This wasn’t exactly shocking to the MMA world, especially after the debacle that was UFC 151, but for a fighter to go from loved to hated as quickly as Jones has over the last six months has been a rather extraordinary situation.
The fall from grace began for Jones shortly after his UFC 145 title defense against Rashad Evans.
Going into that bout, Jones was still a heavy fan favorite over nearly everyone in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, but you could feel the crowd start to turn against Jones for the first time leading up to that fight.
Most chalked it up to fans getting sick of the dominance that Jones had displayed during his recent destruction of the division, but it turned out to be more than that once the light heavyweight champion of the world was charged with a DUI just weeks after his successful defense against Evans.
The immediate public backlash following the DUI was harsh and ended up lasting far longer than a lot of people anticipated, but it seemed like the criticism of Jones had finally died down leading up to his scheduled title fight against Dan Henderson at UFC 151.
However, an injury to Henderson forced the UFC to go into panic mode just a week prior to the event, and when Jones deemed former middleweight challenger Chael Sonnen an unsuitable replacement for Henderson on just a week's notice, the card was cancelled and the hatred for Jones amongst fans grew considerably.
Now that Jones survived the initial blowback last night, it’s time for him to start attempting to rebuild his image.
After all, Jones is one of the most well-known fighters in the sport, and with the ink still drying on his contract with Nike, it seems doubtful that anyone connected with Jones wants him to remain the villain for long.
The UFC could set Jones up against Dan Henderson or Lyoto Machida and let him slowly gain back his fanbase by taking out a few more top-tier fighters, but if Jones is truly looking to get back into the fans' good graces, there’s only one fight that could set him back on the right path to be loved again.
This is where Chael Sonnen comes in.
No matter how many fans tried to make Chael Sonnen the conquering hero of the UFC 151 situation, the fact remains that Sonnen has used his mouth to become one of the most despised fighters in the history of our young sport and it will take someone of Sonnen’s skill set to help Jones rebuild his image.
All it will take is for Sonnen to take to the media and start going after a few MMA legends to get the ball rolling, and when he takes another cheap shot at Jones, the champion can respond with a challenge.
This makes Jones the good guy all of a sudden, the champion of the future stepping up and defending the fighters who allowed him to get to where he is today, and he’ll end up back in the hearts of fans just as quickly as he left.
This may sound a but too much like a pro wrestling-style “work,” and I can understand why a lot of hardcore fans would be able to see through the smokescreen and call the situation what it is, but in the end, the only fans that Jones needs to convince to side with him again are the casual ones.
Without Sonnen it will take a long time for Jones to win over the fans again, and while there’s little doubt that eventually the public will end up back in his corner, the sooner it happens the better it will be for Jones and the UFC.
Whether anyone likes it or not, Jon Jones is well on his way to becoming a superstar and all it will take to get the fans back on his side is a few verbal barbs from a “Gangster” from West Linn, Oregon.