As a father, the best light heavyweight in the world and one of the faces of the UFC, Jon Jones has never been shy about being looked at as a role model for up-and-coming fighters or children.
It’s probably a big part of the reason why Jones has always been hesitant to accept being a villain in mixed martial arts, no matter how he’s painted before or after a bout. But leading into his matchup against Daniel Cormier at UFC 182 in Las Vegas on Saturday, Jones has started to let go the animosity he once felt whenever somebody tried to call him the bad guy.
While he’s not going to suddenly become Chael Sonnen or Conor McGregor to unleash verbal abuse on opponents, Jones is no longer as concerned about how he’s perceived in the public light.
"I just learned to let go," Jones said Monday. "When I read my comments on Twitter and Instagram, I realize I really do inspire people and touch people and people really do appreciate who I am as a martial artist. Then when I read some of the people who leave me negative messages, it’s always so dumb. It’s like, ‘Dude, you’re fake.’ I’ve been hearing that I’m fake for so many years. Who cares If I’m fake? I win fights. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m not here to win you over with my personality. I’m here to fight. That’s ultimately my job."
Part of the public relations hit Jones took came from his brawl with Cormier in the lobby of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas after the two fighters came head-to-head during a staredown at the tail end of a media event in August. Jones launched himself across the stage at Cormier, throwing punches before security broke the two fighters apart.
I’m not here to win you over with my personality. I’m here to fight. That’s ultimately my job.
— Jon Jones
The fallout from the brawl resulted in both Jones and Cormier facing fines and community service as ordered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. In the aftermath of the fight, Jones stated it even cost him an endorsement deal with Nike due to the public image hit he took.
Now Jones is telling a different story, saying that Nike was actually looking to get out of martial arts and the timing coincided with the fight against Cormier.
"The truth about the Nike deal," Jone said, "(is) when I was in front of the commission I definitely worded it wrong — Nike did not drop me because of that fight. I kind of owe an apology to Nike for saying that they dropped me because of the fight. They actually didn’t.
"Nike’s been known to stick by their athletes through much worse things than a brawl in the middle of the MGM. The truth is Nike didn’t seem as if they wanted to move forward in the field of MMA. They weren’t activating me in the way they said they would. They promised me a lot of commercials and all types of stuff outside of the financial and merchandise and stuff. I told them, ‘You know what, if you guys aren’t too serious about martial arts, then I don’t want to be a part of the company and hopefully I can respectfully leave.’ I was supposed to be out anyways."
Jones was entering the final year of a three-year deal with Nike when he severed ties with the athletic clothing brand before eventually signing a new endorsement with Reebok, which begins with his fight against Cormier this weekend.
Regardless of the Nike fallout, all the negative press — the brawl, the interviews and even unaired comments that eventually came to light as a result of the fight — didn’t exactly leave Jones looking like a boy scout.
Now on the week of what might be his biggest title defense ever, Jones is finally learning to embrace whatever role he’s going to have as a fighter going forward in his career. No one wants to be the bad guy according to Jones, but if someone doesn’t like him as a person, well, that’s just too bad.
Jones isn’t here to make friends. He’s here to become the greatest fighter ever known to mankind.
"I’ve learned to kind of laugh at it," Jones said. "I’m just waiting for the person to hate me who gives me a legit answer or reason and no one has ever really given me anything solid.
"What, are we in high school? I’m a grown man. You can’t call my work ethic fake and my wins fake. I just find it funny."