PUBLIC RELATIONS: The business of inducing the public to have understanding for and goodwill toward a person, firm, or institution; also: the degree of understanding and goodwill achieved – Merriam-Webster.com

 

Jon Jones seemingly exploded onto the MMA scene.  He was big, strong and amazingly athletic.  Each fight, his skill level seemed to improve, and after each victory fans were treated to that million-watt smile.  And there have been a lot of victories, enough to see Jones become the youngest UFC champion ever.  He has continued to progress in the cage to a level where many believe he may be the greatest fighter ever by the time his career ends.  However, for as great as Jones is inside the Octagon, he seems to lack even a basic understanding of public relations and what fans want to hear.

Long before the UFC 151 debacle that took place last week, Jones struggled to really connect with the fans.  What other star fighter and champion can you name that famously had his coach shout to him after a victory to “go make some fans?”  I don’t know of any.  Fighters tend to naturally understand what fans are looking for from their heroes.

Going back as far as UFC 128, whispers were spreading that Jones had changed and was “cocky and arrogant.”  But Jones’ masterful performance that night overshadowed these early cracks in his public persona.

It wasn’t long after UFC 128 that the hype for his fight with Rashad Evans was reaching fever pitch.  The fight was planned for UFC 133, but before the fight was even officially announced, Jones pulled out.  His reason was voluntary surgery to fix an old wrestling injury.  This did not sit well with fans.  Fans saw a fighter who was choosing to have surgery on an injury he had when he climbed to the top rather than a fighting champion who was ready to take on his nemesis.

Making matters even worse, just a few weeks after Jones was officially replaced, he announced he wasn’t having surgery after all and quickly agreed to fight the month after UFC 133.  Most people would assume it couldn’t get any worse, but it actually does.  When trying to defend the choice to fight a month after he was originally scheduled to fight Evans,  Jones and his camp said that they couldn’t fit in a full eight-week training camp before the scheduled UFC 133 event when in fact the event was eight weeks away at the time of their announcement.  Whether it is true or not, all of this gave fans and Evans the impression the new champion was avoiding Evans.

Fast forward to this spring and it is evident Jones has not improved in this department.  As Jones defended the UFC choosing to sponsor him, he claimed he thought it was a good idea because he wasn’t the type of person to get a DUI.  The statement alone ruffled feathers as it sounded almost holier than thou.  However, Jones looked like a full-blown hypocrite when a month later he wrecked his Bentley and was charged with a DUI.

Jones also suffered minor missteps with other statements over the summer.  He first said he did not want to fight Anderson Silva because it may impact his sponsorship money.  He followed that up a short time later with a statement about not really being interested in fighting top contender Lyoto Machida because he fights for money and Machida was his lowest pay-per-view buyrate.

All of these smaller signs of not understanding the fans or PR make the happenings around UFC 151 not very surprising.  Fans expected Jones to fight any and all comers.  They expected him to step up and take a fight against someone they think he had every advantage against.  Fighters also expected Jones to be a warrior and take the fight on short notice as many of them have in the past.  But based on Jones’ past, is it any surprise that he did not understand these expectations or the backlash that followed in not meeting them?

And even with the fans’ negative reaction, Jones continued to make mistakes in dealing with them.  He released a half-hearted pseudo-apology that referenced “carrying the cross for my company’s decision.”  The very next day he seemed to take back even that apology and instead blamed his injured opponent for not releasing the news of his injury fast enough.

A basic understanding of fans and PR would have prevented these issues from happening at all.  However, I am not sure Jones sees a disadvantage to how he is currently perceived.  Kevin Iole broke the news that Jones’ publicist quit shortly before the UFC 151 fiasco due to Jones’ “prickly style and inability to deal well with the media.”

Jones should attack public relations like he would plan for his toughest opponent.  He should hire an expert to coach him until he understands it and follow their advice like he would follow a strategy that coach Greg Jackson creates for one of his fights.  If not, the path he is currently on will limit him in the future.  Sponsors may not want to jump on his bandwagon if fans are jumping off and merchandise sales will be impacted.  The choice is Jones’, but the time to act is now.  He is young and he has plenty of time to make fans forget about his early career mistakes.

Photo: Jon Jones (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Richard Wilcoxon
Staff Writer

An East Coast native, Richard Wilcoxon grew up a die hard fan of traditional team sports. In the early 1990's, he stumbled onto the sport of MMA and has been hooked ever since. He started writing about the sport on his Sporting News member blog in 2005 where he worked to spread his passion for the sport. He eventually became an official staff writer for Sporting News' "The Rumble" MMA/boxing blog before joining The MMA Corner.