It’s time we all stopped lying to ourselves and accepted the truth that Jon Jones is, truly, the baddest man on the planet. Let’s stop trying to dress him up as a hero and allow him to flourish as the villain his personality dictates he is. After all, it won’t make him any less entertaining in the Octagon.
There’s always been an excuse for Jon Jones’ troubles. The youngest UFC champion in history has constantly had his misdemeanors written o because he was in with the wrong crowd, or found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. At what stage do we simply accept who he is – less saint, more sinner.
Moreover, what will it matter? To go from hero to villain – something Jones has orchestrated himself – won’t necessarily impact on his fighting career. Sure, he’ll potentially hear a few more boos than cheers. But since when has that mattered to any fighter of his stature? It certainly didn’t affect the career of boxing bad guy Mike Tyson throughout his heyday.
For Tyson, being as confrontational and destructive outside of the ring as he was in it actually added to his allure. The former heavyweight champion was an animal in and out of the 10oz gloves. He enraged politically-correct groups and wasn’t a role model you’d want your 12-year-old to aspire to emulate, but he still generated more pay-per-view dollars and mainstream interest than any other fighter of his era.
Perhaps it’s time MMA stopped making excuses for ‘Bones’, took him off the pedestal forced under him and accepted him for the man he’s become. Inside the Octagon he’s a technician, a ruthless finisher with talent bigger than any other fighter that’s graced the UFC previously. Outside of it he’s a liability – and that’s his choice as an adult.
The greats come in all shapes, sizes and personas. Not every champion can be Georges St Pierre or Randy Couture. They were role models who were as comfortable in a room full of Olympic athletes as they were negotiating in a boardroom, talking to a packed media scrum or taking selfies with kids. Those situations suited them.
But Jones, as cool and laid back as he portrays himself to be, can be truculent with media. He’s not a boardroom athlete. He’s a performance athlete. He’d rather be in the gym than anywhere else – whether that’s rolling and kicking pads on the mats or pushing heavy metal in the weights room. These are his domains. Outside of these areas, he feels fragile and puts up a wall.
What if Jones needs to behave like a knucklehead in order to be the very best he can be? Much like Samson and his strength-defining hair, is his astounding fighting prowess actually rooted in his tumultuous personal life?
This ongoing private battle with his inner demons could prove to be the motivation that makes Jon Jones, well, Jon Jones. A character flaw that ultimately ensures he brings his A-game to Jackson-Wink MMA Academy in New Mexico.
For the good of sponsors and the sport’s young fans, the UFC and Jones’ management have repeatedly attempted to present him as a role model. They were determined to write off the repeated clashes with the law in his private life simply as the mistakes of a young, misunderstood athlete fighting with the pressures of success, but ultimately chasing a light at the end of the tunnel to salvation.
But what if, privately, Jones doesn’t want to grow up? What if he’s happy being the heel? Is that so wrong? After all, don’t we all love the bad guy anyway? Yes, he’s potentially one more felony away from being incarcerated, which stinks. Ideally we want much more from our heroes, but not every superhero is a role model either.
This column was originally published inside the June ’16 edition of Fighters Only.