Very few people seem to know for sure where things stand between the UFC and Jon Jones at the moment.
Those who do? They aren’t talking.
"You got to ask Jon Jones that," said UFC President Dana White during a media scrum over the weekend, when asked why the fight company’s most dominant champion still hadn’t signed for a rematch against Alexander Gustafsson. "I don't know. I don't like it, I don't like it at all."
In a sport where sometimes it seems like every bit of minutia commands its own story, and everybody who’s anybody has a video blog, this murkiness is notable. With White firing off nebulous quotes and Jones addressing the situation only with cheeky replies on his Twitter page, you know the rumor mill is going to jump at the chance to fire up its engines.
Are the world’s best fighter and the world’s best fight company at odds? Is Jones still upset that the company seems to be throwing more promotional weight behind Ronda Rousey? Is he miffed at the UFC’s insistence on propping up champions in nearly every other weight class as No. 1 pound-for-pound? Is he plotting a shocking defection?
Sadly for the gossip-mongers, smart money says, nah, probably not. At least at this point, we don’t really have cause to believe it’s time to push the panic button on all our big plans for the rest of the year.
Chances are, what we’re witnessing here is a fairly run-of-the-mill round of contract negotiations. It may be a bit more rancorous and public than most in MMA, but rancor and overexposure are essentially our sport’s default settings when it comes to All Things Bones.
It’s standard operating procedure for the UFC to try to re-sign fighters (especially its champions) before their existing contracts lapse, and that’s exactly what CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said he wanted to do with Jones during a recent episode of UFC: Embedded.
“We’re going to walk him through why it makes sense to fight Alexander Gustafsson,” Fertitta said at the 18-second mark, making it sound like talks were very much in their infancy, “and we’re going to make an offer to extend his contract.”
It’s that last part that’s likely the sticking point right now. If the UFC wants Jones to sign a new multifight deal as part of agreeing to take on Gustafsson, it stands to reason the two sides would have a lot to talk about. After all, this not only represents the company’s chance to re-up with Jones, but his best/only chance to renegotiate before he locks in again.
In other words, expect delays, but eventually, business as usual.
Don’t let White’s terse reply spur you into alarm. He’s the president of the company. He’s supposed to act put out when one of his laborers asks for more money.
Don’t let Gustafsson’s Facebook posts fool you either. He’s about to get his second crack at a UFC title. Think he’ll pass up a chance to try to get in the champion’s head?
And as for Daniel Cormier’s recent outburst to SportsWorldNews.com's Franklin McNeil that he’ll gladly fight “the kid” (meaning the 16-2 Gustafsson) for an interim title if Jones doesn’t want to do it? Cormier seems to have gone from 0-60 in the self-promotion lane since defeating Dan Henderson at UFC 173. This is an easy way for him to keep his name in the headlines and remind everyone that he’s the guy we really want to see fight for the title, eventually. Fair play to him for that.
On all sides, the timing of these moves is likely no accident. Four days after Fertitta and White met with Jones’ manager, as captured on Embedded, the company confirmed to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto that it was targeting Jones-Gustafsson II for UFC 177 on Aug. 30. That means the executives are either confident the fight will be signed and delivered, or they’re trying to squeeze Jones a bit.
On the fighter’s side? Same thing. If the UFC is going to go ahead and advertise a fight before Jones agrees to do it, well, that seems like a great time to try to hold the company’s feet to the fire for those few extra perks the champion has been dreaming about.
Jones and his handlers have been mum on his fighting future since his late-April victory over Glover Teixeira at UFC 172, but given that he’s back on social media now goosing the haters, it seems most likely he still has his 2014 pretty well all planned out.
Is it possible a bigger rift emerges here? Absolutely. Any time a sport’s biggest star and his employers sit down to talk mathematics, disaster looms. But a lengthy holdout? A standoff? The possibility Jones has his next fight anywhere besides the Octagon? Doubt it. Common sense and the champion’s clause in the UFC’s standard fighter contract say those things are unlikely.
I suspect all parties will go on not liking each other very much for a few more days (or weeks) and eventually come to a workable agreement to proceed with the moneymaking.
That’s one thing they all can agree on.