"Float like a butterfly sting like bee, his hands can't hit what his eyes can't see"
"I can drown a drink of water and kill a dead tree, don't mess with Muhammad Ali"
"I've done something special, I wrestled an alligator, I tussled with a whale, I handcuffed lighting and thrown thunder in jail"
We often get these comparisons in sports where the young stars of the new generation liken themselves to the pioneers and innovators of the past. It's not uncommon for fighters to compare themselves to their predecessors, but often times those fighters at least have an argument as to why they should, at the very least mind you be mentioned in the same arena as those who came before them. Boxing historians wouldn't necessarily put Floyd Mayweather ahead of Sugar Ray Robinson or Henry Armstrong on a list of all time pound for pound greats, but placing Floyd on that list is an entirely different set of circumstances. There's no doubt he deserves to be included in the conversation of pound for pound icons in a historical sense.
But in a sport like mma that's still in its infancy, those comparisons between a current dominant superstar and those boxing greats of the past, are often met with a symbolic eye roll from even the most novice of boxing enthusiasts who see no reason to compare a Jon Jones to the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali. Ali's impact on the world far exceeds his impact on the sweet science. Long before Ali there was no one like him, long after his retirement there was no one like him, long after he passes on there will be no one like him. He's as one of a kind as he his polarizing and to compare yourself to him in a sport so utterly different from the one in which Ali made his name, is at best illogical and at worse grossly arrogant and irrational. I'm hard pressed to argue why Jon Jones the mma fighter is more Ali than Floyd Mayweather the boxer.
When you think about it, you can't compare any fighter whether it's mixed martial arts or boxing to Muhammad Ali. The closest global icon we have today from either sport is Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao has the talent and accomplishments Ali had as a boxer, along with the social and cultural, and political impact, but where the comparison stops is when you get into personality. Pacquiao is the ultimate "anti" Ali. He's humble, quiet, and doesn't feel the need to constantly remind the public how great he is. Ali had a charisma and a sort of arrogant charm that can't be duplicated by a guy in Jon Jones who makes you wonder whether or not he actually knows who he wants to be when it comes to his public persona. He's like a nomad moving from one personality narrative to the other according to what makes him look better in the eyes of mma fans. Muhammad Ali was never worried about being liked, or else he would have accepted his being drafting in the Military during the war in Vietnam. If Ali was so focused on being everyone's friendly neighborhood prizefighter he wouldn't have aligned himself with the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X.
Jon Jones is problem is that he wants to be something other than himself. It's not a novel concept to create an alter ego, especially when it comes to combat sports. Floyd Mayweather says in the public he's "Money Mayweather", the guy you love to hate, the ultimate villain, but when he goes home he's just Floyd Mayweather. When he compares himself to Ali Jon Jones doesn't realize that Ali was "Ali" in and outside the ring. Part of what made him great and in many cases controversial was his appeal to regular people. The fans appreciated his brutally honest character even if he rubbed many people the wrong way. Ali didn't care if you liked what he said or what he believed, he said and believed it anyway and people respected him for that. I get the sense Jon Jones carefully crafts everything he says as to not upset the order of which he longs for the approval of fans across the board.
Rashad Evans is right in a sense; I don't think Jon Jones could handle what Ali went through during his boxing career. I don't think Jon Jones has it in him to be that widely beloved and utterly hated at the same time. Perhaps it’s more generational than anything else. Today's young person seeks the applause that comes with instant gratification and politically correct praise, where you're commended for the things you do well, even those things aren't as profound or influential as the things your predecessor did. We live in a society where entitlement sets the standard and hard earned recognition is seen as an unattained and unnecessarily high mark to make. We don't want out children to strive for something higher than the minimum requirements, or we instantly peg them as the next big thing after them having not even cleared the halfway mark in the race.
Jon Jones wants to be called great before he has a chance to be great... He's done very good things, but at 23 years old and having only made two title defenses after winning the title a year ago, it's a bit premature. It took Marvin Hagler fourteen title defenses as undisputed middleweight champion of the world and a complete destruction of Tommy Hearns before people finally recognized him as one of the greatest middleweights of all time. Jon Jones hasn't even scratched the surface of what Hagler accomplished as world middleweight champion.
When Jon Jones defends his UFC light heavyweight title fourteen times and cleans out an entire division, then waits around for some of the elite middleweights to move up to light heavyweight and then beats those guys, I have no problem saying he's equally as great in his sport as Hagler was in boxing. But to compare him to Ali is just plain criminal.