Almost by definition, the media conference calls that fight companies stage before major events are pretty tedious affairs. On rare occasions, the stars align and they can turn into total shitshows where something interesting actually happens, but usually you just end up sitting on the phone for 45 minutes while different writers ask the same questions over and over and the athletes repeatedly mumble the same prepared responses.
Unfortunately, last week’s reporter cattle call for Sunday’s UFC Live on Versus event was no different. In fact, it was perhaps even more monotonous after first being interrupted by a fire alarm at the conference center (seriously) and then when Jon Jones and Vladimir Matyushenko spent the whole time trying to out nice-guy each other. The only halfway illuminating or unexpected exchange occurred nearly 35 minutes in, when a reporter from Fox Twin Cities-Minneapolis asked Jones about reports a couple months back that he had balked at the chance to fight Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 114.
For just a moment, Jones’ seemingly unflappable media savvy appeared to slip a bit. No, Jones said, he never even got offered a fight with Lil Nog after Forrest Griffin had to pull out with an injury. And no, Jones didn’t appreciate the initial report from Yahoo! Sports that said he did, which later spread to a bevy of other websites with its typical bacterial speediness. He didn’t appreciate it so much, in fact, that he sought out the writer to ask him face-to-face exactly why he’d do him like that.
Here’s Jones’ response to the question during the call:
“That whole thing was completely false. I actually sat down and had a meeting with the reporter who made that statement and I asked him, I said ‘I’m young in my career and I really don’t think it’s right that you did this to me. You put a stain on my character.’ No one sees what I do day-to-day, besides my family and friends and for someone to make an article saying that I hadn’t been training and that I didn’t felt like I wouldn’t be ready in time, that was not true at all. I never got offered a fight with Lil Nog and if I had got offered a fight with Lil Nog, I probably would’ve said no because I want to have a very smart training camp. I’m not going to take a fight against anyone – it could’ve been a UFC newcomer – without fully preparing.
“I said several times before that a big part of my game is that I study so much and I really know what I’m getting into when I step inside the Octagon. It had nothing to do with me not training, but I never even got offered the fight. No one called me or anything. It goes from me training and being with my family to people calling me a ducker and a dodger. It bothered me, that’s why I took it to the point of actually sitting down with the reporter and asking him why would he do that? Why would he make up something that was completely false?”
It was an odd and awkward moment from a guy who has no choice but to spend his nearly every waking hour claiming he doesn’t buy into his own hype. As it turns out, Jones actually does take a keen interest into how the media portrays him, how fans view him and what his reputation is like in the industry. Can’t fault him for that, but it also makes it seem a little less credible when Jones repeatedly says he doesn’t pay attention to the continually growing snowball of publicity that surrounds him.
It should be noted that the reporter, Yahoo’s Kevin Iole – even though Jones never mentioned his name during the call – doesn’t cite any sources in the brief one paragraph where he addresses this issue of the UFC finding a replacement for Griffin in his recurring mailbag column. As one of the UFC’s preferred scribes, it’s largely assumed that Iole gets most of his scoops from the company itself. It remains unclear, however, where and how this particular information came his way.
Hey, if you’re Jon Jones and this story is untrue, more power to you for trying to get to the bottom of how the rumor got started. And the truth is, the hype that has been built around Jones’ MMA career essentially puts him in a no-win situation when it comes to the media. Clearly, he competes in a sport where self-confidence and self-assuredness are prerequisites for success, yet he continually has to answer and re-answer the same line of questions about keeping a level head, staying humble and managing expectations. But to admit on the conference call that you were totally pissed that the MMA media reported you turned down a fight … and then to admit in the same breath that you would’ve turned down the fight, if only you had gotten the chance? That’s a little weird. And to track the writer down for a one-on-one meeting to ask him why he wrote this stuff about you? That’s not going to get you anywhere.
Unless he screws it up somehow, Jones is on his way to being a very, very big star in MMA. A lot of people are going to write a lot of things about him and the sad truth is, some of those things will probably be untrue. You can’t track them all down and have it out with them. It’s best if Jones can make peace with that right now.