On Wednesday evening I wrote an article for Pundit Arena (which I subsequently pulled), outlining why I thought it was a good thing that Jon Jones was no longer pretending to be something he wasn’t, and had embraced the real him; flawed, egotistical, belittling, arrogant.
All unlikeable character traits, but at least he wasn’t being fake. By Thursday morning, I realised that Jones had perhaps embraced those traits a little too closely, after he was pulled from the main event of UFC 200 for a USADA drug violation.
Mike Tyson in his prime was similarly out of control. Speaking prior to his fight with Tyson in 1988, Larry Holmes told the press that whatever the outcome, somewhere down the line, Tyson would destroy himself. And he was right. Today, Tyson has pulled himself back from the brink, but not before a litany of well-documented lows. Jon Jones is the millennial’s Tyson; a great fighter with a proclivity for self-destruction.
The nature of the greatest fighters is that of ego, supreme confidence, self-centeredness, and narcissism. Most can compartmentalise these traits to their fighting selves, and the day-to-day person may be very different. However, the ‘once in a generation’ type fighters often have these traits in uncontrollable abundance; and it’s all consuming – affecting and often destroying all aspects of their lives. Risk taking, without thought of consequence, is a reoccurring theme with these fighters.
Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, Jones; all follow the same path of hard work and dedication in training, and chaos and self-destruction in their private lives.
My initial article detailed why I thought it was good that Jones had stopped pretending. He is a ruthless person in the cage, and at times an arrogant, unlikeable person out of it, but at least he was no longer trying to be some media friendly censored version of himself. His real persona is now clear to all, but a recent, seemingly-innocuous photograph he tweeted following UFC 196 was a less obvious, but telling, example.
Jon Jones stares out from the picture holding one finger aloft, while “Mighty Mouse” Demetrious Johnson stands behind him holding two digits in the air. Conor McGregor has just lost his UFC 196 fight to Nate Diaz, and this tweeted picture is Jones’ instinctive response while still in the arena.
His clarification that he is the number one pound for pound fighter after a week in which McGregor boasted, in typical carnival barker mode, that he is number one to eight in the P4P list, with Jones at nine.
This picture shows the real Jon Jones. Jones knows that McGregor was simply gifting headlines to a fawning press, and selling the fight, and that there is a mutual respect between them. McGregor was one of the few to speak out in support for Jones, both publicly and privately, after his hit and run accident where Jones collided with a car driven by a pregnant woman, left the scene then ran back to collect money from his car before running off again.
He was subsequently convicted, and then stripped of his title. Yet, in this moment, Jones cannot help himself in sticking one (metaphorical) finger and one (literal) finger to McGregor, during his lowest moment.
This moment is less dramatic than a drink driving conviction, a positive cocaine test, or threatening to kill your opponent when you think no one’s listening. But to me, it spoke volumes about the man that is Jon Jones.
The mask of the honourable martial artist, meditating by waterwalls and catching criminals, slipped long ago. The real Jones isn’t a “nice” guy, he’s complex and, if this latest USADA revelation proves true, out of control, despite all his promises of a new start.
However, these aspects have likely been a big part of what makes him a great fighter. We’ve seen this Jones during his fights; the standing guillotine of Machida before casually dropping him, walking off, and then being urged to check on him by Jackson to “get some fans”. His numerous (and I mean numerous) eye pokes in many of his fights; and sorry, the Muay Thai technique excuse doesn’t wash anymore.
The hit and run conviction and stripping of his title in 2015, led to an admission by Jones that he had drifted from the path. During an excellent interview with Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting.com, what stood out most was Jones’ concentration on how the accident had, or could have, affected him, with a seeming lack of thought, and little mention, about the pregnant woman he’d hit. Perhaps his avoidance was due to ongoing litigation or perhaps due to lack of concern. Worryingly, my hunch is the latter.
Cus D’Amato, Tyson’s original mentor and adopted father, said that all fighters feel fear. Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy. It’s like fire. If you can’t control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you. If you can control your fear, it will make you a better fighter.
Hubris, ego, arrogance, selfishness, and entitlement are the things that Jon Jones has fed on to make him a great fighter. I’m sure fear is in there somewhere as well. However, it appears the fire is out of control.
Hopefully, it won’t entirely destroy him.
Melvin Griffiths, Pundit Arena