Thursday, 07 August 2014 08:59
Submitted by Ben Miller
UFC must be dreaming. In a year so wrought with drug failures and sinking buyrates and miniscule ratings, they get Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones. They get the perfect fighters with the perfect personality at the perfect time. It's the silly season of sports. At no other point in the calendar year would a press conference brawl have found this much of ESPN's oxygen. Cormier is a natural babyface. He is humble. Self-effacing. Aware of his tics and flaws and, importantly, still supremely confident in his abilities.
And there's Jon Jones. For whatever flaws one wants to affix to him, this much is true: He was chosen by God to fight. That is the only rational explanation for a man so gifted, so skilled and so smart. It was clear as day during UFC's press event with EA Sports in Los Angeles on August 5th. His burden is not that he has to work hard or be personable to find success. That's for the rest of humanity. His burden is to not screw up. To not let his temper and impetuousness and compulsions ruin his gift for the world.
All of this makes him a natural heel, of course. The People relate to The People. The People are not chosen by God as the package of all things good at their chosen profession. The People have to work for peanuts as interns, pay their dues as underlings, and one day, hopefully, attain a well-paying position of middling leadership where they can force the next generation to do the same. The People don't watch half as many fights and understand them twice as well. The People don't see a head kick on television and pop their hips for maximum velocity on the third try. The People aren't millionaires with time-draining commitments who can master the UFC video game after a few dozen tries. Jon Jones is all of these things.
Watching Jones play the video game revealed it all. A fan -- probably an avid player with many more game hours under his belt than Jones -- played him first. The fan was good, but Jones was better. Jones played the game as he fought. Always understanding where he was, where his opponent was and what needed to be done. Virtual Jones stopped Virtual Gustafsson in round two. Then came Jones vs. Alistair Overeem. Overeem had never played the game, and Jones toyed with him, using Virtual Cain Velasquez to take down Virtual Overeem over and over and over again. Jones would never attack with Virtual Cain on the ground. Jones would turn away from the television, motion with his hand for Virtual Overeem to get up, and repeat the process over and over. This was Jones, talented, smart and cocky; a jerk.
Cormier is such a natural babyface and Jones is such a natural heel that there is a risk of inversion. Cormier could become too goody-goody like Chris Weidman. Jones could become the cocky babyface like The Rock. That would be bad. There will be some boos for Cormier and some cheers for Jones when the fighters walk that aisle on September 27, but for the most part Jones will be the heel. That is how it is now. That is good for business.
UFC made one good decision already when they chose not to film "UFC Countdown" specials for this fight. The knockoff of HBO's successful "24/7" series has helped buyrates in the past, but typically only when the personalities of the fighters have yet to reach full development. Jones and Cormier are developed. They don't need more camera time.
The best move for UFC now is to make no move. Go into stealth mode. Let college football kick off. Let the NFL season start. Let the pay-per-view buying public have the present personas of these two men in their heads until the week of the fight. Then on September 27, see how high a UFC grudge match can climb in 2014.