(Believe it or not, it’s possible for two black fighters to generate completely different reactions among MMA fans. / Photo via Getty)
UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is arguably the most talented MMA fighter of all time, and has spent the last three-and-a-half years utterly dominating his weight class as 205-pound champion. Theoretically, fans should love this guy. And yet they don’t — a situation that is probably best explained by Jones’s odd shifts in personality, and a streak of regrettable behavior that never jibed well with his early choir-boy persona. But on yesterday’s edition of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, UFC commentator Joe Rogan voiced an alternate theory:
“I don’t know why Jon [Jones] is not more loved or popular than he is. I don’t understand it. In my opinion, I will never miss a Jon Jones fucking pay-per-view. I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, he’s cocky. He’s this and [that].’ I wonder what the fuck is going on with that and I’m going to throw this out there, I’m just going to say it: I wonder how much of it is racism. I really do.
“You know why? Because I think they look at him as this cocky black guy and I think a lot of people have an issue with that. I think that if he was a white guy and he was doing the same thing, a la a Chael Sonnen, I think he would be way more popular. Chael was never the successful athlete that Jon is, but I think Chael was way more successful as a promoter than Jon is. Jon has not been nearly as cocky or outwardly braggadocious as Chael was.
“I just always found it odd when everybody would get upset at him and say that they didn’t like that ‘he’s cocky.’ He’s 25 and he’s the UFC’s light heavyweight champion. He’s the youngest ever UFC champion. He destroyed Shogun [Rua] to win the title and I mean destroyed. He threw a flying knee and hit Shogun in the chin five seconds into their fight. I mean, Jon Jones is a motherfucker. He’s a motherfucker, but for whatever reason people have had an issue with that. I know I’m going to get a bunch of hate tweets. ‘Fuck you and your fucking bullshit. What do you got? White guilt? Calling out racism?‘
“I’m probably going to get an equal amount from ‘the Aryan race,’ mad at me for defending Jon Jones, ‘The cocky negro.’ I really think there’s something to that. I think people want a guy who is so physically gifted and young and brash and black and rich, they want him to have more humility or fake humility, as it were. I think Jon’s trying that a little bit and that’s one of the reasons Daniel Cormier was like, ‘You are so fake.’ Cormier was saying that to him because I think he’s trying to counteract how people feel about him.”
To claim that Jones would be more popular if he was white strikes me as a blatant oversimplification. Then again, to claim that race has no effect on how stars get made in MMA is laughable. Since Rogan has everyone talking about it today, I figured I’d share my own feelings about the intersection of race and combat sports, in no particular order…
1. There’s a reason why Rampage Jackson was beloved by fans in his prime, and Jon Jones never has been. The average Jon Jones-hater will claim that it has to do with “realness” or authenticity, but fans only respond to a particular type of realness. Rampage Jackson was a caricature of an intimidating black guy, and people seemed to love him for it.