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Why Do We Hate Jon Jones When We Love Muhammad Ali? It Depends On Your Definition of ‘Greatness’

(Jon Jones, pound-for-pound G.S.J.O.A.T.)

By George Shunick

With his recent apprehensions about a rematch with Lyoto Machida and the Twitter war beatdown he suffered at the hands of Chael P. Sonnen, it’s safe to say it hasn’t been a fun week for Jon Jones’ PR advisors. (Jones’s longtime publicist John Fuller actually resigned earlier this week; make of that what you will.) The familiar critiques of Jones being cocky and arrogant have once again intensified leading up to his next title defense against Dan Henderson. Of course, Jon Jones isn’t the first combat sports athlete to suffer these criticisms, despite arguably possessing the skill set to justify his conspicuous confidence. Before him, there was another young, brash, cocky, black fighter – black athletes being historically stereotyped and criticized as cocky and disrespectful by some inane, unwritten code of sporting ethics – who also had to suffer criticisms of arrogance: Muhammad Ali.

Perhaps it is because of their similarities that Jones has attempted to model himself after Ali, or at least inspire comparisons between the two. Perhaps he looks at how people perceived Ali when he fought, and feels that if he evokes the aura of Ali he will eventually be absolved of the criticisms he faces today. After all, when we look at Ali now, we say he was “confident” rather than “cocky” – that his accomplishments in the ring ultimately justified his persona. Jones has accomplished such a startling amount in such a short time, but his accomplishments are somehow not yet considered sufficient to justify his ego. Why the disparity? In short, Ali wasn’t just brash and cocky – he was a man of absolute moral conviction. If Jon Jones wants to stifle his critics, he must cultivate that aura of conviction, that willingness to sacrifice convenience for the sake of some higher goal. So far, he hasn’t been able to do that.

It’s odd to say that, given that Jones is a fighter who has undergone extensive training and laborious hardships, and has legitimately become one of the greatest fighters in history. If he beats Dan Henderson, he will probably become MMA’s greatest light-heavyweight of all time. At his age and given that division’s history, that’s extraordinary. But the sacrifices and conviction I’m referring to go beyond the Octagon or the gym. Ali was a spokesman for the civil rights movement at a time of enormous political and racial divisiveness. He became a Muslim despite the negative perception of Islam in America. He was one of the earliest public figures to oppose the Vietnam War. Refusing to get drafted, he was stripped of his title and was unable to fight – in his prime, no less – for four years.

Ali was cocky, sure, but he was his own man. He did what he thought was right, no matter what the consequences were. He wasn’t perfect – just ask Joe Frazier – but you had to respect him. In contrast, could you imagine Jon Jones protesting American militarism? Speaking out on controversial social issues? The point isn’t that Jones has to do any of these things to earn approval; it’s that he would never even consider doing them. He’d risk becoming a less marketable commodity. He’d risk making less money.

That’s not inherently a bad thing. When Jones says things like he doesn’t want to fight Lyoto Machida because he didn’t make that much money fighting him the last time, or he doesn’t want to fight Anderson Silva because of the financial implications for the loser’s career, he’s making a legitimate point. As a fighter, he has a very finite amount of time to accumulate an amount of wealth that will last him the rest of his life, so it’s imperative he uses that time wisely. You can’t fault a fighter – or anyone, really – for making smart financial decisions.

Of course, it’s somewhat absurd to complain about your financial well-being when you buy a $250,000 Bentley and proceed to wreck it doing the (illegal) thing you said you would never do. Which is what irks people about Jones – what he says comes off as disingenuous, or at least hollow. He’ll say what he thinks he should say to make him more marketable. When, on his Twitter, he describes himself as “Fighting toward Greatness” and asks “Will YOU be a witness?” it sounds more like an extension of the UFC’s “Greatness Is” marketing campaign (which, incidentally, began prior to the Jones-headlined UFC 145) and a rip-off of LeBron James’ “Witness” campaign than anything else. (And don’t forget that “stare into the sunset” pose he struck during staredowns, before Rampage put an end to it.) His every action seems like a ploy to build his brand. Jones is the ultimate company man – not in the sense of someone like Frank Mir, who will take any fight Joe Silva or Dana White tell him to, but in the sense that he seems designed to be the ultimate corporate icon.

But unlike the other UFC prototypical poster boy, Georges St. Pierre, Jones has the arrogance of a man of conviction to rival Ali. It’s in attempting to straddle the line between being a cocky, brash champion in the mold of Ali while streamlining his image explicitly to suit his “corporate wage masters,” as Sonnen might put it, that he falters and alienates people. His arrogance comes off as superficial – not because he isn’t a dominant fighter who has earned it, but because he prioritizes the whims of his company over his own desires.

Or maybe Jones doesn’t really have any desires beyond being a company man, and getting paid for it. Much to the chagrin of MMA fans, there’s nothing wrong with that. The fight business is just that – a business. But by in seeking to draw comparisons to Ali, in aspiring to be something greater than a fighter, Jones opens himself up to the criticism that he receives when he routinely fails to measure up to his own lofty proclamations. He appears disingenuous and artificial. If you’re claiming that’s unfair, it’s not. Like most of the criticisms directed against him, Jon Jones brings this upon himself.

All of this isn’t to say the Jones needs to change his ways. What he’s done has worked out for him fairly well so far, don’t you think? He’s already one of the greatest fighters in the sport’s history, and he’s only 25. Even if he did come off as honest, he’d still probably have to deal with critics who resent the fact that a young, bold, black athlete has had so much success. But at the same time, those who dismiss Jones’ critics as simply being jealous aren’t right, either. There’s a palpable dissonance between the image Jones wants to project as a transcendental figure in combat sports in the mold of Muhammad Ali, and that this image seems more like a brand contrived to bolster his appeal to the UFC audience and make him more money. Ali wasn’t a company man, he was his own man. Whether Jones truly wants to follow in his footsteps and aspire to true “Greatness,” or is content with conforming to the system, getting paid and being one of the best fighters of all time – as odd as that sounds – is up to him.

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adamthemonster2- September 1, 2012 at 1:02 am
if jones was white everybody would love him white people that hate on him hate on him cause really they racists and black people hate on him cause they dont like his fight style black people just like seeing people get hurt they dont give a fuck about mma they just wanna see a brutal beat down
adamthemonster2- September 1, 2012 at 1:00 am
everybody hatin on jones cause he black
brw2489- August 25, 2012 at 4:18 am
Its ridiculous to compare Jon Jones to Mohammed Ali. Things were very different back then...and Ali had his own personal motivations. You can hardly expect Jones to suddenly take years out of his training and career to go and be an activist in Afghanistan and Iraq...just for the sake of appearing 'greater' than Ali... nor can you expect him to simply just 'want' to go and be an activist...the man is a fighter...and he wants to progress in his fighting career. Anyone that judges a fighter on what they do out of the ring is disillusioned. If we wanted another noble peace prize contender we would look elsewhere...certainly not in the octagon. Basically people, stop judging Jones, and comparing him to Ali... he will never be Ali...he can only be himself. Let the statistics do the talking, and judge him as a fighter at the end of his career - stop pressurising him to aspire to this 'Ali greatness' that you all expect - he's his own man, and he can do whatever the hell he wants with his life! - and as it stands, he's on route to becoming the greatest ringed fighter ever.
johno- August 25, 2012 at 3:36 am
Jon Jones will never be anything in comparison to ali that's the simple fact of it. To compare the two is just not possible, MMA has 'exploded' but is no boxing yet to the size and scale that it was in the days of ali, Tyson etc. I have no doubts keeps on going the way it is then it will surpass or equal boxing. Ali wasn't just a fighter he was so much mor, he had conviction and above all stood by his beliefs regardless to whether they made him money or not.
El Jefe- August 24, 2012 at 5:22 pm
We can't compare Jon Jones to Ali. If Jones had Chael Sonnen's gift of gab and personality (You know, the kind of personality that rubs you the wrong way but then he starts to make you laugh, and then gets you to start thinking, "hey, this guy's alright" or "you know, this starting to make since")then yeah, we could make comparisons between those two, but Jones just comes off as arrogant, period. Don't get me wrong, I love Jon Jones but, his personality is not as fun or engaging as Ali to be making that comparison.
Whitemare- August 24, 2012 at 2:38 am
There is no comparision between the two Ali was a very articulate man who is the greatest boxer of all time. Jones is a cocky kid and a coward
Texascrazyhorse- August 23, 2012 at 6:56 pm
In light of the happenings today, Ali would fight whoever came his way. Also Ali actually stood up for his principles where Jones will let them fall if the price isnt right.
J. Spaceman- August 23, 2012 at 12:15 pm
I think this article is missing something very important, the humor. And I don’t just say that because this article isn’t funny.

Ali made people laugh. And, in doing so, showed us that he was human and that he cared about his fans. Sure he was selling his fight. But he was also going the extra mile to make sure we were entertained. And we loved him for it.

Jones is more concerned with his training (not that Ali wasn’t), his numbers, and his “brand”. Which, although pragmatic, isn’t exactly endearing him to fans.

It’s the same reason everyone loves Justin Timberlake and hates Justin Bieber. Both are mediocre musicians at best. But one has a self-deprecating sense of humor that you can’t help but love, and the other one is girl whose breasts should be coming in any day now. Maybe we’ll love her then.

And yes, I did just compare Ali to Justin Timberlake. I also compared Jones to the Biebs; although I doubt anyone’s going to get in an uproar over that one.

Both Ali and Jones were hypocrites; so don’t give me that holier than thou crap. Ali was a married, “devout” Muslim out fucking damn near everything that moved between fights. Jones talked about being the perfect UFC poster boy right before he got drunk and crashed his Bently.

I would also argue that Danga is correct, though. Michael Jordan was a notorious dick. But he had a great P.R. team that kept him and his teammates from revealing the extent of his dickishness. Had the internet been what it is today, there would have been a lot more stories about how abusive he was to his teammates, his infidelity, etc.
Viva Hate- August 23, 2012 at 11:48 am
I would like to correct my rather inflammatory post in light of recent events, J.Jones(writer)>J.Jones(fighter)
J.Jones- August 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm
*puts on sunglasses*

netterbog- August 23, 2012 at 11:40 am
Now we know why everybody hates him. And in light of his forcing UFC 151's cancellation, we know why dozens of fighters and their camps hate him too.

Holy F what a selfish D-Bag.
hgh- August 23, 2012 at 10:49 am
I don't find Ali and Jones situation similar at all. Vastly different cultural and social conditions of the 60's compared to now. Ali was never faking his persona he was hyping himself up and stating his mind which ran counter to the values mainstream America. This is what pissed of the majority of Americans at the time. Jones on the other hand is trying to cater to the mainstream with this clean image but his true colors are bleeding through. In this modern cultural age people respect authenticity regardless the person is a "good guy" or "bad guy".
SethF- August 23, 2012 at 1:45 pm
Good point, but I disagree slightly: Do you think Jon Jones would gain fans for, say, refusing to fight in Louisiana because a person can still be fired for being gay there? Or that he'd gain fans for burning a Yankees jersey because MMA is still illegal in New York? Going against the norms will always bring out critics at the time.
cman- August 23, 2012 at 9:57 am
His actions and words never match. Ali's always did.
His obvious greed, and more boxing approach, which matches silva to an extent.
His befriending any potential real challenge. Frazier and Ali were actually friends, but they were rivals. Frazier forgot this for a long time, and let hype get in the way.
Ali fought bigger men and beat them with skill, much like Royce. Jones fights smaller men but declares it as skill. Weaker story line.
Ali was funny, jones thinks he's funny, but is really just self entertained.
Fletch the V Stretch- August 23, 2012 at 10:13 am
Lol, I liked this.
paperplane- August 23, 2012 at 9:21 am
Good article.
GrandShamrock- August 23, 2012 at 8:50 am
I want Jones to fight someone his size, Machida, Rua and Rampage are almost the same size, Rashad is even smaller, none was even close to put him in danger. It's Frankie Edgar's case but inverted. Jones won't start losing until he fights someone his size.
JayJitsu310- August 23, 2012 at 11:27 pm
I wish Fedor were here
holeeball- August 23, 2012 at 8:49 am
Ali: Fuck the white man and fuck Vietnam.
"I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong... No Viet Cong ever called me nigger"

Jones: stumbling in his Bentley trying to get some fans.
SquidInk- August 23, 2012 at 8:35 am
Muhammad Ali was a racist piece of shit. Do your homework.
drainplugofideas- August 23, 2012 at 8:33 am
I don't love Jon's personality, but I love his fighting ability. I don't like Ali in any way at all.
Fletch the V Stretch- August 23, 2012 at 8:24 am
For the record, I am not the one who gave you a thumbs down.
Fletch the V Stretch- August 23, 2012 at 8:22 am
You couldn't be more off for why I don't like Jon Jones. He deserves to be successful since he is the one putting in the hard work to achieve that. I don't dislike confidence, I dislike arrogance. I don't view Bones as confident, I view him as arrogant. Lastly, I couldn't care less that he is successful at what he does. It is what HE does. I am successful at what I DO. I am not a hater, nor or some of the other people on this site. I don't go out of my way to trash talk Jones, I simply give my opinion on him on ARTICLES about him. I didn't take you as a Bones nuthugger but I should've know "J.Jones" :)
Fletch the V Stretch- August 23, 2012 at 9:30 am
I can get on board with that statement and your point of view. Society breeds us to be that way. Ever watch the news? Ever see anything positive or uplifting on there? No? Just a bunch of rape, murder, scandals, etc? Yep.
algiersheadkick504- August 23, 2012 at 8:15 am
he is one if the most physically demanding sports and a sport where yu can lose any given night. of course he will do watever he can to make sure win or he can still be marketable and still make alot of money..look at forrest griffin kenny florian chael all lose but can still make bank on a fight. the fact thats bones does not lose makes it even easier for him..yes he is cocky and is a attention whore but he is making sure people will always put money into him
Viva Hate- August 23, 2012 at 8:08 am
I like J. Jones, the fighter not the writer, but then again in general I am pretty big fan of complete assholery , just sayin.
J.Jones- August 23, 2012 at 8:12 am
Damn, I'm moving to Boston in a week and was told that you would be someone that could give me a proper tour of the city. Guess I'll have to scrap those plans.
Viva Hate- August 23, 2012 at 8:17 am
Moving to Boston? Hopefully you aren't moving to the combat zone.
J.Jones- August 23, 2012 at 8:21 am
Nope, just the murder zone known as Dorchester.
Viva Hate- August 23, 2012 at 8:41 am
Oh good, one of my in law is a doctor in the area, I will see if I can get you hooked up when you get shot or stabbed! I live about 10 min away from that area though if ya need any help when you get out here, my email is around, hit me up.
Me likey- August 23, 2012 at 8:08 am
ali was a peice of shit too.
KarmaAteMyCat- August 23, 2012 at 8:06 am
Also Great Article :)
tommyhammerstones- August 23, 2012 at 7:48 am
Here’s what the writer wanted to say, but was afraid to:

Jones’ PR problem is the white man's fault. White men cannot fight as well as black men. That makes them frustrated. And when black men prove their intellectual superiority outside of the cage, that makes the white man frustrated and angry.
SethF- August 23, 2012 at 1:47 pm
KarmaAteMyCat- August 23, 2012 at 7:40 am
People use to hate ALI just as much as Jones, He didn't get all the love and respect he gets now until late into his career.