If one were to describe the rise of current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, two terms that arise are impressive and rapid. The young talent and promising future of “Bones” Jones has already laid out an outstanding foundation for one day potentially becoming the greatest fighter of all time. His success, personality and image is widely promoted and has created a superstar that rivals the likes of veterans Georges St. Pierre or Anderson Silva.
But a change has been occurring over these past few years.
A once unknown fighter from New York suddenly burst onto the scene and caught the attention of fans and media everywhere. Some key factors went into this including his wins accumulated, his age, his religion and his ability to be very well-spoken. But the term used many times that has come into question that his name was built upon—humble.
During his rise to a title shot, Jon Jones was universally described as humble. Such modesty paired with a good vocabulary and presentation created a role model and a great ambassador for the sport. Shortly after attaining the UFC gold, things seemed to change.
Undoubtedly the first spark was the situation with his former training partner Rashad Evans. After some choice words and betrayed feelings, the newly crowned champ started in a verbal tussle with the man who he replaced for a title shot. This situation went on for quite some time, and has since settled down since the two met in the cage at UFC 145.
But Jones' outspokenness to others has affected his image.
In his calling out of Rampage Jackson and his actions toward reporters, Jones started to show a slightly different side to the once keep-to-himself persona. Jones has exuded a certain level of cockiness in recent years.
While that sentiment may or may not sit well with some, it is a statement that is not typical of Jones and the path he was walking prior to the belt. Jones has found success that anyone should and would be very proud of, and that should never be chastised.
The biggest issue with the image of Jones nowadays is his uncharacteristic actions.
In essence, it isn’t as if Jones has completely changed who he is, but he is now under a much bigger microscope, every action is scrutinized and analyzed. Taking that into account, any champion must learn how to manage the extra attention, media frenzy, fan base, financial growth and overall mental success getting the better of them.
Jones has done a good job so far of doing this, but has had some setbacks that make people scratch their heads and rethink sometimes. Jones recently pleaded guilty to DWI charges after crashing his vehicle into a pole in his home state of New York. Such events are not uncommon amongst the general population, but as a new superstar on the rise, it is not exactly good PR.
Regardless, Jones has managed to move past it and still get sponsored by Nike. However, the incident undoubtedly left a bad taste in the mouths of some fans. This sort of action is contradictory to the hero Jones was the day of his title fight against Shogun Rua, when he helped subdue a robber with the help of his two coaches. Such heroism hours before he won the belt created a brilliant story for the media and helped make him the new poster boy for the UFC.
Now that he is sponsored by the UFC organization itself, it is more than apparent that he is the UFC’s best marketing tool and certainly for later down the road—given Jones stays on his path.
As a fighter’s success rises, the eyes of the fans move in close. Sometimes when an athlete becomes so successful, people want to see them lose for no other reason than to see them lose. Jones attaining so much success so quickly has certainly awarded him some critics who would like nothing more than derail the hype train.
Throughout his feud with Rashad Evans, Evans made many claims about the fake and fraudulent personality of Jon Jones. While some chose to believe it or not, it still made people reassess the situation. Similar to when a prosecutor deliberately says something that they shouldn’t, despite the inevitable objection, they still have planted that mental seed in the jury. The whole Evans situation got some people to think “Is Jon Jones who I think he is?”
The media has a great way of simplifying words and sometimes skewing things, and when you pair that with the misinterpretation of some fans, you get new images painted and new opinions over a wide range of topics.
That being said, a fighter must be wary of how something might come across digitally if he/she hopes to keep their fan base or stay true to their perceived nature.
For example, Dan Henderson is the next challenger for Jones’ title. In the media, Jones went on to make remarks about not getting into a verbal confrontation with him, yet made statements about Hendo being a one-trick pony. It seemed uncharacteristic of Jones to criticize someone in that manner. Many only read his words and never hear or see the context in which he might have been saying them.
A similar example was when Rashad Evans was brought into the cage when he was slated to face Jones on two occasions, he was first on the microphone to say that Rashad had ruined his night twice and stated how he knew his former training partner would be talking trash about him throughout the camp. Once again, not a terrible jab, but still one that makes Jones look less humble and nice.
The luster of Jon Jones may still be intact for some, but criticism has certainly risen as time has gone on. Since winning the title, Jones has shown uncharacteristic traits, but this shouldn’t necessarily discredit him and his accomplishments. Afterall, Muhammad Ali was a big trash-talker, and was/is revered as one of the greatest talents in all of boxing history.
Despite if he has fallen off of your “favorite fighter” list or not, Jones is on a path where his mental state will be tried, his integrity challenged and his skills and authenticity tested. If he can keep his head on straight and continue to evolve and mature, there is no telling how big Jon Jones can get. Fans will come and go, but “Bones” must stay constant.