"I am the greatest! I'm the greatest thing that ever lived. I don't have a mark on my face, and I upset Sonny Liston, and I just turned 22 years old. I must be the greatest."
- Muhammad Ali
As a huge fan of Muhammad Ali, I couldn't help but think of him when a friend of mine changed a few of the words in this quote, tailored it to new UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones, and sent it to me after his victory on Saturday night.
Jones may be 23 and his defeat of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua may not have exactly been an upset to too many analysts or fans of mixed martial arts, but what he did on March 19, 2011 was defining of a legendary career that we are about to witness.
The youngest champion in UFC history has had a meteoric rise to the top of the fighting game and he has done it which such ease that people like Joe Rogan are starting to wonder if he may become the best ever.
Along his path he has defeated quality and well-respected fighters such as Stephan Bonner, Brandon Vera, Vladimir Matyushenko and Ryan Bader before getting his title shot and along the way he has stayed humble and hungry while barely getting a scratch on his face.
But now comes the fun part for the UFC and how they can market Jones on his way to becoming a global name on par with likes Georges St-Pierre and possibly reaching the heights of other star athletes in other sports.
So now what?
Dana White and the Fertita brothers have recently struck gold with their champions with Cain Velasquez (Mexican-American), Anderson Silva (Brazilian) and St-Pierre (French-Canadian) heading their weight divisions and bringing in a new demographic of fans to the UFC.
Now with Jones, they have a young African-American fighter who they can turn into the MMA equivalent and their own version of a young LeBron James.
"At this age LeBron is better than anybody I've seen in 37 years in this business, including Kevin [Garnett] and Kobe [Bryant] and Tracy." – Sonny Vaccaro, Adidas rep, in Feb. 18, 2002 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Compare, compare and compare Jones some more to fighters from yesteryear and educate fans on why Jones could become better then all of them.
Mike Goldberg and Rogan do an excellent job of doing this during telecasts, but the fans need more.
The UFC should create a couple of specials on Spike TV before Jones’ next bout, use some old UFC and Pride footage and bring in some analyst to compare Jones to some of the all-time greats.
Give fans the opportunity to see if he’s on par with legendary fighters from all weight classes like Randy Couture, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Matt Hughes and Chuck Liddell, just to name a few.
The UFC produces video packages that are second to none but the fans need one dedicated to Jones.
Jones the Person
It becomes insightful when celebrities are humanized so that we can learn more about their upbringing, their families and who they are as a person.
Do most fans know that the humble 23-year-old is a father to an almost 3-year-old baby girl?
Do most fans know that Jones has two brothers and that the eldest, Arthur, plays in the National Football League for the Baltimore Ravens and that his youngest brother, Chandler, plays Division I football for Syracuse?
Look at this quote that Jones provides to Maggie Hendricks of Yahoo Sports during an interview as to who is the best athlete in the family:
"I think that I've been the hardest worker, because it hasn't come easy to me. I think it's a tie between Arthur and Chandler. Arthur just has 'it.' He has what it takes. He's gifted. Chandler has 'it' and he works hard. Arthur is the most gifted, Chandler is the most special and I'm the one with the most heart and work ethic."
Have fans become attached to Jones by allowing them to find out more about the fighter while capitalizing on Jones’ ever growing fan base and educate the fans just like other professional leagues have done with their stars.
Give Us More
Finally, the UFC needs to have Jones’ face just about everywhere it goes.
Last week Dana White attended a Knicks games with Chuck Liddell and Georges St-Pierre sitting with him in the first row.
In that one image you had the UFC’s past golden boy in Liddell along with its current golden boy, St-Pierre.
Now the UFC needs to do more of this with Jones by making him visible in every way possible.
Bring him to events, bring him to more fan expos and shoot some commercials promoting the UFC with his image in it.
Just give the fans more of the guy that everyone is talking about.
Now Hope for the Best
Jones has all the talent in the world to go on a massive winning streak in the way that St-Pierre and Silva have at the welterweight and middleweight divisions respectively.
The light heavyweight title has been passed around tremendously in the last few years.
Jones is the sixth champion in the weight division since Quiton Jackson ended Liddell’s stronghold on the belt in 2007.
Now it is up to Jones to continue to want to learn and improve his skills while never being satisfied with where he is at.
The sky is the limit for this young and innovative fighter and health willing he may reach greatness that nobody has achieved in the sport of MMA.
Agree? Disagree? Be sure to drop me a line in the comments section below. You can also follow me on twitter @georgef9