Embracing heel status could make Jon Jones the transcendent star the UFC needs
Jon Jones is finally finding his persona in MMA and it's as a cocky, funny villain.
Jon Jones is the best fighter on the planet, but his drawing power hasn't matched his skill level yet.
Jed Jacobsohn/Zuffa LLC
By Marc Raimondi
Jon Jones made some comments last month and they were pretty telling. Jones said he wasn't sure if the UFC was "pushing" him, especially compared to Ronda Rousey, who Jones believes is being pushed "really hard."
Jones, who made the comments during a media tour, was pretty candid. And maybe there's some truth to what he said. Rousey is the biggest star in the UFC right now. The mainstream media has flocked to her. Jones, the best fighter on the planet and UFC light heavyweight champion, has become a distant second in popularity.
Is that because of what the UFC has done? Or has Rousey just made it extremely easy for the organization to promote her?
Either way, it's clear Jones has taken things upon himself. If he thinks the UFC isn't pushing him, he's going to push himself. Perhaps emulating Rousey, Jones has embraced the heel role and he's pretty darn good at it. He got some hate for his direct messages last week to Tyson Griffin (and that's the point), but they were pretty hilarious.
Over the weekend, he trolled UFC fans on Twitter by saying Alexander Gustafsson should fight Daniel Cormier first in a No. 1 contender bout before one of them gets a title shot against him, provided Jones beats Glover Teixeira next month at UFC 172.
People ripped Jones for ducking Gustafsson or not wanting to fight Cormier. Seriously? This is a guy who wants to leave his own weight division and move up to challenge heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. Does that sound like a guy who's scared?
No, Jones is playing the heel. Want proof? On Monday, he changed his Twitter avatar to Daffy Duck, the infamous foil to Bugs Bunny. He gets it.
Jones is naturally charismatic, but not like a Randy Couture, Georges St-Pierre or Rousey. The first two are immensely likable, no matter what they did. Rousey is kind of in the "Stone Cold" Steve Austin mold -- almost an anti-hero.
And Jones? He's more like The Rock. Brash. Cocky. Antagonistic. He loves to troll fans on Twitter the same way The Rock trolled them on the microphone. Eventually, it'll turn around and Jones will be beloved because of how much of an insufferable jerk he can be sometimes. "Money" Mayweather is an exponentially bigger draw than "Pretty Boy" Floyd.
It took awhile for Jones to find his identity. During his run toward the light heavyweight title and afterward, he wanted to be liked. You could tell. He tried to say all the right things. He tried to come off as a Boy Scout. It was vanilla and boring.
Think Jon Jones (right) is ducking Alexander Gustafsson or Daniel Cormier? This is a guy who wants to fight Cain Velasquez (left).
Mike Stobe/Zuffa LLC
Then there were two events that made Jones a villain. First, his DUI arrest and then the infamous cancellation of UFC 151 when Jones wouldn't fight Chael Sonnen on short notice to save the ill-fated event. The fans turned on him. They probably wanted to all along anyway. They didn't want to hear about Jones' "brand."
Finally, Jones is figuring out that's all OK. Publicly, he has become a caricature of himself -- in a good way. If the UFC doesn't prop him up, he probably figures, he'll do it on his own.
"I don't know what they're going to do, but I'm pushing myself all the time, so I'm not really worried," Jones said in that interview.
Jones could bring some of that heat into his title defense April 26 against Teixeira. If he wins, he has a pair of blockbuster fights coming up with Gustafsson and Cormier.
Forget the potential Velasquez fight for a second. If Jones comes out of this stretch -- the toughest of his career -- at 3-0 and stays on this heel course, he won't just be the best fighter in the world anymore. He could make himself a massive breakthrough star. And the next big-time draw the UFC could really use right now.