A Jon Jones win in the main event of Saturday night’s UFC 165 will make him a record-holder, marking his sixth light-heavyweight title defense. A cause for celebration, sure, but how to mark the special occasion? How about a Gatorade bath?
“I would love to. I would love to,” Jones’ manager Malki Kawa said on Thursday. “That’s a great one. I might just do that.”
That staple of sports celebrations has never been done in an Octagon, but if there is ever a time for it, it is now after Jones inked an endorsement deal with the sports drink, adding them to his blue-chip sponsors alongside Nike.
The genesis of his most recent major deal came back in the summer of 2010. At the time, Jones was making waves as a promising light-heavyweight with an interesting backstory and an intriguing set of athletic traits. Back then, he was well known to the mixed martial arts world, but almost anonymous in the greater sports landscape.
It was under that backdrop where he sat down to lunch with Kawa, a fast-talking Floridian who was himself a mover and shaker in the MMA business. The two had just met, but Kawa had watched Jones fight and could see the future. He told Jones that within a year, Jones would be a millionaire. Jones told him he was crazy, but Kawa said if he was wrong, he would quit. As they discussed where they were heading, Jones told him what he wanted.
"Nike and Gatorade, those are my ultimate goals," he said then.
Three years later, the two are still together, Jones is a millionaire and now he has both of his dream sponsors. One year after the 26-year-old signed a global deal with apparel giant Nike in 2012, he now has Gatorade in the fold.
"Big sponsors, Fortune 500 companies, companies that endorse the NFL and NBA. I want them in MMA and I want to be the guy to bring them all to the table so there’s a bigger and brighter future for all of us," Jones said on Thursday. "I’m just so grateful to break down another wall.”
The deal was carefully orchestrated over time. Jones said that during his UFC career, he’s always made sure to have a Gatorade drink with him on the post-fight press conference podium in hopes of attracting the blue-chip sponsor.
Kawa, meanwhile, started seriously pursuing a deal in 2011, right after Jones won the championship. For a time, Kawa couldn’t seem to get to the proper decision-maker, but that all changed for two reasons. First was the UFC’s deal with FOX, which gave the sport its widest mainstream exposure and signaled to advertisers that it was ready for primetime. Second was Jones’ signing with powerhouse agency William Morris Endeavor. That connection opened doors to them that were previously closed.
That led to a series of meetings, and eventually Jones met with executives to pitch himself. And as his opponents know, Jones can be a very effective closer.
"He goes out and gets these things," Kawa said. "I’m not the only one in the room. I mean, I might fly around and be all over the place taking meetings and conference calls all day but when the time comes for Jon to come in and be an ambassador for the UFC and for himself, he’s the best in the business."
"I feel like I’m a walking testament of belief and goal-setting and striving to do everything in your power to make it happen," Jones said. "I’m a big fan of the law of attraction. I feel like I attracted this Gatorade deal to my life and I’m so grateful."
Next up for Jones’ wish list is the opportunity to do a movie. He recently met with several Hollywood producers about possibilities, and has even received offers, but he told FOX Sports that he was waiting for the right project at the right time and doesn’t want to do it just to cross another goal off his list.
"I want to do it right and clean, like the way my camp always tries to do things," he said.
For Kawa, the early challenges of building Jones’ brand are disappearing. He has the team and the connections to get things done, and combined with Jones’ natural charisma and continued success, the sky may be the limit for the champ’s growing empire.
"The reality of it is that I believe now we’re at the point where everything he wants to get done, we’ll get done one way or another," Kawa said.
On the eve of a potential record-setting sixth light-heavyweight title defense, the business of being Jon Jones is a very good business indeed.