Jon Jones May Never Be the Most Popular Fighter in the UFC, but Does It Matter?
In the sport of MMA, there are no rules or regulations on what makes a fighter popular or connect with fans in a positive manner.
The perfect case example of this phenomenon is UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
As dominant a fighter as there is in the entire sport this side of Anderson Silva, Jones has never been able to gain favor with fans in the same way fighters like Georges St-Pierre does every time he competes.
Last Friday at the UFC 159 weigh-ins—which were held in New Jersey just a hop, skip and a jump away from New York where Jones was born and raised—the fanbase definitely hit a fevered pitch when he stepped on the scale, but not with the kind of favor most fighters feel competing close to home.
Instead, Jones was met with a loud chorus of jeers from the Jersey faithful in attendance, despite the fact that he was facing the self-professed "bad guy" of the UFC, Chael Sonnen.
It's been like this for a while with Jones, who has continued to decimate every fighter put in his path, but can't ever seem to curry favor with fans.
Words like "fake" and "cocky" have been used to describe Jones as he's made his meteoric rise up the ranks, and no matter how many wins he continues to pile up he just can't seem to turn the page to make him a true fan favorite.
"It doesn't matter," UFC President Dana White told Bleacher Report when asked about Jones' inability to be perceived positively by fans. "He did a $2.7 million dollar gate, I guarantee his pay-per-view is going to do very well tonight. Jon Jones is one of the best fighters in the world, he's not going anywhere. You don't have to love him. People either like him and want to see him win, or hate him and want to see him get beat."
White isn't sure why fans don't side with Jones the way they do other champions, but nothing else matters so long as they are buying his fights and paying for tickets to see him ply his craft.
As long as Jones is in the Octagon crushing the competition at every turn, White knows the fans will tune in to see him compete even if their ultimate desire is to see him lose. White also knows it's got to be tough just to be Jon Jones right now.
Jones is already considered to be the greatest light heavyweight fighter in UFC history. He's made millions of dollars between his UFC paychecks and endorsement deals like the one he signed last year with Nike. Jones is now being mentioned in the same breath as living legend Anderson Silva in the mythical pound-for-pound rankings.
Oh yeah, by the way, Jones is only 25 years old.
To put that into perspective, NBA legend Michael Jordan didn't win his first title until he was 28 years of age. For MMA fans, Chuck Liddell won the UFC championship when he was 35. Tito Ortiz, the fighter whose record Jones tied for most consecutive title defenses at 205 pounds, was 25 when he won the belt back in 2000 before defending it five more times.
Jones has a world of pressure on his back and will likely be the fighter expected to carry the UFC for the next 10 years if his success continues to carry forward. His only pitfall could be the very fame that comes along with being the best fighter on the planet.
"Jon Jones is who he is," White stated. "He's a young guy, he's continuing to grow. I mean imagine being in his position when he's 23 years old, being the champion, money and fame and all that. I'm telling you guys that stuff is the biggest opponent a fighter can ever have is the money and fame and all the s—t that comes along with it, and he's getting better. I like Jon way better than I did two years ago.
"He really is growing up, and I like who he's become."
Jones may never be the most popular fighter in the UFC, but he certainly is one of the most magnetic. Whether he's being cheered or jeered, as long as fans continue to make him one of the top draws in the sport it doesn't matter much whether the turnout is purely positive or not.
Jones' love/hate relationship with fans is no different than NBA forward LeBron James, NFL quarterback Tom Brady or any other championship-level superstar. It doesn't matter so much why fans tune in—it just matters that they are tuning in to watch.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.
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