With one kick to the side of Daniel Cormier’s head, Jon Jones was rechristened the king of MMA, and order was restored at UFC 214.
Despite his recent struggles outside of the Octagon, Jon Jones has widely been considered the best fighter in the sport for many years; but for the first time in his illustrious career, Jones is arguably the biggest active star in the UFC.
Ordinarily, promoting a fighter the caliber of Jones feels like a no-brainer, but for the UFC, Jones is anything but ordinary.
Here is a list of five “pros” and five “cons” to promoting Jones as the face of the UFC.
Jones is a damaged brand: Unfortunately, the name Jon Jones evokes both images of dominance in the UFC and a career filled with several roadblocks. Throughout his career, Jones has penetrated the mainstream with headlines that include: a failed PED test, testing positive for cocaine, a DUI, and a hit and run incident. Jones is far from the only athlete to have a tarnished personal reputation, but recently the UFC’s biggest mega-stars are relatively good citizens. Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor may say unsavory statements in press conferences, but the UFC has never aired a video package outlining the legal troubles of either fighter.
Jones is unreliable: Jones’s bad-boy reputation has yielded an inconsistent fight schedule for the Light Heavyweight Champion. Since January of 2015, Jones has only fought on three occasions. As popular as Jones is, he should be a bigger star. Jones simply has not been at the forefront of the sport over the past three years. Dana White famously claimed that he would never headline a card with Jon Jones in the main event. Like most statements that Dana White publicly proclaims, this was inaccurate. However, the premise is legitimate. Furthermore, can the pay-per-view audience trust Jones? Once Jon Jones is removed from his rivalry with Daniel Cormier, are people willing to commit money to a Jon Jones fight?
Light heavyweight is a shallow division: Jon Jones is done fighting Daniel Cormier, and he has defeated the logical next contender. Unless Anthony Johnson comes out of retirement, Jones does not have a plethora of entertaining fights left in the Light Heavyweight Division. If Jon Jones wants to become a massive pay-per-view draw, chasing supper fights against the likes of a Brock Lesnar might be his only option. Chasing fights outside of the division could be beneficial in the short term, but it can also create an environment where another interim title needs to be awarded. If the UFC wants to return the Light Heavyweight Division back to its former glory, the champion needs to remain within the division.
Jones is not a proven pay-per-view draw: When not facing a marquee opponent, Jones has not proven to be a significant pay-per-view draw. Since UFC 145 in April of 2012, Jones has not sold over 500,000 pay-per-views on card where he was not opposite Daniel Cormier or Chael Sonnen. Of course, in the new UFC landscape, Jones might be a much bigger star. Prior to UFC 214, Jones was promoted expertly, with his strengths and vulnerabilities on full display. If Jones emerges from the Cormier series as a much bigger star, the UFC might be able to reach a whole new crop of UFC fans.
Jon Jones is the G.O.A.T. in his prime: Every sport will claim that their contemporary athletes are the best ever in their respective sports. However, the UFC has a legitimate claim when with Jon Jones. These moments do not come along every day for sports leagues. The NBA can tout Lebron James as their modern-day king, but a vocal subset of Gen-X hoops aficionados will forever counter with Michael Jordan memories. In the UFC, it is difficult to dispute the merits of a fighter who has dominated every opponent, while his sole loss was due to a technicality. With Jones, the UFC can promote their best fighter as a living legend, without falling victim to hyperbole.
Jones is a fresh star: Despite being in the UFC for nearly a decade, Jones has yet to reach a saturation point with MMA fans. Now, of course this is mainly due to Jones’s transgressions, but it is nonetheless true that a Jon Jones fight is something of an anomaly. The UFC has grown significantly during Jones’s hiatus. The new eyeballs that the UFC acquired with the meteoric rise of Conor McGregor, have not been witness to Jones’s dominance.
The redemption narrative: Sports fans are a forgiving bunch. The narrative of an uber-gifted athlete that nearly lost his career due to poor choices, only to emphatically reclaim his spot at the top, is a solid script. The UFC has a feel-good story to tell with Jones. If Jones remains on a positive path, the UFC can successfully market Jones to the everyman. It would be an admirable feat for a fighter with Jones’s natural ability to become relatable to the masses.
Jones has the UFC’s undivided attention: As much as the UFC would have preferred to use Jones’s star power over the last two years, they have not needed him. Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor carried the UFC while Jones was at a career crossroads. In 2017 the landscape has changed. It is very likely that McGregor and Rousey will never again compete in the UFC. In their absence, the UFC has struggled to fill the gap. In Jones, the UFC has a star with an impeccable resume and an intriguing backstory. The UFC and Jones do not have the best relationship, but it might be in the best interest of both parties to cultivate a mutually beneficial partnership.
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