Even when he emerges from the Octagon victorious, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones just can't win.
Following his UFC 172 destruction of Glover Teixeira in Baltimore—a performance aptly described as "artistic" by Jones' coach Greg Jackson—Jones can't escape the critics who deem him a "dirty" fighter. They're all over MMA forums like Reddit, and their voice is loud. It's angry.
Jones' dominance inside the Octagon is clear, but it's the little things—stretching out his hand, fingers flared to gauge distance, palming his opponent's head like a schoolyard bully, cranking the arm with an overhook with the intent to inflict damage—that people take as a sign of disrespect and unsportsmanlike play.
These points are not completely wrong, but they're not completely valid, either.
Jones unquestionably does these things—the footage shows as much—and he admitted to thinking, "Oh, nice" at the UFC 172 post-fight press conference after he heard Teixeira's arm pop from his borderline illegal crank (embedded above).
But pushing the envelope and maximizing one's potential for greatness at the very brink of the rules is not illegal.
Was Michael Jordan's famous push off of Byron Russell before nailing the game-winning jumper in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals dirty?
It didn't get called.
Jones' tactics, to this end, are not unlike those used by almost every top-level athlete in any sport.
LeBron James flops.
Tom Brady embellishes contact to draw flags. To succeed at the highest levels, you have to do these things. You do what you have to do to win and do so without compromising the integrity of the game.
Do Jones' tactics tread the line?
Yes, without a doubt.
The referee needs to tell Jones he is going to take a point for his eye pokes and then actually take a point. That's the easiest way to prevent it from happening.
Still, it's not as if Jones is literally throwing eye pokes as an attack. The pokes are a result of an old-school muay thai technique, a point illustrated wonderfully by Bloody Elbow's Fraser Coffeen. I'm sure he's aware that a poke is more likely when utilizing this technique, but I'm also sure that it's not his primary motivation for using it.
Dirty is soccer-kicking a downed opponent in the head.
Dirty is sucker-punching your opponent after the bell.
Dirty is not, however, toeing the line of legality and using every possible competitive edge to your advantage. That's just smart.
That's what champions do.