Just how does Jon Jones go from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader in a matter of 12 months? The feat is quite remarkable for the UFC light heavyweight champion and the first Nike endorsed MMA fighter that was once praised by fans and fighters alike for his devastating ability at such a young age. But now the 25-year-old is being lambasted by skeptics and fight fans alike for his refusal to face middleweight trash talker Chael Sonnen as a replacement after his original opponent, Dan Henderson, was pulled from the fight due to an injury. Not only will Jon Jones not fight at UFC 151 on Labor Day weekend in Las Vegas, but for the first time in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, an entire event has been scrapped due to the champion’s unwillingness to face a replacement opponent.
The announcement came on Thursday afternoon – nine days before the originally scheduled fight – where befuddled UFC President Dana White called it one of his “all-time lows as being president of the UFC.”
With Jones becoming such an attraction over the past year, his refusal to face a Sonnen left White no choice to cancel the entire pay-per-view card. The normally unabashed UFC president reached new levels of exasperation over the phone as he verbally throttled Jones and his trainer Greg Jackson using a plethora of colorful of words to describe his frustration.
“I don’t know why a guy who is a world champion and considered by many one of the pound-for-pound best wouldn’t fight somebody,” White fumed in his expletive laced tirade. “I don’t know the answer to that. It’s baffling to me. I’ve never seen it before.”
Was it because Chael Sonnen is just that tough of a fighter? That’s likely not the case as Sonnen is coming off a knockout loss to Anderson Silva back in July. Not only is Chael Sonnen not as powerful or as good as a wrestler as Dan Henderson is, Sonnen also fights in a lower weight class. However, he has the golden gift of gab that could sell any fight regardless if you believe he can win or not. Sonnen has been trying to lure Jones into a fight for the past couple of weeks with his usual trash talk on Twitter and whenever a microphone is shoved into his face. Surely, this opportunity could be golden for the UFC.
But Jones flat out declined the fight. And with it, the entire card has been shut down.
This is where things get tricky. Jones says that he declined the fight because his trainer Greg Jackson suggested that nine days is not enough time to prepare for a fighter like Sonnen. While that may be true, what is left out of the equation is the fact that Sonnen also has to prepare to fight the #3 pound for pound fighter in the world on short notice. Not to mention that Jones is already wrapping up a full training camp while Sonnen has been on vacation since his loss to Silva on July 7. Who really has the upper hand?
But even if you argue that Jones is right in his justification, you have to raise an eyebrow at how he has carried himself over the past few months. When it was suggested that Jones would have to face Lyoto Machida – a man he choked unconscious last December – should he have beaten Henderson on September 1, Jones’ scoffed at the fight. But not necessarily because he defeated Machida before. After all, Machida did work his way back into the title picture with a devastating stoppage of Ryan Bader earlier this month. No, it was more about business for Jones and finding the fight that would be more financially beneficial for his career.
“I don’t want to fight Lyoto Machida,” Jones told ESPN.com last week. “He was my lowest pay-per-view draw of last year. No one wants to see me fight Lyoto Machida. I don’t want to fight Lyoto again. “Lyoto is high risk and low reward. He’s a tough fighter, but no one wants to buy that fight.”
That’s the kind of prima donna positioning that has drawn the ire of fans. Although he may be right in that Machida is a high risk and low reward fight, Jon Jones doesn’t get to select his opponents based on the risk/reward factor. That’s Dana White and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva’s job. But lately Jones has taken on a more arrogant and pompous attitude that is a far cry from the modest kid with the remarkable talent that many grew to love early in his career. At one time, Jones didn’t drink his own kool-aid. He was willing to take on any challenger and towed the company line.
But as the legend of Jon Jones’ has grown in stature, so has his ego. His cockiness has permeated through his nice guy facade and a disconnect with MMA fans was imminent. For many, his dance after he defeated former friend and training partner Rashad Evans punctuated his transformation from babyface to fully fledged heel. And now, with an event on the line, Jones does what no fighting champion is supposed to do, turn down a fight. And, as a result, an entire event is cancelled.
This is not entirely Jones’ fault. The UFC has drawn criticism for its dizzying volume of events that spreads a roster thin when a fighter or fight is needed as a replacement. Once upon a time, a co-main event was good enough to become the main event should something happen to one of the top billed fighters. Nowadays, not so much. Nevertheless, Jon Jones is primed to be the face of the company. People pay to see him fight, not pick and choose his opponents. He, just like everyone else, wants to be universally liked. But when you draw the ire of the boss and every paying fan out there, you may have no choice but to become and embrace being the bad guy.