By Zach Arnold | April 2, 2016
The momentum for both Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier was heading on a negative track.
Mr. Jones found himself in an orange jumpsuit and more legal trouble for opening his mouth to a cop who didn’t have a problem looking for an encounter. His public image took a needling for calling the chatty cop a pig. Jones has the worst of all public personality traits for a top-level athlete: socially awkward, ambivalent, obtuse, stunted maturity, passive-aggressive, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde combined with a raw sense of entitlement plus IDGAF mode. It’s not a debate as to whether or not he’s a “bad guy” — he’s troubled and self-destructive. You’ve also seen the media reports about his brother Chandler who just got traded from the New England Patriots.
When you opine that his judgment outside the cage appears to be as awful as his judgment is great in the cage, that’s supposed to be an easy “bad boy” sell on paper. Not for Jon Jones. His rap sheet is as appealing as the proverbial turd in the punch bowl. Nick Diaz gets a DUI and nobody blinks. Jon Jones gets a DWI and the Internet explodes.
People will continue to pay to see Jon Jones destroy opponents, wreck their credibility, and strip away the respectability of his rivals into subordinate status. He did this to Daniel Cormier.
— MMA Supremacy (@MMASupremacy) April 1, 2016
Jordan Breen labeled the upcoming re-match as one of the most important in MMA history. I only half-agree. It was going to be a fight that either saved Cormier’s MMA career as a high-end attraction or else permanently cement him into second-tier status. The box office for UFC 197 told you everything you needed to know. Very few people were giving Cormier respect after what they saw in the first fight. Heading into the UFC 197 fight, Jones was over a 3-to-1 favorite. What unresolved questions from the first fight needed to be answered in the re-match?
Jon Jones didn’t need the re-match with Daniel Cormier for any reason other than a paycheck and the opportunity to permanently obliterate a rival’s ability to make big money. And if he lost the re-match, there were already excuses built in because of his bad behavior.
There were rumors last week on Twitter that Cormier was spotted at an event and was having difficulty walking. That immediately raised alarm bells. A fully healthy Daniel Cormier would struggle against Jon Jones. An injured Daniel Cormier would have been primed for an early stoppage loss.
It’s not a surprise to hear a major name from the American Kickboxing Academy getting injured and having to back out of a big UFC fight. It’s a significant part of Cain Velasquez’s legacy. The price of doing business.
The image & momentum for both men was trending downwards. Jones for being a social nuisance and Cormier for being viewed as too much of an underdog. Americans like underdogs but move on from underdog athletes who lose. The box office numbers told the story. Three weeks out from UFC 197, UFC caught a break with Cormier’s injury. It will certainly be a pain in the ass to find a new opponent for Jon Jones or for re-booking the card, but the main event wasn’t selling tickets and you’re one more arrest way from Jones spending serious time in prison. A matchmaker’s worst nightmare is instability.
The macro-perspective to take away from recent events is how UFC will continue to struggle consistently promoting Jon Jones. He has the talent to dominate Light Heavyweight for years to come and bounce up to Heavyweight permanently. Given the lack of depth at Heavyweight, Jones has several golden tickets on paper. The problem for Jon Jones is that fans will pay to watch his fights but only if he is massively destroying fresh opponents and ripping their hearts out because nobody is convinced that an opponent will ever be at his level. UFC had the potential for a real rival in Alexander Gustafsson but they screwed that up by booking Gustafsson vs. Rumble Johnson in Sweden. Gustafsson was the one guy who had the physical tools and heart to match up properly against Jon Jones in a re-match. You had one job, UFC.
The downside to Jon Jones beating up his rivals so easily is that they don’t become rivals any more. They become afterthoughts. It’s tough to market an afterthought once the fans have an indelible impression of an athlete on the biggest stage.
But what happens if Jon Jones has some razor-thin fights or, gasps, loses? There’s no sympathy for him. There’s no angle for a redemption storyline. You admire and respect what an animal he is in the cage but not some of the decisions he’s made in his not-so-private life. Jon Jones is the closest we’ve seen to Michael Jordan in the cage but has none of Jordan’s bad boy charisma outside of it. You wanted to Be Like Mike. Tyson always had a flair for the danger and unexpected in a carnival-like media atmosphere. The ultimate Rorschach test. Joe Blow sees Jon Jones as a compulsive halfwit who consistently screws himself and others over. There’s a fine line for fighting authority and what kind of fan acceptance there is for it. The Diaz Brothers are mainstream hellraisers. They’re as intriguing losing as they are winning fights. They had to fight for what they earned. They’re always available to wreck your best laid plans. Always a second, third, and fourth act with those two men.
Daniel Cormier’s injury gave UFC the chance to re-calibrate and focus on a new game plan. They desperately needed this timeout. They need Jon Jones to take a timeout from jail as well.