UFC 152: Jon Jones Plays the Race Card in Sprawling, Fact-Impaired Interview
Jon Jones is an amazing athlete. Inside the cage, few can compare. Jones makes face-crushing, bone-splitting violence look as beautiful as a butterfly opening its wings. With Jon Jones, fighting is truly an art.
If only all we saw of Jones was his superlative performances in the UFC Octagon. Imagine how popular he would be if he simply let his fighting speak for itself. Instead, Jones continues to open his mouth in a series of revealing tweets and interviews that paint the picture of a very young, very spoiled, very petulant man-child.
On Tuesday, MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani was granted an audience with Jones, 41 minutes for the light heavyweight champion to tell his side of the story about his decision to refuse a fight with Chael Sonnen, forcing the cancellation of UFC 151:
It makes zero sense for me, my coaching staff, or my management team....I gotta think like a businessman.
As usual, Jones was completely tone deaf to what fans and his bosses at the UFC need and want to hear. We want to know that we are important to Jones. That he understands he owes the fans and the promotion a lot, that every Bentley he wrecks was bought with our hard-earned money, cash we laid down for the privilege of watching him fight.
Even if he stands by his right to fight only his contracted opponent, acknowledging the pain he created in the MMA community would be a nice start toward rebuilding a damaged public image.
Instead, Jones made it clear that he was the victim here, not the fans, promotion or other fighters on the card. Fans, fellow fighters and UFC President Dana White's criticisms pierced his thin skin, but their messages weren't taken to heart. Jones believes he made the right decision not to face Sonnen and he's willing to double down on that message:
All the fighters that are insulting me on the card, I'm not the one who is saying that you're not good enough for pay per view...I felt like a piece of meat...My job is not to be popular among fighters, I could care less if any fighter liked me or not, my job is to show up, do my job and go back home.
That's fine. You have to respect his perseverance and refusal to say what people want to hear. It may make him look like a jerk and a little bit of a coward, but that's his right. Unfortunately for Jones and his supporters, he can't keep his reasons for refusing the Sonnen fight clear, even during the course of a single interview.
In one breath, he's claiming Sonnen was too dangerous to fight on short notice:
Taking the fight would be ignorant... I think it would have been completely arrogant on my part to take the fight, to assume I could beat one of the top five, top 10 fighters on the planet, without preparing for him whatsoever.
Later, though, he claims Sonnen didn't deserve a shot and that he wasn't going to allow him to fight for the title. Perhaps Jones hit his head before the interview and woke up thinking he was Floyd Mayweather Jr. Maybe he's forgotten that, in the UFC, fighters don't get to decide who competes for the championship. Jones, though, has granted himself that power.
And what happened to the dangerous Sonnen he had just explained was one of the 10 best fighters on the planet? The guy who had just challenged the best fighter in UFC history for the middleweight belt in the biggest pay-per-view of the year. Suddenly that guy had morphed into a fighter "nowhere near" a title shot:
He lost his last two fights. Why would I put a world championship on the line against a very dangerous opponent but one who hasn't even remotely earned the right to consider himself to be in the position to fight for the world title? That's like winning the jackpot and I just refuse to be anybody's jackpot.
Now, forget for a second that Sonnen has not actually lost his last two fights. Nor is he 5-6 in the UFC, as Jones claimed. He's actually 6-5 in his UFC career. More importantly, Sonnen is 4-2 in the last three years, both losses at the hands of the great Anderson Silva.
It's political convention season, and you can forgive Jones for playing fast and loose with the truth. Facts are barely relevant in today's new media discourse. Helwani certainly wasn't going to correct the record, and so it will stand to any who will listen. It's been reported now all around the Internet, truth be damned. Jon Jones makes his own reality, but only if we let him.
Worse was Jones' casual use of the race card, calling out Sonnen for his humorous promotion of the two Silva fights:
I clearly said I would not allow Chael Sonnen to jump the line by using his mouth. And what was he doing? Jumping the line by using his mouth. It's like, why would I contradict myself when I clearly just said that I feel Chael Sonnen is a racist? The way he treats Brazilians, it's totally uncalled for; I have zero respect for him...I'm honored to fight Vitor Belfort. Vitor's a Christian like I am, he's an honorable man, he's a good, classy, clean-cut dude. This is an honor to fight Vitor Belfort.
Let's parse that a bit. First and perhaps most obviously, Brazilian is not a "race." Scientists will debate appropriate racial distinctions until the end of time, but none to my knowledge have ever defined "Brazilian" as a racial group.
Was Jon Jones wrong to play the race card?
Brazil is a country. It's made up of a diverse population of both indigenous peoples and those descended from the Portuguese who conquered the region in the 1500s or the slaves who were imported shortly after to work in the sugarcane fields.
While Sonnen's various jibes at Silva and other Brazilians were biting, they weren't racist. That's powerful language and an accusation Jones should be more careful with. It's easy to pull the race card out, but harder to put it back in the deck once it's seen the light of day.
You can say a lot of things about Chael Sonnen. That, however, isn't one of them. Jones should apologize.
Jones, who apparently has the final call in his own matchmaking, has proclaimed Belfort, who like Sonnen lost to Anderson Silva (but unlike Sonnen didn't put up much of a fight), a worthy foe. His main rationale? Belfort's public Christianity.
Is this seriously a basis for deciding which challengers to consider?
I worried last week that Jones and other star fighters were slipping out of the UFC's control. This interview and Jones' other public statements have crystallized how true this is. The UFC is on the road to being boxing. It will be great for Jon Jones. It will be a more bumpy ride for his fans and fellow fighters. Luckily we learned on Tuesday we are the last people on his mind.
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