UFC 165: Jon Jones lets his heart and mind do the promoting for him

Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

Jon Jones endured a grueling five round war with Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 in Toronto, Canada. Now the question is whether or not his performance will mean anything for his critics.

If you were the psychological part of Jon Jones that cared what other people thought of him, you might be a lonely dude. Nobody seems to love the guy outside of the cage. It'd be interesting to ask 'why?' if this discussion wasn't already had a thousand times in the dark corners of the MMA universe we call Sherdog.net and the comments section here at SB Nation.

But one of the things made abundantly clear, besides how polarizing the guy is, is how awkwardly the UFC has handled their promotion of him. It's fair to say that it probably has something to do with Jones himself; he comes off as a little awkward, after all.

But the debacle that was UFC not 151 made it abundantly clear that Zuffa didn't much like Jones either. Dana called Jones' completely reasonable decision not to cancel an entire event (because fighters don't have the power to make those decisions) but to prefer not to fight an opponent who did nothing to deserve a shot at the title, "disgusting and selfish".

The UFC molded the narrative into a "let's blame the fighter" story that managed to find legs amongst fighters, and regular fans, who inadvertently made existence temporarily unbearable for some everyman Jon Jones. Obviously, if Dana wanted, he could have avoided this PR nightmare altogether.

They still have a fighter to promote, however, and so before UFC 165 they did so by emphasizing his reach, complete with ridiculous graphics breaking down the numbers in favor of a "can you believe how long this dude's arms and legs are?!?" narrative. You can almost hear the jock rock voice in the background add "they're like wings on a plane man!"

I mention this because not only is it a strange way to promote a fighter, but it also perpetuates stereotypes about athletic performance. That somehow, great athletes are only as good as the genes they've been endowed with; that athletic performance is merely a physical endeavor.

Not only is this patently bullshit, but it also ignores the science behind some of the more fascinating stories about performance (like this one about how the visual cortex responds to perceptions of risk and reward).

That was the great thing about the fight this weekend. Sure we had some tall fighters. But we also had some very smart, and calculating fighters. I don't know if Jones felt like he losing the boxing match, personally. But I do know that he made adjustments when Gustafsson's jab, and left hook were landing.

I watched him land crisp left leg high kicks not because his opponent was too short to get out of the way in time, but because he was timing Gustafsson's nimble movements as he would dart inside to land strikes of his own. I watched him fail on his takedown attempts, only to secure a timely one late in the fight not because of raw strength and size, but because he was able to wrap his forearm around Gustafsson's leg quick enough to secure a single leg.

Is Jones a physical specimen? Tell me something I don't know. But is this the fighter the UFC should be promoting? The 6'4 Pterodactyl? Or the fighting savant? I'm not sure how you'd do that though. I guess not reducing your fighters to a Scouting Combine report, or a collection of seething hatred against his/her opponent could be a start.

Jones' performance at 165 was a unique contrast to the way he's portrayed amongst fans, and the media. Instead of being a weird, isolated, off-putting talent, he was an all too human competitor, caught in a conflict that was nearly beyond him in the only sport free of a metaphor for dominance.

I doubt this performance will change the mind of Jon's critics. And I should clarify the important point of noting that the criticism directed at Jones is not beyond validity. But some of it is nonsense. And some of it I'd prefer to avoid for the sake of allowing me to do something much more interesting, like throwing away an out-of-date box of Coco Puffs.

The discussion over Jones and who he is away from the cage is not a serious one, although some observers treat it like it is. The discussion over his legacy, and the way he continues to march forward as one of the greatest mixed martial artists ever, is however. I'm more interested in the latter.

SBN coverage of UFC 165: Jones vs. Gustafsson

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