To paraphrase and mangle the great Mr. Campbell, a fighter ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural violence: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the fighter comes back from this attritive adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
It's easy to see why we value fighters in a way that makes them synonymous with heroes. The pain that most of us endure is often abstract. Like the pain of breaking up, losing your job, being scolded at work in front of your peers, and so forth. A fighter must endure pain that is quantifiable, so we laud them when they recover from a hard punch to the jaw, or don't tap to an armbar and continue on. Our abstract pain never feels mercurial to us, so watching someone rise above a different yet comparative pain inspires us to rise too.
What boons has Jon Jones bestowed upon his fellow man? To the critics, nothing. To the critics, he is simply polishing laurels he hasn't earned.
"My plan is to become the greatest fighter of all-time," Jones said at the UFC 182 post fight press conference. "It's so feasible. It's so attainable. All I've got to do is stay focused. I've got to keep believing and keep working."
Simply put, to the critics, Jones is not a hero. But what exactly defines a hero?
Pop culture fascinates me for what it reflects. Ideas are not created in a vacuum; they toss and turn, sometimes as responses to the region of common day strife. Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster weren't simply interested in a man who could fly. They were interested in what such a goofy concept meant to them in the face of margin buying, and unemployment. While fans mostly remember villains like Doomsday, Darkseid, Zod and the guy from Superman IV who could be killed with strategically placed items from Bed Bath and Beyond, it's important to remember that Superman was equally born amidst the white collar machinations of J. WIlbur Wolfingham, J.E. Curtis, and Goldie Gates. One can never forget Superman's presence in the social deconstruction of the Ku Klux Klan either.
For several years, especially since the advent of Christopher Nolan's Batman, heroes have been undergoing a psychoanalysis. We've plucked their wings, and made the supernatural common. No longer broad representations of heroism, they are now heroic representations of specific psychologies. Films like The Guest are arguing that these Campbellian 'fabulous forces', or mechanisms of heroism are the same components for psychosis: something Alan Moore has been doing for a long time.
I mention all this to say that this appears to be Jones' fate in the MMA world. A hero whose wings we desperately need to take away because his voice doesn't carry the same virtue as his actions amidst fabulous forces. Ahh, those fabulous forces. Incorrectly, people are not convinced of just how fabulous they've been.
Arguing about what makes a G.O.A.T. is always tricky. It's too easy to lose any sense of nuance, or context, and time becomes its own obstacle. But Jones has a strong claim. I hear the name Fedor Emelianenko brought up, which would the very first name to scratch off the list. Fedor's accomplishments at HW are not in question. But Jones, at only 27 years of age, has him beat if we're going by the metric of 'fabulous forces'. After winning the HW gold from Antonio Rogerio Nogeuira, Fedor would have nine truly relevant fights to emphasize his dominance: Mark Coleman (2004), Kevin Randleman, Nog x2, CroCop, Mark Hunt, Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski, Brett Rogers (2009).
Since winning gold, all 8 of Jones' wins have been obviously relevant: Rampage, Machida, Evans, Belfort, Sonnen, Gustafsson, Teixeira, and Cormier. Even if we decide to cut the Sonnen win, which is fine since both Sonnen and Lindland were fighting out of their weight class, making it 7, that's still a difference of two years and two bouts. Which force is more impressive, on the whole, however? Jones is the correct answer. Comparing his achievements to those of Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva are trickier. Silva only defended his belt two more times than Jones (though he had more fights), GSP only one more (though there are a few asterisks with the Interim belt nonsense). Potter Stewart's infamous invocation of definition might be handy here, in part because despite these details, Jones is only 27, and already in the rarified air of being part of this distinction. GSP and Fedor finished their runs in their early 30's, Silva in his mid to late 30's.
"I will give Anderson and Georges [St-Pierre] being above me," noted Jon Jones at the press conference. "I think that attitude will keep me honest, it will keep me determined and driven. I'll keep that as my psychology until it can't be argued any more."
There's certainly a level of smugness to Jones' quote. As if to say 'not only is it a matter of time, the time would have passed if you idiots could appreciate what I do'.
When I think back bout to how we view our heroes, it's interesting to note how interested we are over what they say. If Jones was just a quiet young man who only talked openly about his religion when asked, I'd imagine a much more reverent tone when talking about Jones. Kind of like how fans always viewed Fedor in reverence, despite his unevolved views about what a women should do with her career. How would we think about Fedor, then, if he carried around a soundbite like that while he was dominating?
There are fans, and observers who have tuned out this discussion. Jones has done everything he could to indict himself, and now he's the villain we want him to be.
In his candid interview with Greg Howard, Jones didn't mince words over why he fights.
"When you walk into a cage, there's no hiding," he says. "There's no hiding who you are. If you worked hard, it's gonna show. If you're a pussy, it's gonna show. If you're scared, it's gonna show. If your cardio's not right, it's gonna show. It shows. If you got heart, it's gonna show. So it really shows right then and there what kind of man you really are, what you're really made of."
For some reason, some fans and observers aren't interested in nuance. There's nothing complicated about a jerk being a jerk. Jones is simply full of himself, and a complete a**hole they say. But I keep wondering if Jones is simply a hero trapped in an era where the monomyth has become an adventure of neural perversions. Where it's not enough to know what kind of actions bestow karmic donation. Rather, what kind of mind bestows the spectacle of heroism. Jones's ability to be heroic in the cage will never make him a hero. His words, his tweets, and his DUI have seen to that. But he didn't come here for the ventures of the common day. He came here for the fabulous forces. And no one in this sport right now can boast a comparable adventure.