Guest Post: Steve Borchardt on Jon Jones and promoting the Chael Sonnen fight



By Steve Borchardt

@BorchardtMMA | This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Jon Jones is at it again.

You know, the same Jon Jones who in the lead up to his title defense against Rashad Evans at UFC 145 couldn't open his mouth without contradicting the company's marketing of the fight as a grudge match between two former best friends? The Jon Jones who, after he refused to face Chael Sonnen on short notice at UFC 151, went all messianic and compared himself to Jesus Christ by sending out a tweet saying he was "carrying the cross" for Zuffa's decision to cancel the show -- a decision that cost his employers millions of dollars by the way -- but forgot about those pesky admonitions against stone throwing when he later blamed the cancellation on "old man" Dan Henderson's bum knee? The Jon Jones who doesn't get how off-putting it is for a grown man to pout like a kindergartener and publicly complain about a fellow professional athlete "ruining" his "special night?"

If you skipped this past Saturday's Ultimate Fighter season 17 finale, you missed yet another example of how Jones - for all his gifts inside the Octagon - has yet to learn what the fight business is all about. During a UFC 159 promo piece announcer Jon Anik attempted to lob a softball of a question right down the middle for Jones, but the champ didn't just whiff on the attempt; he outright refused to swing his bat.

"What are you going to do to make sure [Sonnen] doesn't get that "W" that is ultimately the most important one?" the ever-enthusiastic Anik asked Jones, in reference to both TUF finalists coming from Sonnen's team. 

"The work is already done," Jones flatly stated, his arms swinging back and forth in nervous perpetual motion.

That awkward non-sequitur was just an appetizer for the main course of promotional sabotage the 25 year old phenom served up a few seconds later. When asked by Anik if his refusal to look at Sonnen was rooted in a building hatred for his opponent, Jones replied with a true gem of tone deaf vacuity:

"No, it's not about hate, it's about love. I love this sport. I love trying to perform at my best," Jones said, his utterly bored eyes and intermittent sighs betraying his desire to put an end to the interview as soon as humanly possible.

The reply was classic Jones: a hollow cliche ringing with undertones of Jones' disinterest in any promotional narrative other than what a great guy he is. The UFC wants to sell fans on the idea Jones and Sonnen are bitter rivals who can't wait to get in the cage and tear each others' faces off? Too bad; Jones is more concerned with selling himself to the public as a respectful, sponsor-friendly mixed martial artist. Hey, it works for GSP, right?

The problem is, there's only one GSP. What's more, the wholesome babyface approach is decidedly not working for Jones. He comes across like a pandering prima donna rather than a genuinely humble person who happens to be an incredibly talented athlete. By focusing so much on saying what he thinks everyone wants to hear, Jones often seems like a desperate applicant trying too hard to brown nose a potential employer during a job interview. Not only is he seemingly unable to avoid throwing a tantrum like a spoiled child prodigy whenever things don't go his way -- see his tweet proclaiming he was "disgusted" by those who criticized him in the wake of his DUI arrest for a perfect example -- but his cheesy responses about an upcoming fight being "about love" just don't resonate with the bulk of the UFC's audience.

What Jones fails to realize is fight fans, whether they know it or not, want you to sell them wolf tickets.

As anyone who has ever taken a creative writing class can tell you, conflict is the central tenant to all good storytelling. Although MMA is a real sport, at its core fight promotion is about telling stories that get fans emotionally invested in the outcome of an upcoming bout. While there are many potential narratives that can draw money - a popular fighter going for a world title, two dominant champs in their respective divisions finally meeting in a superfight, and a once-top level veteran fighting for his career to name just a few  - there is no story that sells a fight better than the blood feud. The verbal interplay between two fighters who can't stand one another usually provides for great entertainment and almost invariably raises the emotional stakes for fans. What's more, there's an undeniable excitement that comes from the anticipation of what might happen when two guys who genuinely hate each other finally have the chance to let all that hostility out in the cage. History shows time and again this is almost always a can't miss formula for success at the box office.

Which is what makes Jones' complete disinterest in promoting his fights seem so baffling. One would think Jones, who receives a cut of the revenue from each PPV he headlines, would want to do everything he can to maximize his earning potential during his athletic prime. It would be one thing if he genuinely respected Sonnen and felt bad about ripping on him in public, but from comments Jones has made in the past it's obvious this isn't the case. He genuinely dislikes the guy, which makes it all the more bizarre Jones refuses to play on that dislike a little more in interviews for the sake of earning a bigger payday. It's not like Nike is going to suddenly drop him for trash talking a heated rival.

But no, as he told MMAFighting.com's Shaun Al-Shatti, Jones isn't in the fight promoting business, he's in the "remain champion business." 

I must have missed the part where Jones explained why the two businesses are mutually exclusive.

After all, has Jones ever stopped to think the only reason the UFC can afford to pay him so handsomely is because they are in the business of promoting fights people want to see? Not fights between the most talented and respectful adherents of the martial way, not fights where champions only face the consensus top ranked contender in their divisions, but fights that capture the public's imagination. Perhaps Jones isn't aware the very promotional machine he disdainfully looks down on is the backbone of the industry he makes his living in.

Then again, maybe the real reason Jones won't go along with the UFC's promotional agenda is because his primary concern is building the Jon Jones brand. If so, it's too bad for him he evidently can't see how aloof and unlikable he comes across as a result of his refusal to play ball. It doesn't matter how talented you are, pouting your way through interviews your entire career isn't conducive to establishing a legacy as a fan-favorite.

The question is, for all the money Jones makes despite his promotionally unfriendly approach, will he ever realize how much more he's leaving on the table?

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