We want him back. We don’t want him back. We want him back. We don’t want him back. Such is the duality of Jon Jones.
Like little Alfalfa plucking parts of a flower, MMA fans have become torn on the upcoming possibility of the former UFC champion returning to the MMA world. Jones is set to be in court on Sept. 29 and is expected to enter a plea deal related to his hit-and-run incident in April. The situation became another episode in the saga of the disgraced former UFC light heavyweight champion’s failures in public relations. There’s been a DUI, cancelled events, repeated eye-poking, a video response to fans about said eye-poking, a Snapchat leak and, prior to the hit-and-run accident, a failed drug test for cocaine.
For all the accolades Jones has received inside the Octagon, his career outside it has been nothing short of a disaster. Sure, he’s secured some big sponsors like Nike and Gatorade along the way, but whereas superstars before him were adored by legions of fans, Jones always seemed to be Public Enemy No. 1. He began the turn from rising prospect to hated villain in the fallout of his former training partner Rashad Evans becoming his most heated rival. The Jones hate-train only gained more traction from there.
That’s probably why a large set of MMA fans took a collective sigh of relief when Jones hit and injured a pregnant lady. No, they definitely weren’t happy about someone suffering bodily harm, especially a woman with child. Instead, those fans who had waited years for the almighty Jones to receive his comeuppance finally saw an opportunity. Jones had skated by through most of his previous transgressions due to his standing as the UFC light heavyweight champion and pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet. But now Jones was facing serious legal ramifications and his judge wasn’t going to be some executive in a Zuffa office.
The UFC acted swiftly in the fallout of the Jones accident, not only suspending the fighter but also stripping him of his UFC title. While sports fans have come to know high-profile athletes will likely get off with a less-than-harsh penalty in the legal system, they could at least take solace in knowing the UFC had finally done more than give Jones a simple slap on the wrist.
That happiness now feels like a distant memory. We’re just left with the desire to see Jones in the UFC as quickly as possible.
With Jones gone, Daniel “DC” Cormier survived an early onslaught from Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and was crowned the new UFC light heavyweight champion. Cormier immediately directed his attention to Jones in his post-fight speech at UFC 187, and discussion over which man was the “real” champ began instantly. The fans who had despised Jones finally had a new champion. Other fans couldn’t buy in to Cormier being called the undisputed champion. After all, how could we forget what happened in Cormier’s last fight before UFC 187?
Assuming Jones can move past his legal issues with some resolution (likely a paid settlement), the UFC will undoubtedly aim to book him in an immediate title match. The Jones haters out there will likely be looking for the hammer to drop on Jones both in the courtroom and in the UFC. They expect a harsh legal penalty, along with the UFC making Jones show them he’s a reliable athlete by competing in non-title contests initially.
But outside of the chance for Jones to claim what is rightfully his, fans, both for and against Jones, should hope for his quick return.
Even if you can’t stand his personality — and nobody could fault you for that — Jones remains one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. It’s not every day that an athlete of his caliber steps into the world of MMA and succeeds in the way he has. Jones ascended to the mountaintop at such a young age that he is still growing as a fighter, even while defeating elite-level competition. Put simply, Jones is a once-in-a-lifetime talent that fans should be able to enjoy (in the cage) regardless of their feelings for him.
There’s also the fact that Jones isn’t afraid to stand up for himself against the might of the UFC. The infamous UFC 151 incident showed that Jones could go toe-to-toe with the UFC as a company. While other great fighters had the ultimate company-guy mentality, Jones knew he was the best in the world and used that as leverage. We, as fans, often complain about fighters not sticking up for themselves enough or succumbing to the weight of their bosses. Jones is not only willing to defy his boisterous boss, but he also happens to be an elite fighter. Those two rarely go together. Fans and fighters have always wanted a top-level guy to initiate some kind of change within the MMA landscape. Well, Jones has that ability.
There’s also the possibility of a huge rematch down the line for fans to become invested in. Whether it’s with the aforementioned Cormier or Alexander Gustafsson, the UFC has an easy sell for the former champ’s return. Cormier already understands that he needs a rematch with Jones to become the real undisputed champion, and Jones-Gustafsson was one of the best title fights in recent memory. While so many of Jones’s title defenses have seemed ho-hum due to his domination of his opponents, a rematch with either of these two would surely create some compelling discussion in the pre-fight build-up.
Alas, this would be all for naught if fans cannot move on from Jones’s past transgressions. It’s the problem fans are faced with when it comes to the former champion. They either back him for his athletic talents and admire his ability to become the ultimate “heel,” or they look to villainize the man as a symbol of arrogance.
There’s no doubt that we want to see Jones face some form of penalty, much the same as we want other celebrities to be treated equally to the average Joe when it comes to legal ramifications for their actions. However, there’s something that’s been missing in the MMA world while he’s been gone. I guess Anna Kendrick was right. We really are missing you while you’re gone, Mr. Jones.