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With GSP’s Future in Question, Jon Jones Has Inherited the UFC Throne


(Highlights from Jon Jones’s Q&A at the Gentlemen’s Expo in Toronto. Subscribe to CagePotato’s YouTube channel right here.)

By Brian J. D’Souza

“Will he?” “Won’t he?” The talk since UFC 167 has been centered around the potential retirement of UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. GSP’s face showed superficial damage following his split-decision win against Johny Hendricks, but more seriously, he absorbed the kind of blows that rattle the brain around the skull with life-altering consequences.

Even if St-Pierre returns to the octagon, the twin realities of declining motivation and the onset of age could see his legacy tarnished the same way Roy Jones Jr. forever damaged his reputation by continuing to box after appearing diminished in beating Antonio Tarver by majority decision in 2003.

Major pay-per-view draws like GSP and Anderson Silva simply cannot fight forever. When they try to continue past their prime, as BJ Penn insists on doing, it can hurt their drawing power. The UFC relies on stars who can captivate audience interest and raise the stakes, and right now the safe money for a dominant champ to rejuvenate the UFC’s fortunes is on light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones.

Jones was recently in Toronto last weekend to speak at The Gentleman’s Expo, where he was interviewed by Sportsnet’s Joe Ferraro. Jones made headlines by continuing to insist he wanted to face UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, saying “I think that’s going to happen in the next two years, I’ll go up to heavyweight permanently…I’ve been really thinking about me and Cain Velasquez going at it, and I think it’d be huge for the sport.”

In terms of public relations, Jones has been walking a tightrope, dealing with hyper-critical fans and the venomous Zuffa brass over various incidents ranging from speaking gaffes to the cancellation of UFC 151 to incurring a DUI while wrapping his Bentley around a telephone pole. The bottom line for Zuffa is simple — Jones is an asset for consistently bringing in solid pay-per-view numbers, but he needs to play the game and allow Zuffa to dictate the strategy.

To Zuffa, the fighters are pieces to be moved around on a chess board. They simply do not have the right to decide things for themselves; transgressions are swiftly checked, like when Georges St-Pierre was rebuked by the Zuffa brass for announcing he’d be taking time away from the sport in his post-fight interview at UFC 167.

At the Gentleman’s Expo, Jones gave a purposely vague answer to the question of fighter pay, saying, “I don’t think that we’re getting paid as much as some pro athletes, but at the same time, there’s a lot of sports out there that [don’t] get paid as much as a UFC fighter.”

As for his $190,000 2012 Bentley Continental GT? Jones confirmed that the car was a gift from UFC president Dana White, and that Jones had excitedly picked out the most expensive model on the floor.

Jones has many incentives and few realistic options besides playing the game in the same manner Georges St-Pierre did before him. By whitewashing his persona, St-Pierre appealed to the widest swathe of fans; careful political maneuvering with Zuffa allowed St-Pierre to have a cordial relationship with the UFC, unlike so many former UFC stars like Randy Couture, Quinton Jackson or Tito Ortiz. The smoother Jones’s relationship with fans and the Zuffa brass is, the fewer headaches he’ll have going forward with his career.

Jones plans a return to the octagon in late March 2014 where he will likely face Glover Teixeira, who Jones calls “An amazing athlete,” and “a big, scary, intimidating dude.” After three years of dominating the UFC’s light heavyweight division, a rematch with Alex Gustafsson remains to tantalize audiences; Jones believes that Gustafsson is being given an easy fight against Jimi Manuwa (who is not ranked in the top-10 UFC rankings) in order to guarantee the rematch occurs.

“I don’t want to be one of these guys that are taking fights way past their prime,” Jones recently told MMAJunkie.com, and insisted he’d retire from MMA competition by the age of 30.

He’s not the only current UFC star in their prime to talk about retirement, as UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey made similar noises about having “two years left” in August.

Walking away from the fight game is easier said than done, however. When interviewed on the cusp of his rematch with Antonio Tarver in May 2004, Roy Jones Jr. appeared to understand the risks with total clarity:

I been fighting since I was 10,” RJJ told Donald McRae of The Guardian. “That’s 25 years. It’s time to walk away. I started talking about retiring in 1997. This is a brutal game and 25 years of it ain’t good for your health.”

Now nearly ten years later, Roy Jones Jr. is still boxing, taking unnecessary punishment for a goal that is even more distant and difficult to define than it was when he reigned as a pound-for-pound god.

Georges St-Pierre’s mentor Kristof Midoux has been adamant about talking St-Pierre out of the kind of slide into mediocrity that Roy Jones Jr. has endured, telling the media that St-Pierre is hinting at vacating his UFC title and that “another life awaits.” If that’s the case, then the UFC will now have to rely more heavily on Jon Jones as the flagship attraction, which will definitely have repercussions throughout the sport.

Jon Jones will inherit the throne — and all the hidden pressure that accompanies the top pound-for-pound spot.

***

Brian J. D’Souza is the author of the recently published book Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators of Mixed Martial Arts. You can check out an excerpt right here.

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