Jon ‘Bones’ Jones has had an incredible year. The gifted UFC Light Heavyweight Champion went 4-0 in 2011, submitting Ryan Bader in February before finishing three former champions in a row in Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackon, and most recently Lyoto Machida. He is the only champion to have defended the 205lb strap more than once since Chuck Liddell in 2006. Jon Jones truly sits on the cusp of greatness, and he is readily approaching the coveted number one spot on the pound-for-pound list. And yet, he is often showered with boos when he fights. Why?
Jones is intelligent, respectful, dynamic, and despite what his detractors say, he’s humble too. He also chases down robbers in the park hours before a title fight, no biggie. He's not exactly unlikeable.
Perhaps it’s his dominance, his seemingly invincible stature that inspires contempt from fans. MMA journalists Ariel Helwani and Gareth Davies, along with UFC middleweight Tom Lawlor, discussed the topic at length on The MMA Hour.
“Jones hasn’t shown any spots where he’s definitely vulnerable,” said Lawlor. “Humans want to see that vulnerability. They want to be able to relate to somebody. And with his performances so far, the common person that’s out watching his fight and sees this guy pretty much running through everyone at such a young age, they can’t really relate to it.”
Davies then chimed in, comparing the hostility Jones gets now to the vilification of Mike Tyson during the iconic boxer’s rise.
“Mike Tyson never came from behind to win a fight. We haven’t seen that with Jones yet,” he said. “We haven’t seen him really in trouble, really down, nearly out, and then coming back and winning a fight. It’s those kind of moments that turn people for you.”
Those closest Jones has ever come to that kind of moment is the first round of his title bout with Machida at UFC 140, where his strikes often whiffed and sharp counters from the Brazilian karateka followed. He arguably lost the round, but it wasn’t Brock Lesnar getting mauled by Shane Carwin at UFC 116, only to come back and win in the second. It wasn’t Cheick Kongo getting smacked around by Pat Barry in June, only to dig deep and knock out his foe in one of the best turnarounds in MMA history. He’s never had a “Frankie Edgar moment,” as Helwani coined it, referring to the lightweight champ’s epic, inspiring comebacks against Gray Maynard.
Does ‘Bones’ need a one of those moments to get some love? Surely Jones would prefer to keep running over people, but until he's tested there will always be questions about his valour.
"[Jones] is a champion, but does he have a champion's heart?” asked Davies. “Would you want him next to you in a trench in a war?”
For now, Jones is on a much-deserved five-month vacation. When he returns to the cage, he will likely meet Dan Henderson or Rashad Evans, provided the latter can best Phil Davis at UFC on Fox 2. Maybe one of those men can test Jones, maybe he can stage an incredible comeback, and maybe then the boos will stop. Maybe.