UFC: What Happened to Jon Jones as 'Superstar Crossover MMA Fighter'?

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UFC: What Happened to Jon Jones as 'Superstar Crossover MMA Fighter'?
Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

Last Friday, Nike shoe apparel announced that the first release of their Jon “Bones” Jones line had sold out in under five minutes—quite a shocking accomplishment for a man who fights in a sport that has yet to be sanctioned in the state of New York.

Ever since Jones crushed Mauricio “Shogun” Rua to claim the light heavyweight title, people have been openly predicting that he would be the man to attain crossover superstar status, without reservation.

He has the smile, the ability, the manners and the demeanor of a very marketable, family-friendly sport icon, much like another crossover star of the past, Sugar Ray Leonard.

In 1981, after defeating Roberto Duran in their rematch, Leonard found that his charisma and accomplishments in the ring had transcended the sport of boxing, becoming a huge crossover success.

The first sign of this was his appearance in a 7-up commercial—one of which I remember seeing on television as a boy—and that was just the beginning.

Leonard appeared on the Bob Hope special and even met with then-President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. In short, he was everywhere.

Jones was thought to be able to do for MMA what Leonard did for boxing at a time when the career of Muhammad Ali was ending; become a media darling that inspired and commanded not only attention, but admiration—the kind of admiration companies want their brands associated with; greatness by proxy.

"Jon 'Bones' Jones, brought to the cage by hard work, talent and Nike shoes; on sale now at your local retailer."

But it seems as if Jones should be bigger than this, to be honest. 

Steve Snowden/Getty Images

Granted, he’s the first ever MMA fighter to get his own Nike shoe, and when you consider where the sport was in 2000, to be honest none of us thought we would ever see the day.

And yet I say again, it seems as if Jones should be bigger than this by now.

He’s basically undefeated, the current reigning light heavyweight champion, on the verge of tying the all-time record for title defenses in the division, fighting out of a stellar camp, sponsored by one of the biggest shoe companies in the world; with all that going for him, one would think he would be doing more than just waiting to do the next late-night television talk shows or a Bud Lite commercial.

In fact, aside from the Nike shoe, the attention afforded Jones from the media outside of MMA has been just about equal with Tito Ortiz, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and others.

So why hasn’t the crossover star crossed over with any more gravity or significance than his peers?

Perhaps one aspect of it is negative publicity; after all, Jones was in the spotlight for a while, in a big way, but only as a punching bag for Dana White during the whole UFC 151 fiasco.  

During that whole mess, it was hard to look at any sports-dedicated channel without seeing mention from White about how upset he was with Jones, which was coupled with articles that had tweets from other fighters on the aborted card, asking Jones for money so they could pay their bills and rent and buy clothing for their children. 

Those are the kinds of words and images that can stall the takeoff right on the launch pad, and when you add to that men like Chael Sonnen attacking Jones (some think at the behest of White), suddenly you are the topic of conversation around the water coolers, and none of it is good.

Then, there was his DUI incident, which happened around the same time.

Lastly, you have Ronda Rousey, who is making such a splash and receives so much coverage that it isn’t hard to see that the media’s focus must expand and not center on the UFC light heavyweight champion. 

Will Jon Jones ever become a crossover superstar?

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But whatever the reason(s), Jones still has his youth and talent—two things that are always marketable if a fighter can just perform consistently and thrill when he does.

And perform he must against Chael Sonnen in his next fight. A quick, dominant stoppage of the former two-time middleweight title challenger could be just what Jones needs to get the crews back on the launch pad.

Yes, selling out the first in a line of Nike shoes that display his label is a sure sign that he hasn’t lost all of his momentum, but we still don’t have a solid number of just how many units were actually sold. Were the numbers even close to those of the first of the Air Jordan line sold?

If so, then Jones is poised to become that crossover superstar, past be damned. If not, then he’s going to have to fight for everything he gets now and all he dreams of getting in the future.

Thankfully for Jones, he’s in the right sport to do it, and fighting is what he does best.

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