I don't like Jon Jones.
Anyone who has followed my writing here knows that isn't anything new for me to say. It may be minor or petty or whatever, but his public persona rubs me the wrong way. It's not a case of carefully protecting his image, it's the way that protection is carried out.
ESPN's Chad Dundas expanded on the idea that MMA fans expect some sort of edge to their fighters:
Where other sports are over-processed, staid and self-serious, the UFC has taken pains over the years to come off as casual, edgy and a little bit unpredictable. It was a "reality" show, after all, that gave the UFC its first foothold in the mainstream. More recently, one of its core promotional tactics has been to utilize unfiltered blasts of social media to connect with fans. "As Real as It Gets," promised the company's own slogan for a time.
For better and worse, the political correctness that hampers mainstream entities like the NFL and NBA hasn't quite caught up to MMA yet. At least part of the sport's appeal has always been grounded in hardcore fans feeling like they really know their heroes and fans have come to expect "realness" from MMA personalities with the same regularity they expect a pay-per-view or two every month.
But between this and the article I wrote earlier about Jones and Quinton Jackson's appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live to hype up their UFC 135 I've come to a very solid conclusion. It's just simply that I don't like Jon Jones.
And that's okay.
It's not that he is "too good." If there is anything I do genuinely love, it's watching Jon Jones fight. When Bones is in the cage there is a sort of beautiful violence to his performances. You can try to pick apart the level of competition he has faced, but when it comes down to examining how he has beaten them, it becomes a pointless exercise. He is a great talent.
It's not that he doesn't work hard. From all reports Jones is an extremely hard worker who is dedicated to his craft. The skills he shows inside the cage aren't something a man is simply born with.
And it also isn't that I expect some sort of edgy behavior. Yes, I've said that I think Jones comes across as a phony in interviews. But I've also said that guys (like Rampage) have been "too real" in their inability to tone it down in the media. It's probably bordering on a double-standard. But it's possible for people to come across as genuine and "real" while still toning it down a little for media appearances.
My genuine concern is that I hear from fans every day who feel like they have no connection to Jones or think he is fake. If his public persona has been so carefully put together that he isn't connecting with fans, he will not draw the big numbers that someone of his talent should.
Maybe eventually we see Jon get more comfortable and start to act more natural in the media. He is only 24 and it may be slightly unfair to pin all of this pressure on him to be a top level fighter and completely media savvy, but that's what comes with the belt.
But the real point here is that it's okay to like or dislike athletes for any reason at all. It's part of being a sports fan. I grew up thinking Darryl Talley was the greatest football player the world had ever seen because he wore Spider-Man spandex under his uniform and was nicknamed "The Duke of Awesome." Meanwhile, I hated John Elway because of something about his face.
It may be stupid, but being a sports fan has always been inherently stupid. We pick laundry to root for in team sports and we shell out $60 to watch fights involving guys who are more than -400 favorites.
So stop freaking out every time someone doesn't like a fighter you think is great. It doesn't really matter, unless it stops that person from putting down money to watch them fight. Then it's kind of a big deal.
If someone doesn't like Jones because they think he comes across as fake or because he won't sign replica title belts or really for any reason, who cares? Why get twisted up if someone doesn't like Josh Koscheck for his hair? Or Cub Swanson for his horrible tattoos? Or Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for his...okay, look, you have to like Nogueira.
Fans are going to be fans, and that means making decisions on who they root for based on totally valid or totally stupid things. That's just part of the fun.