Is UFC Champion Jon Jones Trying to Duck Top Contender Alexander Gustafsson?

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Is UFC Champion Jon Jones Trying to Duck Top Contender Alexander Gustafsson?
USA Today

Alexander Gustafsson, the recently minted Swedish superstar, doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. Six months after he took champion Jon Jones to the limit in 2013's best fight, Gustafsson dismantled British slugger Jimi Manuwa in compelling fashion.

Showing no mercy in Manuwa's own backyard, Gustafsson managed to knee his opponent in the face while simultaneously propping up the UFC's new Fight Pass streaming system.

No small feat, that.

After the fight, he took to the microphone. There, the usually soft-spoken Gustafsson minced no words, straight ganking the microphone from UFC analyst Dan Hardy to let his soul flow out.

"Jon Jones, I want my title shot again," a passionate Gustafsson said. "I'm right here. Whenever you want, man. Whenever you want."

The problem, according to persistent critics at least, is that "whenever Jones wants" is actually never. That Jones, the longtime champion, is still cowering after Gustafsson's surprise showing back in September. In short, that Jones is straight quaking in his custom Nike trainers, too intimidated to accept the challenge of either Gustafsson or Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier.

To all of this I say, channeling my colleague Chad Dundas, are you freaking kidding me?

You think Jon Jones, the greatest fighter of this or any generation, is ducking a challenger? Any challenger?

The same Jones who once fought a murderers' row of Ryan Bader, Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson and Lyoto Machida in a single calendar year? The same Jon Jones who has spent six short years rewriting what's possible in his sport, becoming MMA's most cerebral fighter as well as its most gifted?

I repeat: Are you kidding me, MMA fans? 

Jon Jones by the Numbers
Height 6'4"
Reach 84.5 inches
Record 19-1
UFC Fights 14
UFC Finishes 10
Former Champions Beaten 5
Title Defenses 6
Twitter Followers 803,000

UFC.com

Even Jones' fellow fighters are getting into the act. Phil Davis, perpetually on the brink of contention, accused Jones of wanting to duck his former training partner Gustafsson.

"Most people would rematch," Davis told MMA Fighting's Dave Doyle. "But he said, 'forget about that, forget about you.' I find that interesting. Very interesting."

Davis, of course, has an excuse for his inanity. He's angling for a title shot of his own, drumming up controversy to put himself in what UFC president Dana White calls "the mix." And he's not entirely wrong when he says UFC title shots come with no rhyme or reason.

Glover Teixeira, proud owner of just a single win over a top-10 opponent, will fight Jones in April. Daniel "DC" Cormier is being considered for a shot after a single fight at 205 pounds, a win over a fighter who had been a coffee shop barista just days earlier.

Gregory Payan/Associated Press/Associated Press
Davis is angling for his own title shot.

But blaming Jones for the insane world in which he's found himself is like blaming water for being wet. He's not in control of the UFC's famously reactionary matchmaking, though he did take to Twitter in the hours after Gustafsson's challenge to try his hand at bringing order to chaos.

"Why not give the winner of Alexander and DC the winner of myself and Glover?" Jones asked in a series of tweets. "Call me what you want but I can’t be the only person who thinks that makes perfect sense. Wouldn't the world pay to see?"

In a perfect world, a world more sport than spectacle, Jones' plan to let performance in the cage sort out his next challenger makes sense. Unfortunately, he's made such mincemeat of the division, defending his title six times in the three years since winning it, that the UFC doesn't have contenders to spare.

While it would be nice for Cormier and Gustafsson to establish definitively who deserves it more, the UFC needs them both in the mix. White did his best to remove any doubt about what was next for the division, confirming Gustafsson as the challenger in waiting.

"If Jones wins, we have a nasty rematch," he said at the post-fight press conference. "If he doesn't, then it's (Gustafsson) and Glover Teixeira."

In this, White is right. But Jones being a poor matchmaker is not the same thing as Jones being intimidated by either. Instead, as he pointed out, he's actually looking to find out which lion is hungrier then volunteering to step in with whomever emerges as the top contender.

"People who don't like to think are quick to call me afraid," he wrote on Twitter. "Think about it, I'm asking for the meanest of the two."

For Jones, it was a another in a series of public relations missteps putting more and more distance between himself and your average MMA fan. In a way, it should come as no surprise. For years, MMA fighters were promoted as being just like us: Regular guys who happened to have that crazy gleam in their eye that propelled them into a locked cage to wreak untold havoc on their unlucky foes.

Jones has always been different.

He's what we've been waiting for, the elite athlete who helps catapult this sport to the mainstream. But now that he's finally here, the chosen one, fans have been slow to embrace him. The everyman vibe others in the sport pull off so easily is beyond him.

It's hard for Jones to pretend he's just another guy. He's not. He's been the best fighter in the world for three years. At this point, only the most stubborn refuse to acknowledge his status as our leading light.

It's this undeniable greatness that makes the accusations against him all the more ludicrous. Jones is not ducking anyone for one very simple reason: He doesn't have to.

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