There was a time not too long ago when Jon Jones was the perfect UFC star.
Those days are, most definitely, over.
Back then, Bones said all the right things, did all the right things, flashed a thousand-watt smile with ease, gave thoughtful, articulate answers and basically did everything you would want the face of an organization to do. He even moonlighted as a crime-fighting superhero, complete with comic-book muscles, but lacking the cape.
He seemed a lead-pipe lock to be the antidote to an affliction that plagues most (if not all) other professional sports: the spoiled, petulant, arrogant superstar.
The baddest man in the sport yet someone for whom you could root without reservation.
This is a man who, at the age of 22 or 23, was asked how he stayed so grounded and responded: "My mom always said, 'God doesn't like ugly, Jonathan.'" When I watched him deliver that line after stopping Vladimir Matyushenko at UFC Live: Jones v. Matyushenko, I was a true believer.
Or maybe it was during the UFC Live: Jones v. Vera post-fight presser...
Whatever, the point is, when he said it, Bones' greatest sin was being too good.
He breezed through opponent after opponent on his way to becoming the youngest champion in organizational history at UFC 128.
Of course, that was enough of a sin in an increasingly you-can-be-good-but-not-too-good sports world to plant the seeds for a banner crop of skeptics and detractors. Almost immediately, the lunatic fringe dubbed Jones arrogant and insincere before there was any objective evidence to support such claims.
Maybe that camp took its cue from Rashad Evans. Maybe it latched onto Bones' obvious confidence and ran wild with it.
Whatever the case, a fair assessment of the situation revealed a lot of anti-Jones smoke, but no real fire.
Yes, the man was and continues to be confident, possibly even cocky. But in a world where every ignoramus with a gym membership and a spray-on tan thinks he's God's gift to mankind, I can accept a little arrogance from a man-child who can physically destroy 99.9 percent of the planet that walks around on two legs.
And it's not like Jon was channeling his inner-Floyd Mayweather.
So when venom was spewed at the UFC Light Heavyweight champ, most reasonable observers just rolled their eyes and waited for the tempest in a teacup to pass.
Then, the No. 1 challenger at 205 pounds, Dan Henderson, had to withdraw from his main-event date with Bones at UFC 151.
Hard words flew left and right, but none carried more condemnation than White's stinging criticism of Jones and his manager, Greg Jackson. Amongst other gems, DW called UFC 151 "the event that Jon Jones and Greg Jackson murdered" and pointed out how selfish the decision was in light of what it mean to other fighters, UFC personnel, etc.
Before we take a blowtorch to Jon Jones over the canceled card, it bears mentioning that the reality is not as neat and clean as one side to the dispute would have you believe.
There is nothing in Jones' contract that says he must fight whomever and whenever the organization says. Nothing that says his to-fight-or-not-to-fight calculus must take the best interests of his fellow fighters into account. Nothing that says he must strive to be well-liked by the masses.
At the end of the day, Bones and his camp didn't think the potential costs were worth the potential benefits when viewed in the harsh light of a business decision.
From that perspective and that perspective alone, it was the right call and (frankly) a no-brainer.
Sonnen is a hell of a talker, but a mediocre prospect if we're talking about viable championship contenders.
He's bumping up to 205 pounds from 185 after two failed cracks at UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva, both resulting in stoppages for the Spider. Most people feel Jones is a younger, bigger, faster Spider except with a wrestling pedigree, which means the one hole that Sonnen almost exploited in the pair of Silva bouts would be theoretically closed.
On paper, the self-styled American Gangsta was (and remains) hopelessly outgunned.
Toss in the lack of profile at 205 pounds and the proposal was the definition of lose-lose for Bones' fight career—win and everyone yawns, lose and all hell breaks loose.
It also bears mentioning that Dana White probably went on the uber-offensive because of that old adage: The best defense is a good offense.
Before heaping the aborted card in Jones' lap, the most obvious target for fan scorn was DW and the organization itself.
After all, a card so weak that it can't survive if it loses its main event is a clear recipe for disaster and no year evidences this fact as conclusively as 2012.
Think of all the tantalizing matchups that have fallen prey to the injury bug (or some other last-minute wrench in the works)—UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre v. Nick Diaz, Mark Munoz v. Sonnen, UFC Heavyweight Champion Junior dos Santos v. Alistair Overeem, Vitor Belfort v. Wanderlei Silva, UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz v. Urijah Faber and the list keeps going.
Even if the tilt between Josh Koscheck and Jake Ellenberger hadn't been lost to injury as well, UFC 151 was the ultimate house of cards built next to an open window.
Consequently, it's a bit of a stretch to place the blame squarely and exclusively on Jon Jones' broad shoulders.
The light heavyweight kingpin does deserve some legitimate scorn for the first time in his career.
In this sprawling interview with MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani, Jones sounds like a man making stuff up as he goes. At various points, Sonnen is either such a chump, he doesn't deserve to be in the cage with Jon or he is far too dangerous to fight on short notice. You can make either argument to different persuasive effect, but you cannot make both.
Additionally, there's merit to the idea that a champion should never retreat from a bout, especially one he wins 99 times out of 100. Especially when that champion goes on The Abe Kanan Show and says he'd take the very fight now offered "in a heartbeat."
And what of his fellow gladiators?
He didn't have to take their plights into consideration, but he didn't have to ignore them, either.
If you add the warm, fuzzy considerations that get ignored when the decision-makers put on their business suits, the issue gets much more complicated. It's no longer an obvious lose-lose proposition; Jon had much to gain from taking (and winning) the bout with Chael Sonnen.
He could've saved UFC 151 while giving his colleagues and the fans exactly what they wanted. He could've been the knight in shining armor, riding to the rescue. Best of all, he could've throttled Sonnen, pushing the latter ever closer to MMA relevance.
Instead, the 205 champ and his team chose discretion as the better part of valor, and they are still dealing with the fallout from that choice.
Whether you agree or disagree with it, one thing is certain: Jon Jones' has shown his critics the first legitimate chink in his armor.
And man, are they having a field day exploiting it.
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