On Saturday, March 19, Jon Jones defeated Mauricio "Shogun" Rua to become the UFC light heavyweight champion.
Just days after the 23-year-old Jones became the youngest champion in UFC history, UFC president Dana White wrote the following on Twitter: "Congrats @jonnybones 1st UFC fighter to do the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The hits keep on coming!!!! Tune in thur on NBC!"
With Jones as the light heavyweight champion and Georges St-Pierre holding the welterweight title, is the UFC finally set to break through to the mainstream sports audience in America?
UFC president Dana White has often said that St-Pierre is the most famous athlete to ever come out of Canada.
At the press conference for UFC 124, White said, "He's (St-Pierre) been a great champion. He's a nice guy, he's an incredible athlete, he represents the sport and the belt well. Be proud of him, Canada. Deal with it. He's the most famous athlete in Canadian history.”
In St-Pierre and Jones, the UFC now has a two-headed monster that could easily bring the sport mass acceptance.
Some athletes transcend the sport they participate in.
In the NFL, there is Tom Brady. In the NBA, there is LeBron James. In the NHL, there is Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Will Jones be the athlete that makes that leap in mixed martial arts?
It is very possible that Jones could become the dream fighter that the UFC has been looking for to break the sport to mainstream US audiences.
Early in his career, he was noted for his humble manner.
However, Jones had a minor slip-up in the days leading to UFC 128. His comments came across as brash and cocky, but he put things back in order at the post-fight press conference.
During the conference, Jones told the story of how he and his coaches subdued a mugger just hours before UFC 128.
He came across as a natural storyteller. He was relaxed, engaging and funny—in short, he came across as genuinely likeable when he was telling the tale.
The unforced way in which he told the story will serve him well on The Tonight Show.
It will also most likely open up many doors for him to appear on other mainstream press outlets. That, in turn, may help destroy the silly stereotype that many have as to what an MMA fighter looks like, talks like and acts like.
After UFC 128, White spoke to MMAFighting.com reporter Ariel Helwani, saying, "When you become the UFC champion and you have the charisma and the personality and all the things that Jon Jones has, this kid looks like he could be a breakthrough star that appeals to many different people."
At his post-fight press conference, UFC bantamweight contender Urijah Faber said, "I told him he could be a mix between Jordan and Ali. He's got a lot of character, a great personality and he's a good person."
Is it too early to suggest that Jones could become the fighter that will help the UFC in its search for mainstream acceptance? On one hand it is—he's only 23 and just won the light heavyweight title on Saturday night.
On the other hand, he's booked for The Tonight Show just days after winning his title, so obviously Jones has some breakthrough potential.
Whether he can become the face of the UFC or not, the moment he strapped on that gold belt, his life changed.
"His life is going to change in so many ways starting right now," White told the press after UFC 128. "It's actually scary. He's going to have to make a lot of choices over the next couple of years—personally, professionally. He's in for a very wild, weird, crazy ride right now."