
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