Jon Jones is a polarizing figure outside of the Octagon. Fans complain that he is fake, and his actions this year haven’t done him any favors in gaining their support.
Most recently, he turned down a fight with Chael Sonnen after an injury to his original opponent Dan Henderson for the main event of UFC 151. Before he was officially announced as a possible replacement, Sonnen had already waged a campaign through Twitter and television broadcasts picking a fight with Jones. Rumors were reported that Jones went to UFC President Dana White asking him to tell Sonnen to stop his berating attack.
Many speculate that such behavior proves mental weakness on the part of Jon Jones. Some say Sonnen’s ability to get into his head proves he is mentally the weakest champion in the history of MMA. I personally don’t like Jones’ personality or agree with his decision to turn down a fight with Sonnen, but it is hard for me to jump on the bandwagon that Jones is somehow weak. He might be a lot of things, but calling him mentally weak is a stretch and more than likely just backlash from the UFC’s decision to cancel the entire UFC 151 event.
It is important to note that Jones won one the sport’s biggest titles at the age of 23. I’d suspect that his fast rise to MMA prominence brings immaturity, and not mental weakness. It was in 2006 that he was winning a Junior Collegiate Champion in wrestling, and in only two years, he moved to competing in the biggest league in all of MMA, the UFC.
In four years, he goes from being an up-and-comer to one of the biggest stars in the UFC. Perhaps his career moved too fast. The DUI arrest earlier this year and the recent UFC 151 fiasco could be signs of that stress catching up with the young champion.
Jones has been under the microscope now more than ever and in a mostly negative context. It is unreasonable to assume he should always make the right move. He doesn’t deserve excuses nor should he be exempt from criticism, but making mistakes are part of youth. It isn’t very often we see a fighter rise to the top of the sport with only a few years of training. Whereas Jones can dispatch an opponent in the cage with seeming ease, the other half of the job outside of the cage doesn’t come as naturally to him.
It’s difficult to understand why Sonnen would get to Jones when the champ has been through the trash-talking routine before. Take his former training partner and opponent, Rashad Evans, for example. Not only does Evans hold a degree in psychology, but also he was friendly with Jones before they ended up fighting each other. If anyone would naturally be a better rival, then Evans surely beats out Sonnen.
Sonnen didn’t exactly wage a war of words with Jones. He said things like how he would snatch the belt away from Jones like taking candy from a kid at Halloween. Over time, that kind of stuff can get in your head and be annoying, but calling your boss seems ridiculous given the understanding that fights need to be sold.
Evans was far more severe in calling Jones a “fake-ass white boy,” which is a racially charged insult. But Jones didn’t refuse that fight.
In the context of his job as an MMA fighter, the worst that Jones has done is turn down a fight. Of course, that decision had large consequences for more than just him, but the blame doesn’t lie solely on him. Jones could have stepped up to face Sonnen, but at the time, he and his camp didn’t feel like it was the right move.
White and company, the people who helped make him a star, felt betrayed and they lashed back at him publicly. Jones’ refusal to fight Sonnen was the tipping point. The event could have been salvaged, but the decision to scrap the event wasn’t made by Jones. It is understandable from a business standpoint, because the UFC lost its main event, a championship fight, and couldn’t find a suitable replacement in time. Was it understood that Jones would fight at UFC 151 regardless of his scheduled opponent or not?
At this point, the blame game doesn’t matter, the decisions have been made. Maybe the UFC 151 fiasco will be a learning experience for the champion. We have seen worse behavior from UFC champions than turning down a fight.
UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva had his own rough patch and falling out with White a few years ago. Silva went a full five rounds with Thales Leites, saying he refused to finish his opponent out of respect. His next title defense was against Demian Maia, and Silva refused to engage his opponent but did enough to take the decision win. White was so angry with the performance that he stormed out of the arena, refusing to put the belt on Silva himself, as is the tradition.
White publicly blasted Silva, saying how embarrassed he was and how unprecedented the champion’s actions were. Silva’s next defense was against Chael Sonnen, and the rest is history. Or at least the time period after the fight with Sonnen renewed our interest in the champion and we forgot about his rough patch.
This situation with Jones feels eerily similar. We have a champion whose personal decisions are at odds with his boss and it is being played out publicly. We could say Silva was weak-minded through his troubles or, more realistically, we could say it is due to the complexities of success and business within the realm of MMA.
It was only last year that Jones took on three former UFC champions. He stepped up to the plate to give the UFC title fights when the other divisions weren’t able to do so. Jones was lauded for his accomplishments and willingness to fight for the UFC, which he did so in dominating fashion against proven opponents. He made a wrong call in not stepping to the plate against Sonnen and suddenly the good fortune he gained means nothing to the fans or the UFC.
Jones has perceived personality flaws and made a bad call in not fighting Sonnen, but the fans who harshly criticize him and the way the UFC reacted to his decision show the most weakness here.
The people that paid for airline and hotel fare have a right to be angry at the situation, but anyone else not directly affected by UFC 151 are just spinning their wheels in criticizing the matter. Before Jones took the spotlight for a failed card, the UFC was criticized for its bloated 2012 event schedule. Injuries have been rampant this year and some cards were critically and financially—as far as pay-per-views—received very poorly. This time the court of public opinion fell on Jon Jones, and the heat he is taking has gone overboard.
Jones might not be the “good guy” at the moment, but he is far from being the most mentally weak champion in UFC history. His story is still being written. He turned down a fight and asked his boss to tell a fighter to let up. That doesn’t make him mentally weak. Missing press conferences, failing drug tests, and bizarre behavior in and out of the cage are much better indicators.
These kind of situations flare up in MMA and sometimes blame is shifted around and that takes away from the big picture. Much like Jones’ rise in MMA, harsh criticism such as saying he is mentally weak is too much, too soon.
Photo: Jon Jones (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)