It was January 2009 and I was stoked.
Two of the best to ever step in the cage were set to face off, two more were undefeated and two others I was pulling for.
UFC 94 — the rematch between George St. Pierre and B.J. Penn for the welterweight title was the headliner, undefeated Brazilians Lyoto Machida and Thiago Silva were the co-main, The Ultimate Fighter 1 winner, er, runner-up, Stephan Bonnar (I thought he won) was on the card, and 23-year-old Nate Diaz was taking on Clay Guida.
Four former UFC champions, one former Strike Force champion, and two others that have fought for a UFC belt were on that card. Stacked to put it mildly.
And on this night, there was a 21-year-old undefeated and unknown fighter by the name of Jon Jones who was matched up with Bonnar. (The summer before, Jones had made his UFC debut on the undercard against Andre Gusmao, his first win via decision after finishing all his previous opponents.)
This fight was a huge test for Jones and if Bonnar won, kept him moving up the light heavyweight ladder.
Well, the fight was bittersweet to me. I wanted to see Bonnar eventually get a shot at the belt, but instead, what I saw intrigued me. I was expecting Bonnar to come forward striking, impose his will, and grind and beat an inexperienced Jones. Boy was I wrong.
Instead, I saw Jones use his length and raw techniques to batter Bonnar. Bonnar was on the end of kicks, knees, a spinning back elbow, and Judo throw by his younger counterpart.
Shocked. How could this happen? If Bonnar wasn’t tough as nails and if Jones was a little more polished, this fight would’ve ended. And, when I saw Philippians 4:13 tattoo, I was able to relate to him with my Christian beliefs. That was my introduction to Jon Jones.
After that I followed him closely, listening to his post fight interviews where he spoke eloquently and softly and I started rooting for him in the division.
He had a minor setback when he was disqualified for 12 o’clock elbows against Matt Hamill, putting a loss on his unblemished record, but that was followed by the destruction of a prime Brandon Vera.
And then it happened. Almost a year to the day he beat Vera, he did it. Jones became champion of the world. The youngest champion in UFC history. I couldn’t of written a better script.
He would go on to defend his belt time after time, finishing guys that had never been finished and putting on a show every time.
But then, something happened. His character was challenged when he fought former teammate Rashad Evans. Hmm, that was odd? His old training partner calling him out?
When it came fight time, Jones put on a clinic against “Sugar” Rashad, punching and elbowing him at will, winning a lop sided decision against Evans.
His next fight was scheduled for UFC 151, but it was cancelled after Dan Henderson was injured. Chael Sonnen offered to fill in, but reports said he refused. It couldn’t be?
But it was true. Jones turned down a fight with Sonnen since it was short notice. Weird. Jones was one of the best pound-for-pound in the world. What would Sonnen do to him?
Jones rebounded from the controversy by beating the “Phenom” and black belt in Jiu-Jitsu Vitor Belfort, with Jiu-Jitsu. Controversy over.
Next, a first round TKO over Sonnen made Anderson Silva’s wins over Sonnen look mediocre.
But then it happened again. Controversy. It was suppose to be another day at work and easy fight with Alexander Gustafsson. Gus had been submitted by Phil Davis, who had lost to Evans, and Evans posed little threat to Jones.
Dang, I was wrong. “The Mauler” not only took Jones to a decision, but had taken the fight to him and I thought was the first legitimate loss in Jones career. The judges saw it otherwise, but pictures told a different story.
When fans cried for an immediate rematch, Jones declined. Why would the champ and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world do this?
Instead, he opted to take a fight with Glover Teixeira – who hadn’t lost in over 9 years — and skated to a decision. (I thought Jones could of turned it up at any time and finished him. But he didn’t.)
And in the three years since being champ, there were the other controversies. In 2012 he pled guilty to DWI, crashing his Bentley into a pole. There were pictures of him at nightclubs. Not necessarily bad, but just out of the ordinary; a different look from his role model perception.
Then I got wind from eyewitnesses that allegedly saw Jones leaving a nightclub in Vegas drunk and having to be helped out by friends. That’s when I thought there might be more than meets the eye here.
A brawl with Daniel Cormier at a promotional appearance didn’t help his image. I didn’t see anything wrong with this — it helped hype the fight — and showed two fighters that genuinely didn’t like each other.
However, when an ESPN feed picked up a video conversation with Jones and Cormier during a break, I was caught off guard.
The language and tone of Jones was anything but Jon Jones-like. In addition to name calling, he told Cormier:
I would literally kill you. I’m not saying I would fight you. Literally kill you.
And look, no one is perfect, no one is close to perfect, but this made me cringe. Part of his fanbase was built on his image, but this was nothing like the Jones most people knew.
After a beating Cormier in January, another bomb dropped. Jones had tested positive for cocaine metabolites.
Since it was out of competition, there would be no suspension, no overturning of the decision. Jones would check in rehab that same month; for a day.
Then it happened. On Sunday, April 27, with less than a month to go in a fight with Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, Jones infamy would go up even more.
Early reports said Jones was involved in a hit-and-run that involved a pregnant woman, with him being the suspect. (Read the police report here.)
It was a media frenzy. Jones was trending worldwide, with fans wanting to know the latest, and the media doing their best to get the newest information out first.
A warrant was drawn up for him, and he would eventually turn himself in, but fans were calling for his head.
Initially, I thought he might be fined by the UFC, but little more. More hype for his fight with “Rumble.” But the media and fan scrutiny was unbearable.
The UFC brass, Lorenzo Ferittta and Dana White headed out to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to meet with Jones. After the meeting, White was mum on what they were going to do with Jones, but that quickly turned:
A lot of people know, Jon’s had a lot of chances. This one was his last chance. He’s got to handle his business outside of the Octagon and then we’ll see where he goes from there.Obviously he’s one of our biggest stars. He was on his way to becoming one of the greatest ever, and he’s got some legal problems he’s got to deal with now. So we suspended him, stripped him of the title, and he’s got some work to do outside of the sport. Then we’ll decide when he comes back.
After almost 6 years in the UFC, 4 years as champion, 15 wins, 4 fight of the nights, two submission of the nights, and one fight of the year, his reign has come to an end.
Even though he’s been suspended indefinitely, dropped by major sponsors, and no longer champ — I think he’ll rise again and be champ in a year…
Here’s 5 reasons why:
- 5. Coulda been worse — Yes, Jones has legal issues he’s going to have to deal with, but as Brian Stann said, “Somebody could have died, and that’s an unfixable mistake.” A hit-and-run is no laughing matter, but his legal team should be able to manage in a timely manner.
- 4. Suspended indefinitely – Chael Sonnen said he was confused by Jones being stripped of his belt. It’s not that hard to understand, it’s a punishment by the UFC, but this language enables him to come back at anytime the UFC sees fit. It could be a month. Could be six months. Probably not that short, but I don’t think he’ll be suspended more than a year.
- 3. Who else would he fight – They’ve lined them up and he’s beaten all challengers, albeit win over Gus was questionable. He’s not going to come back as a contender. He left champ and even though there will be a “new” champ — not “interim” — unless he’s beaten, he’s the true champ, no need to have him fight in a “contender” match first.
- 2. He’s not Mike Tyson – I’m a huge fan of “Iron Mike.” Devastating. Still is. Had a quit chat with him in Vegas after Mayweather/Maidana 2, and I wouldn’t mess with him if he was asleep, tied up, and couldn’t see me. You never know, right? But, after Tyson’s loss to Buster Douglas and stint in prison, he wasn’t the dominant force he once was. Jones is different. He’s still getting better as a fighter and martial artist and just coming into his prime.
- 1. Whatever goes up must come down – Yes, Jones is down. Really down. But I think he’ll rise again. He’s too good, too athletic, too skilled to be finished. When he’s reinstated, look for him to fight for his belt and win with another fight of the night performance. That’s what I see.
Will Jon Jones be a changed man when he comes back? I don’t know, no one knows, not even him. I do know that people don’t change overnight. They don’t change in weeks or months. It takes time and is gradual. Heck, most people don’t change. I firmly believe that.
But, the again, some do. And for those, the select few that do change — it happens step-by-step, minute-by-minute, thought-by-thought…
And it’s done moment-by-moment, not all at once.