Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Or in the case of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, where there’s smoke, there’s an inferno and another PR nightmare.
Unless you live under a rock, by now you’ve seen the firestorm that erupted Sunday when rumors swirled about Jones’s latest trouble. No, not another deleted tweet. Not another failed pre-fight drug test for a controlled substance. This time, it’s far more serious.
The 27-year-old is facing felony hit-and-run charges for an accident involving three vehicles in Albuquerque, N.M. Witnesses placed the 6-foot-4 fighter at the scene of the crime. Jones allegedly ran a red light, crashed his rented Buick SUV into another driver, clipped a third vehicle and fled the scene on foot. To make matters worse, Jones is believed to have briefly returned to the Buick to retrieve a handful of cash before again jettisoning on foot and jumping a fence. The Albuquerque Police Department later found documents in the vehicle tying it to Jones, as well as marijuana and a pipe.
Initially, Jones was only wanted for questioning, but as more details emerged, Jones became the key suspect and eventually, a warrant was issued for his arrest. The charges were upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony when the 25-year-old, pregnant driver of the first vehicle Jones is purported to have struck was found to have suffered a broken arm.
If this were the first time Jones had run into trouble with the law, it might be appropriate to give him the benefit of the doubt. And while he’s certainly innocent until proven guilty, his pattern of poor decision making and illegal behavior makes it difficult to defend his actions. Whether it was his 2011 citation for driving on a suspended license and “loss of traction,” his 2012 arrest in Binghamton, N.Y., for driving while intoxicated, or, more recently, his failed UFC 182 pre-fight drug test for cocaine, Jones has become the poster child for bad press.
Certainly, Jones isn’t the first (or the last) athlete who has struggled with newfound fame and fortune, but for every great feat he’s achieved in the UFC’s Octagon, there’s a new problem around every corner. With Jones sitting atop nearly every set of rankings as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, his legal troubles reach far beyond him. Jones has gone past the point of just doing harm to himself and his family. He’s damaging the reputation of the UFC, his gym and, most importantly, the sport of mixed martial arts.
It’s time for the UFC (and its parent company, Zuffa) to take action. The promotion’s initial statement was understandable, as it was trying to gather facts much like everyone else. But now that Jones is facing a felony and potentially years in prison, the promotion needs to strip him of the 205-pound title and terminate his contract immediately.
Some might call this an overreaction. But let’s face it, Jones is one of the most recognizable faces in MMA. He appeals to hardcore and casual fans alike (either as a hero or a villain). To put it in context, Jones happens to be my mother’s favorite fighter (well, maybe not anymore). If the sport’s biggest star has no respect for himself, the law and those around him, something needs to be done about it.
This situation is an opportunity for the UFC to save face. It had the chance to punish Jones for his DWI conviction, but did not take action. When he tested positive for cocaine use, the promotion opted to fine him $25,000 (or just five percent of his disclosed payout from UFC 182) and supported his one-day stint in rehabilitation. Now, it’s time for the promotion to roll up its sleeves and do the right thing for itself and the sport.
After losing numerous stars to retirement over the last few years, it’s easy to understand why the UFC has been reluctant to punish Jones for his behavior. Yet, no matter how many pay-per-views Jones might sell, his value as an athlete has already been harmed tremendously by his actions.
With UFC 187 less than a month away and Jones slated to defend his title against challenger Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in the night’s main event, now is the perfect time to make an example out of Jones and prove that the promotion’s code of conduct policy can be taken seriously.
If the UFC again chooses to turn the other cheek in favor of the dollar, maybe it isn’t the integrity of Jones that should be called into question. At some point, doing the right thing has to mean more than the bottom line. Your move, Zuffa.