For a month the UFC has been giving Jon Jones the hard sell. He's been all over the media in New York, been featured prominently in his own reality special on SPIKE TV, even crowned himself the new light heavyweight champion days before the fight was even set to occur. Last night he lived up to expectations, becoming the youngest champion in UFC history, running right over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua on his way to the title.
Becoming champion was not enough; a new set of expectations were thrust upon Jones's young shoulders by announcer Joe Rogan last night. As Jones prepared to step into the cage, Rogan compared him to a young Mike Tyson. Slow down.
It's easy to forget what a cultural phenomenon Tyson was. Sure, Jones has done well in just three years as a professional fighter. But remember this - just fourteen months into his professional career Tyson was headlining in Madison Square Garden against Mitch "Blood" Green. Two years into his career Nintendo released Mike Tyson's Punch Out, an iconic video game played by millions. Soon after Tyson was immortalized in song by no less than Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. In short, Tyson was a legitimate cultural phenomenon.Not only was he the biggest drawing card in boxing, he was bigger than boxing.
As the night came to an end, Goldberg made the claim Jones was the "most visible face in the UFC." It's an interesting idea, but not likely remotely true. Millions and millions of sports fans were tuned into the NCAA basketball tournament last night. If they are aware of the fight at all, it is an after thought. Can you imagine saying the same about a Tyson fight? Tyson was an event, a walking controversy.
Jones, instead, is another UFC champion who hasn't proven his merit at the box office. With Cain Velasquez, Frankie Edgar, Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, and Dominick Cruz, Jones is part of a new cast of characters that UFC fans have not completely bought into. Only Georges St. Pierre remains as a top draw among the sport's champions.
Can Jones turn his media hustle into cash? Anderson Silva, equally as dominant in the cage, has failed to take that next step. Jones's response to Rashad Evans's post fight challenge shows he has plenty to learn. Neither man looked into it; both need it to take that next step to a level of stardom few have managed to reach in modern UFC history.