Jon "Bones" Jones: The Promise and the Peril

Promoted from the FanPosts by Kid Nate.

Bonesjonespromiseperil_mediumOne of my favorite nonfiction writers, Ray Kurzweil, named a chapter in his most recent book The Singularity is Near "The Promise and the Peril".  His book is about the future - the future of technology and biology.  The chapter was the "payoff" to his arguments developed throughout the book and presented the possible upside and downside of the future he articulately described.

The future in MMA is clearly Jon "Bones" Jones.  His dismantling last night of tough-nosed veteran Vladimir Matyushenko silenced any doubts, voiced or unvoiced, about whether the hype around Jones was justified.  Now that those questions are definitively answered (for those who were still dubious after the dismantling of Brandon Vera on UFC Versus 1), the question on everyone's mind is, "what next?"

Anyone interested in Bones' career path has got to be cognizant of both the promise, and the peril. And realize that the two are actually intertwined on many levels. Kevin Iole sums up some of the latter:

And in professional sports, there are many more great prospects who don’t make it big than there are those who do. All you have to do to understand that is to remember JaMarcus Russell, David Carr, Ki-Jana Carter, Aundray Bruce and Walt Patulski, all former first overall selections in the NFL Draft who were flops of varying levels once they turned pro. And that doesn’t even consider the NBA, where guys like Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi are prominent among the first overall flops.

Jones is extraordinarily gifted, no doubt - Just watch the way he almost effortlessly took apart Stephan Bonnar and Vera if you need convincing - but he still has to prove he can handle the pressure that comes with being a young prodigy.

He’s going to have women throwing themselves at him and men making him all sorts of outlandish business propositions. For the time being, he’ll never have to pay for his own drinks if he chooses to hit a night club, which might seem like a good thing, but the more he wins and the greater the legend grows, the greater the scrutiny will get.

Quoting UFC President Dana White, in the same article:

He’s an extremely talented kid with a great future...[b]ut he’s a young guy and he’s got to do it in the Octagon. I know you guys (in the media) love him, and I’ll admit, it’s hard not to when you see what he can do. But to become a star in this sport and to make it to legend status, you have to do it night after night and year after year and you have to prove you can handle all the outside stuff that comes with it. He’s off to a good start, but he’s got a long way to go, still, and a lot to prove.

The superstar young athlete that can command the respect of his peers, the fear of his competitors and the attention of the media - all while keeping a level head on his shoulders and showing an adult maturity at an age before even most working stiffs far from the bright lights are really grown up - is a rare commodity.  Yet these are the waters that Bones Jones is going to have to navigate.  So far he has done a masterful job.  With each big victory though, and each greater level of media scrutiny, each rung up the ladder is going to get tougher.

Speaking of the media, Ben Fowlkes' article gives us a glimpse into the upside - the "promise" in the Jon Bones Jones equation:

After dismantling Vladimir Matyushenko in just under two minutes at UFC on Versus 2 last night, Jon Jones woke up early this morning, put on a nice suit, and sat down for a quick chat with ESPN's SportsCenter.

Nothing spectacular came out of the appearance. He came off as humble, yet confident - the always elusive down-to-earth pro athlete. He cracked a smile while admitting that a UFC ban on elbows would wreak havoc on his game plan, and, when asked who he'd like to fight next, he even resisted what must have been an overwhelming urge to tell James Toney exactly what would happen if the boxer attempted to follow through on his plan to slap Jones in the face.

In short, it was a fairly routine appearance, but the fact that he got to do it at all is somewhat monumental given the scope of last night's event.

But still, without having a past as a pro wrestler or an NFL player, and without being in a pay-per-view title fight, Jones gets a SportsCenter appearance just for doing exactly what most of the MMA world thought he would do.

So what does that tell us? Maybe just that even ESPN gets sick of talking about Brett Favre eventually. Or maybe it tells us that Jones has the kind of appeal to be the UFC's next big thing in and out of the cage.

If his youth and seemingly limitless potential are enough to get ESPN's attention even when he's squashing outmatched opponents on small time Sunday night fight cards, imagine the eyeballs he could attract when he finally faces a real test. If by some miracle of punching power and/or side check kicks, Toney actually gets past Randy Couture later this month, a Jones-Toney fight could be a huge crossover success for the UFC.

Make no "bones" about it, Jon Jones' upside - his promise - is exactly what MMA fans have been hungry for since the sport crawled out of its no-holds-barred past and into the legitimacy of a true sport:  crossover appeal, and the first generation of true hybrid mixed martial artists - skilled in every facet of the game, creative, by turns deceptively patient and brutally violent, able to display mastery wherever the fight goes.

MMA - specifically the UFC - has been looking for its crossover star for a long time.  Chuck Liddell had what it took, but in an unfortunate twist of timing, his career started to head dramatically south just as media attention began to come his way.  The mainstream media hype leading up to his UFC 71 fight with Quinton Jackson was arguably unprecedented for MMA, but his destruction at the hands of "Rampage" belied the image being conveyed, of an unbeatable KO machine.  More recently, fans have speculated if Georges St-Pierre is the crossover hope, although his halting command of English is often tabbed as a detriment.  Brock Lesnar, heavyweight champion, is understandably regarded as a crossover, if quasi-freak-show, star.  Unarguably he brought over legions of fans from pro wrestling. He is a charismatic character, but paradoxically restrained and private.  Discontented with granting interviews, he is unlikely to be THE crossover star we've been waiting for.

But, as Fowlkes rightly alludes to, Bones Jones may be.  Handsome, young, frighteningly talented, whip-smart, intense about his art, yet polite, laid back and thoughtful, Jones has the potential to be not only the future of the sport - heralding in a younger generation in which we will (yes!) see more guys with his amazing talent and versatility - but also to be the mainstream star the sport has thirsted for.


On the telecast last night prior to the main event, Joe Rogan observed that within the MMA world, perhaps only Vitor Belfort has had as much hype, excitement, and expectations put upon him.  The comparison is an apt one, and a necessary cautionary tale.  The young Vitor Belfort was in fact one of, if not THE, most hyped fighters in the young history of the sport.  But being tagged with the nickname "the Phenom" when you aren't yet 20 years old and destroying fully grown men in seconds inside a ring or cage is not conducive to becoming a well-adjusted, level-headed athlete.  The reason we fans refer to the "old Vitor" as though we are speaking longingly about drive-in movies and rubik's cubes is because Vitor's career path wasn't navigated correctly.  By his own admission, he chose poor training partners, a poor approach to the game, and allowed himself to become disappointed, disillusioned and stale in the sport.  His development languished, leading him to slog away unimpressively with intermittent flashes of the old brilliance.


Jones has thus far made very intelligent decisions in this area as well.  He smartly got himself into the best camp in the sport - Greg Jackson's - and has shown himself to be imminently coachable in receiving instruction from THE best coach in the game.  Jackson, for his part, is amazed at just how well his pupil is advancing:


You haven't seen the best Jon Jones yet...He followed the game plan to a an absolute was almost freaky how well exactly what we were practicing, he did.

The camp at Jackson's also recognizes the talent in their midst and the importance of keeping him grounded:

"Another big thing is all my teammates are in their 30s and late 20s, so they check me when they see anything going on," Jones said. "If I miss a practice or something, there's somewhere there always going, 'Where were you this morning?' I have a lot of people that steer me in the right direction."

With a dynamic, creative, proven trainer like Greg Jackson, as well as the camp of incredible championship-level athletes he gets to train with there on a regular basis, the future looks very good for "Bones" to both avoid the potential perils to his career and lifestyle, and recognize the full - and awesome - potential that this young man has in the sport.  It's going to be a great ride.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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