Jon Jones still wants to be a fan favorite, even though he understands he isn't one right now.
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
BALTIMORE — People don’t like Jon Jones. Whether it’s his quick rise to greatness, his admitted arrogance or some of the things that have come out of his mouth, Jones has not caught on as a fan favorite. Maybe he never will.
The UFC light heavyweight champion knows it. His eyes are glued to social media constantly. If you’re a fan and mentioned him on Twitter in a negative light, he might not have replied, but he damn sure read it. Jones might have even taken it to heart. He’s a sensitive guy, affected by the things people say about him, which is why he has not embraced the bad guy role at all.
There will be no quote-unquote heel turn for Jones and if you weren’t completely sure of that, he cemented it Friday when, after UFC 172 weigh-ins, he gave a shoutout to the hometown Baltimore Ravens, the team his brother Arthur used to play for. Jones defends his belt against Glover Teixeira on Saturday night here at Baltimore Arena.
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"I don’t want to quite accept that role," Jones said of going full heel. "Not yet. I haven’t given up on the fans. I still want to be the good guy."
It isn’t like Jones doesn’t know it could benefit him. He understands people pay to see athletes they hate. He mentioned Muhammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather as two of them. Jones’ manager Malki Kawa has even shown him videos of trash-talking WWE rogues like The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, jokingly telling Jones that he could be like them.
I haven’t given up on the fans. I still want to be the good guy.
"I’ve shown him The Rock clips from the WWE when he turned heel," Kawa told FOX Sports. "I showed him ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin against the authority or going against Vince McMahon and him maybe one day against [UFC president] Dana [White] type of [stuff]."
The only problem with Jones is that he doesn’t wish to play a role. He wants to be himself and there’s nothing wrong with that.
"He doesn’t want to be a heel, but he’s not going to be phony for anyone," Kawa said. "So if that means what he believes or says is going to turn people off, he’s going to say it regardless."
Jones is probably never going to go into character and put on a trash-talking performance like Chael Sonnen. When Jones talks smack, he means it. There’s going to be honesty in those words.
Pro wrestling — sometimes combat sports, too — doesn’t leave room for much gray area. There are guys who do good things and they get cheered. There are guys who do bad things and they get booed. And then there are the guys who do bad things and get cheered. Jones has a chance to be the latter, but isn’t budging.
Jon Jones shouted out Baltimore on Friday after he weighed in, drawing a cheap pop from the fans.
"I’m not a bad guy at all," Jones said. "I want to be remembered as a guy who was extremely positive and motivated people in a good way. Being the bad guy for more followers doesn’t necessarily mesh with me."
The real world is a little more complex than those distinctions. Jones can certainly attest. But he still doesn’t understand why people don’t like him, whether it was the DUI arrest in 2012 or the latest public-relations gaffe when his Instagram account posted homophobic slurs on a Swedish teen’s pictures. Jones denies that it was him, that it was someone on his social media team who posted those things.
Who knows what is true? Honestly, the truth doesn’t matter. Whether or not he typed those words, Jones will be credited for them by many and vilified for it.
For others in the spotlight, it might be easier to turn a blind eye. But Jones is the fans’ favorite punching bag and this was another opportunity to blast it.
"It’s because he’s the best," Kawa said. "If you look across history, the teams that are the most hated are usually the ones that are the best."
Jones is the best. There isn’t a better fighter on the planet. At age 26, the upstate New York native has already accomplished more than anyone else in the UFC’s 205-pound division. You don’t have to like Jones, but you have to at least respect what he has accomplished this quickly.
"I’ve gotten to the point now where I realize I’m not going to be a fan favorite," Jones said. "Maybe it’ll change over time, but right now I’m not. I need to just embrace it, be comfortable with it and just see it for what it is."