The UFC's decision to strip Jon Jones of its light heavyweight championship, and to suspend him indefinitely, was one of the more difficult and gut-wrenching decisions it's made since Zuffa purchased the promotion in January 2001.
It was also one of the best.
Stripping Jones of the championship and putting him on the sidelines is the kind of decision that grown-up sports leagues make. The UFC is not the same as the NFL, because combat sports is not the same as football. But Roger Goodell's handling of the cases of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson provided a perfect template for the UFC, because the UFC wants to be seen as a mainstream brand like the NFL.
And though I do not believe mixed martial arts will ever be accepted in the mainstream solely because of its violent nature, that doesn't mean the UFC can't strive to be viewed through the same lens as other major sports.
Some say that waiting for Jones' legal process to run its course before acting was the right thing to do. And we absolutely should allow that to play out before passing judgment on Jones, what he's accused of doing on Sunday morning and how it will affect his future in the long run.
That's how the American justice system works, and it should be honored.
But the UFC had no responsibility to honor the legal process. What it had instead was a responsibility to protect its name value in the public space. If things had gone differently—if it had supported Jones the way it did after his previous vehicular incident and his failed cocaine test earlier this year—it would be absolutely lambasted by the mainstream media it so desperately seeks attention from.
It needed to draw a line in the sand. It needed to say that even its biggest superstars will be held accountable for their behavior outside of the Octagon. It has historically come down hard on those with lesser name value who violate its code of conduct. Miguel Torres was fired for an offensive tweet. Will Chope was fired for not disclosing a domestic violence incident during his time in the Army. Others have been released for drawing negative attention to the company.
But this is the first time that a top-shelf superstar has suffered the consequences of bad decisions made outside the Octagon. And though putting one of its biggest stars (and the greatest fighter in the history of the sport) on the shelf will mean a bunch of lost revenue, it still elected to do it. That is an important thing, and the UFC should be commended for it.
Its decision might also serve as the wake-up call Jones has desperately needed. Instead of coddling him and enabling him as it has previously done, it is forcing him to face his problems head on. We all make stupid mistakes. We all do dumb things. There is not enough time in the day for me to tell you about all the dumb, thoughtless things I've done in my past, and I will absolutely do many stupid things in the future.
I am human, and humans do things that are dumb.
But being forced to face my issues, by my friends and loved ones, is one of the only ways I have ever grown, learned and fixed things. I am thankful for those friends who cared enough about me to sit me down and tell me hard truths instead of overlooking them and pretending everything was OK. Jones may be upset right now, but my instinct tells me he will eventually be grateful for the decision the UFC made.
And he'll be grateful for the circle of friends that is rallying around him right now.
The UFC needed to protect its name. But it is also in partnerships with several big-name sponsors, and those sponsors could not have been happy with Jones' incident and the attention it received.
Reebok, who recently signed Jones to a major endorsement deal (one that existed outside of the upcoming standard UFC uniform deal), cut ties with the former light heavyweight champion on Wednesday morning. That will cost Jones plenty of money. When he returns, it is likely that he'll still be wearing Reebok (under the uniform policy), but instead of receiving the big checks he was getting as one of Reebok's big signees, it is likely that he'll instead find himself under the same policy as the rest of the UFC roster.
That's a big pay cut. And it's going to hurt his pocketbook. But it is yet another opportunity for him to learn a major lesson and to come back from this time away as a better man, one that is more capable of handling the pressures of fame and fortune.
The UFC's decision was a major win. It showed a willingness to do a difficult thing, even when its own revenues are at stake. It gives me hope that the upcoming random drug testing program will be more than lip service and that it is serious about cleaning up the sport.
But most importantly, its decision may be the thing that helps Jones get his act together. We don't know how long he'll be away from the Octagon, and it really doesn't matter; he has far more important battles to face right now. For all we know, his legal battle could end up in jail time that keeps him away from the fight game until his prime years are over.
But if he's able to mature outside the Octagon, to make significant and visible changes and not just pay lip service to the idea of changing, people will root for Jones when he returns. The circus of his own creation could turn into a redemption story.
And if that is the ultimate end result of the UFC's decision to wrest away the UFC title from the greatest fighter in the world, well, it will end up being a far more important decision than we can possibly realize right now.