By Elias Cepeda
UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has been derided as immature, arrogant and selfish for much of his career, especially since turning down a short-notice replacement fight against Chael Sonnen at UFC 151 after Dan Henderson dropped out due to injury. But in a recent interview with the Associated Press, Jones sounded calm, collected and measured, especially in comparison to organization president Dana White‘s comments on the situation, as he spoke about what he’s learned. He also publicly criticized White for the first time, which probably won’t help his reputation among the fans who already despise him.
“I had to do what’s right for myself by turning down that fight, Dana had to do what was right for himself by putting the blame on everyone else except for himself,” Jones told Dan Gelston of the AP. “The lesson to be learned is, at the end of the day, you have to protect yourself and your family.”
Jones told the AP that he has not yet spoken with his boss about the comments, but appears to have had his eyes opened to how quickly UFC brass and fans can turn on him. ”I think in the future, this can make me and Dana even better off,” Jones said. ”For him to get out how he felt about me in that situation, it will help me look at things more business-oriented. A lot of good can come out of it. Fighters can learn the lesson of doing what’s best for themselves and not feeling like puppets. I think the UFC has learned a lesson of making sure they stay loyal to the fans and give them full cards.”
That one of its biggest stars seems jaded with the UFC and comfortable criticizing them at the height of his young career, and that he had the power to turn down a fight, might signal the start of a new stage in the organization’s development. As the UFC has grown more successful and famous, so have fighters like Jones.
No one can say that Jones has not delivered in the ring for the UFC and its fans. He’s exciting, dominating and downright captivating to watch compete. He has also fought more frequently — and sometimes on little notice in order to help the UFC save events — than any other top challenger or champion in the past two years. Yet White has led a smear campaign that accuses Jones of everything from being a coward to an egomaniac.
Jones believes, correctly, that he’s done his job very well and earned what he has from the UFC and MMA. He also has the gall to manage his own career and not necessarily take bigger risks with his money and livelihood than is necessary just because the UFC asks him to.
Jones is at the top of his game and exercised what should have been considered a benign amount of the little power he has under his UFC contract. He was set to fight a challenger and with a week until the fight, the challenger pulled out. Jones agreed to fight someone different less than a month later at UFC 152.
Astoundingly, this sequence of events has made him a mini-pariah, on trial in the court of public opinion for murdering a UFC event. Jones told the AP, “I don’t owe anybody anything.” There’s no doubt many will continue to be aggravated by statements like that from Jones but they would have a hard time debating the quote that preceded it:
“People tell me, ‘You’re the champ, you’ve got to take the fight,’” he said. “Being the champ wasn’t given to me.”