Sports vs. Politics: Why the Jon Jones-Muhammad Ali comparison is inherently flawed

Ethan Miller

Karim Zidan contrasts the 'heel' personas of both Jon Jones and Muhammad Ali.

As UFC light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones continues to embrace his inner heel, fans and pundits alike have grown accustomed to comparing "Bones" to "The Greatest" Muhammad Ali.

Even the champ himself has resorted to the comparison with Ali when shielding himself from fan negativity:

"I've gotten to the point now where I realize I'm not going to be a fan-favorite, and being loved isn't necessarily - it doesn't have to be," Jones said. "Muhammad Ali was hated, and then he was loved at the very end."

While some may find this to be a fair comparison, I myself see very few actual similarities between the two athletes apart from their talent. Even though both men have received significant criticism during portions of their respective careers, it has been for vastly different reasons.

Where Ali never seemed fazed by the lack of fan adoration during the early portion of his career, Jones has clearly been impacted by it. Over the past three years, we have seen a variety of Jon Jones personas, none of which have been even slightly authentic. Comparing him to someone who has not only spoken his mind but fully embraced his beliefs on a daily basis is simply criminal.

The point of this editorial is not to reproduce a historical analysis of Ali's life, but to illustrate a significant distinction between two combatants based on their varying periods in history and the cultural and social dimensions that separate them.  Currently, you would be hard-pressed to find a legitimate comparison of the two that went above paralleling their enormous talent, but this juxtaposition becomes useless when examining why each of them were "hated" at different periods of their careers.

Ali, unlike Jones, faced a significant amount of backlash due to the tense civil rights issues that characterized that era in American history. While this is not to say that Jones has not experienced any racial discrimination during his career, it certainly does not compare to the intensity of the oppression of the 1950-60s, when African-American citizens were struggling to secure their basic rights.

Apart from simply being African-American, Ali added to his infamous persona by converting to Islam and eventually becoming one of the highest profile members of religious movement, the Nation of Islam.

After initially failing the U.S Armed Forces qualifying test in 1964, Ali was later drafted in 1966-during the time of the Vietnam War.  He promptly refused to serve in the Army and announced that he was a "conscientious objector" to the war in Vietnam, which earned him a significant amount of heat from the media and the general public.

The reason behind his refusal to serve his country earned him further criticism, as Ali revealed that it was against his religion to take part in wars that were not holy.  Considering that public opinion was still largely in support of the war, this was a shocking statement to present to the media and did not help Ali's case.

This is not to say that there are not some similarities between the two fighters. Some would suggest their confidence and somewhat boastful attitudes are a key resemblance, as neither champion has shied away from arrogance and self-promotion; yet even a broad comparison carries its own flaws, as Jones does not possess the same verbal savvy that Ali did in his prime.

Instead, I would argue that it is the socio-political complexity of the controversy surrounding Ali's life that separates him from Jones. The young UFC champ may have attracted a significant amount of media attention in the Internet age, but no amount of Bentley crashes, fight card cancelations or even homophobic Instagram trouble will ever propel him to Ali's status as a cultural and political icon.

While Jones could very well go on to become one of the greatest sporting figures of our generation, Muhammad Ali is remembered as far more than simply a sports legend. It is unlikely that Jones will ever achieve the same status.

"I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was." Muhammad Ali

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