His back against the wall, UFC champ Jon Jones is at a career crossroads
MAY 30, 2014 6:53p ET
Daniel Cormier grabbed the microphone after he defeated Dan Henderson last week at UFC 173 and the first two words he uttered were: "Jon Jones."
A few days later, Alexander Gustafsson posted on Facebook, asking Jones why he's "delaying" signing the bout agreement for the two to face each other at UFC 177 on Aug. 30 in Las Vegas.
And on Friday, UFC president Dana White threw some shade of his own at the light heavyweight champion when asked why Jones has not signed that contract yet.
"You have to ask Jon Jones that," White said during a pre-UFC Fight Night media scrum in Berlin. "I don't like it, I'll tell you that."
If you want to paint the situation with a broad brush, you could call it Jon Jones against the world. Of course, there's more complexity to it than that, but somewhere in Albuquerque there's a chance Jones is hearing and seeing all these quotes and shaking his head.
“You have to ask Jon Jones that. I don't like it, I'll tell you that.”
This is what it's like to be the man, the best fighter on the planet. And how Jones deals with this strife will define his legacy. Handle it the right way and Jones could go down as the greatest of all time. Muck it up? Jones will never be a bust, but there might always be the question of "what if?"
Jones, 26, is a magnificent fighter, a virtuoso whose tools are not brushes or musical instruments, but a violent mix of elbows, shins and knees. He was the youngest UFC champion at age 23 and has mowed down former champion after former champion in the organization's premier weight class. Jones is already the greatest light heavyweight to ever live -- and that's saying something.
As hard as the upstate New York native can be to figure out inside the Octagon, he's more of an enigma outside of it. Jones has shown different sides, from the warm, caring family man to the arrogant, egotistical pro athlete to the sensitive man-child. Jones is concerned about how he's perceived, so much so that he has asked reporters following interviews how they think he came off.
Jones doesn't like trash talk (though he's been known to slip some in here and there). He doesn't respond to people calling him out the way someone like Michael Bisping would. It bothers him. Just look at the way he dealt with Phil Davis when Davis talked junk about Jones before UFC 172.
Jones is angry with Gustafsson, whom he refused to even address at the press conference following his unanimous decision win over Glover Teixiera last month at UFC 172. And he never has liked Cormier. The two have a long-standing beef and almost came to blows three years after an MMA awards show.
So here are his two biggest rivals lobbing verbal grenades at him and that pales in comparison to what seems like a budding issue with UFC management.
In a UFC-sponsored video blog last week, we're shown Jones' representation, Wayne Harriman, meeting with White and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta to hammer out a new contract and a rematch with Gustafsson. The next we hear about it is Fertitta telling ESPN.com that Jones-Gustafsson II is set for August in Vegas -- and Gustafsson has agreed, but Jones has not. The UFC co-signed that version of the story minutes later by posting an article about that topic on its website.
It's obvious that's the date and location the UFC wants and it was a cunning business move to release the information to the media. That puts the pressure on Jones to accept since fans are now expecting the fight on that date. Jones has already been at the center of a show getting canceled when he refused to fight Chael Sonnen on short notice at UFC 151 in 2012.
We have no idea why Jones has not signed yet. Maybe he wanted more time off after the Teixeira fight, which is understandable. Two fights in a span of less than five months for a UFC champion, especially the caliber of Jones, is a rarity these days. It was no surprise that Gustafsson would be his next opponent, but Jones has expressed a desire to have Gustafsson and Cormier fight first to determine the true No. 1 contender.
Things like that rub fans -- and likely the UFC -- the wrong way. Jones has a tenuous relationship with White, telling MMA Fighting last month that he'll never be buddies with the prez like Chuck Liddell was. Jones' manager Malki Kawa told FOX Sports that he has shown Jones pro wrestling videos of a famous star vs. boss feud.
"I show him 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin against the authority or going against Vince McMahon and him maybe one day against Dana type of [stuff]," Kawa said.
Kawa was joking. Mostly. But real life could be heading in that direction. It wouldn’t be the first time White has had it out with one of the UFC's biggest stars.
Right and wrong is not always clear in business. There's a massive gray area and this situation lies straight in the middle of it. Jones is going to protect his own interests and the UFC is going to do the same. Hopefully, they come to an amicable understanding.
The way Jones comes out of fights with Gustafsson and Cormier will leave an indelible mark on his legacy. How he deals with this mini-cold war with management has even more significance for his future.