The most personal battle in the history of the UFC.
That's the idea the UFC is using to sell this weekend's Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans mega-fight at UFC 145. And it's a good sell. These two have a complex history, from good friends (or maybe not, depending on who you ask) and teammates to possible grudging opponents to bitter rivals - it's a nearly Shakespearean tale of betrayal, broken friendships, and the hatred it has created. In short, it's the perfect kind of story to sell a fight.
So why is it leaving a bit of a bad taste in my mouth?
Don't get me wrong - I'm very excited for the fight. But there is something about the promotion that concerns me, and that concern is this: we've heard it all before.
This idea of "this time it's personal" has been brought out by the UFC time and again lately. In fact, this will mark the 3rd of Rashad's last 4 fights that were built around this personal dislike. The Tito Ortiz rematch was personal, the Rampage showdown was personal - only Phil Davis escaped that treatment, and even then, the build was about how Rashad needed to get through Davis to fight Jones because, wait for it, it was personal.
So it's a selling point we have heard too much. But that's not the biggest concern. The biggest concern is that it's also a lie.
Too many fighters have, post-fight, pulled the rug out from under this idea of a genuine and personal dislike. How many times have we heard a supposedly bitter rivalry end with one man stating that it was all just to sell tickets? Remember the antagonism between Josh Koscheck and Georges St. Pierre before UFC 124? Koscheck did an excellent job building up a personal rivalry before that fight, Then when it was over, GSP said it was all to sell tickets and that Kos was a nice guy, Kos acted all humbled and thanked the Canadian crowd, and everyone was happy.
The problem is, those sort of moves undercut the credibility of future rivalries. So now, when we have Jon Jones and Rashad Evans engaging in an actual personal battle, not a "it's for tickets" personal battle, we end up asking ourselves - really? Do they really dislike each other, or is this another ruse? And that's not a good attitude for the UFC to develop among their fans.
Saturday night, I don't expect a pleasant hug and an admission that these are two good friends. But then again, I've been burned before. And I'm sure I will be again. And every time I get burned, my faith in the UFC promotional machine wavers just a bit more.