Jon Jones is still MMA’s unfortunate problem and the UFC’s desperate solution

This is MMA, the misfit’s toybox of sports. It only stood to reason that Covid-19’s ghastly ascent to a global pandemic, resulting in worldwide…

By: Jordan Breen | 3 years ago
Jon Jones is still MMA’s unfortunate problem and the UFC’s desperate solution
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

This is MMA, the misfit’s toybox of sports. It only stood to reason that Covid-19’s ghastly ascent to a global pandemic, resulting in worldwide social distancing and quarantining, would somehow create an environment for one of this sport’s notables to do something lamentable; idle hands to the devil’s work. Apparently, Ashlee Evans-Smith’s bizarre protective equipment heist wasn’t good enough, so in the wee hours of Thursday morning, the MMA gods decided only one man was fit for the job: cagefighting’s greatest agent of chaos, Jon Jones.

Groundhog Day might be in February, but Covid-19 has turned the month of March into a day-in, day-out repetition of boredom, malaise, anxiety and terror. MMA fans are no different – despite popular reports, we are still people – and every new sunrise for weeks has presented us with the same, unfortunately familiar headlines: another promotion has canceled a fight, fighters are shadowboxing in their kitchen and playing Animal Crossing, UFC president Dana White has done another interview of zero substance, save for invective against the MMA media. How fitting then, that under the guise of repetition, that Jones rack up yet another criminal offense, as he was arrested for aggravated DWI, negligent use of a firearm, possession of an open container and driving with no proof of insurance. For the UFC light heavyweight champion, it’s a return to form, but it’s the form that we hate to see, even if no longer shocks us.

Just before 1 a.m., two Albuquerque Police Department officers were patrolling the streets after reports of gunshots and noticed Jones sitting in the passenger side of his vehicle. Of course, that’s not all they found: his body was dusted in weed crumbs, there was a Glock 44 in the car – don’t worry, it’s only a .22 caliber pistol – and most amusingly, a half empty 750-milliliter bottle of Recuerdo, the Mezcal brand launched earlier this year by welterweight standout Jorge Masvidal. Sorry, Conor McGregor, better luck next time.

You know the rest. Jones is assessed as poorly performing on three field sobriety tests and two of three alternative tests, was arrested and now is set for an arraignment hearing on April 8, yadda yadda. It seems sloppy, dismissive and irresponsible to “yadda yadda” such a matter, but like Elaine Benes, I mentioned the bisque already. What is there to say at this point?

No one is surprised any more. Hell, this is beyond the paternal trope of “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” Hoping this is some wake up call for Jones is the MMA moral equivalent of “thoughts and prayers.” Do I need to be the billionth person to point out how easy and productive it would be for Jones or his team at First Round Management to hire him a personal driver-slash-chaperone? In New Mexico, aggravated DWI carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and one year of probation, while the maximums for negligent use of a deadly weapon and no proof of insurance are six months and 90 days respectively. Does anyone really believe he’ll face any serious legal repercussions? Lucky for “Teflon Jon”, his probation stemming from an April 2019 disorderly conduct charge at a strip club ended this past January.

For Jones, this was just another arrest, another grinning mugshot and inevitably, another relatively scot-free escape forthcoming. As if the inconsequential outcomes of his disorderly conduct charge for essentially sexually assaulting a waitress and his two previous drunk driving incidents aren’t proof enough, it’s valuable to look at the timing of Jones’ latest fit of criminality.

The only real subject of substance MMA fans have had to chew on for weeks is whether or not the UFC will be able to pull off UFC 249 on April 18 and how and where the promotion will do it. Set aside whether or not you believe the UFC doing such a thing is irresponsible – it is, by the way – the motivations of the actors involved are obvious. Fans just want their bread and circuses. Fighters want to get paid. Most critically, UFC parent company Endeavor are still desperately trying to recoup the $4.2 billion they paid for the promotion in July 2016. Last month, it paid a $300 million dividend to its cherished high-roller and celebrity investors, despite mounting debts. During such trying times, the UFC has a relative paucity of bankable stars and Jones is certainly one of them, for better and for worse.

There is no incentive beyond a moral one for the UFC to reprimand Jones in any way and it’s evident how “seriously” the company is taking the matter by its boilerplate, copy-paste official statement, and Dana White, when asked about the matter by Chael Sonnen during a Thursday Instagram chat, simply rolling his eyes and doing that weird horse lips fluttering made famous by football coach Steve Spurrier. Rationally and critically, people should care about an unrepentant, recalcitrant menace repeatedly driving drunk, assailing waitstaff and firing Glocks willy-nilly in the street but the precedents show us that all parties involved really couldn’t give a damn. He’ll likely get a fine and probation, Jones and the UFC will proffer another bullshit narrative about this time is really the time he takes the reins and gets control of his life and fans will debate if he should face Jan Blachowicz or Dominick Reyes. Shit in, shit out.

If he wasn’t Jon Jones, it’d be a different story, but that’s exactly who he is. More importantly, this is exactly who he is. He’s a 32-year-old, spoiled enfant terrible who is treated with kid gloves by the legal system and is too financially valuable to ever be punished by his promoter, giving him carte blanche to exercise his most profoundly smooth-brained impulses with no repercussions. Is it humanly possible that Jones gets sober and matures a bit? Yes, but those who clean up their act typically do so as a result of consequences and loss, which never enter into the equation for Jones’ because of his lofty status in the sport combined with the UFC’s desperation to capitalize on that status. He’s a father of three, has spent years rambling while attempting to say the right things about “addiction” and feigning a reinvigorated religiosity and morality. Why even bother investing any misplaced faith that anything will change or that some entity of power will suddenly say “Hey, enough is enough”?

Would actual failure change Jones? Hard to say. His September 2013 bout with Alexander Gustafsson, while an undeniable classic, was only made so close and competitive because Jones’ spent his entire training camp dicking around and partying, coming into the fight than less than ideal shape. His recent title defenses against Thiago Santos and Dominick Reyes have been too close for comfort. So far, occurrences like this haven’t changed anything.

The sticky issue is, even if Jones finally suffered legitimate loss – sorry, Matt Hamill – it still seems unlikely that there would be any catalyst for change. Jones may have already spent over a decade dominating the sport, but he’s also still only 32, in a light heavyweight division he’s almost entirely dispatched, with the option of moving up to a less talented heavyweight division where the average age of a notable contender is “his kids are getting ready for college”. Plus, he’ll still have his name and celebrity. For a man who gets a begrudging pass on perpetually every absurd, antisocial thing he does, he’s set up for damn near another decade of Get Out of Jail free cards.

Plain and simple, money talks and as usual, Jon Jones walks. Or, you know, drives.

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Jordan Breen
Jordan Breen

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