Jon Jones defends title and image at UFC 152
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Hear these words from the boss -- "disgusting," "selfish," "sport killer," "weirdo" -- and it's time to buy some fancy resume paper.
That's how UFC president Dana White characterized Jon Jones and his trainer Greg Jackson last month when Jones canceled UFC 151.
"Originally, it really bothered me," Jones said. "But right now, I'm pretty OK with the whole situation. I'm over the situation. I see where Dana could be really upset. I understand where I can be upset. I've just come to a realization of the whole situation and I'm just comfortable with it all."
That situation was this: Jones' original opponent, Dan Henderson, injured his knee and pulled out nine days before the Sept. 1 headliner bout. Jones then declined to defend his light heavyweight title against replacement Chael Sonnen on such short notice.
White spent a half-hour bashing Jones and Jackson on a conference call with the media. UFC then released the audio of the call on its website and sent out a scathing news release about the cancellation -- the first in the 12 years of Zuffa ownership.
It all helped to shape public perception of Jones, a 25-year-old champion from upstate New York who was already perceived by many as arrogant.
"Not everybody in the world is a world champion or a world-class athlete," Jones said. "I think there's a certainly psychology that I do have that doesn't necessarily pertain to the everyday person. I think people find it as arrogant, and I can't be apologetic for it because it's what's gotten me this far. It's the person that I've become."
Just how much his image has changed in the five weeks since UFC 151 was canceled will be evident this weekend in Toronto as Jones defends his title against Vitor Belfort at UFC 152.
"I'm anticipating boos, lots of boos, but I'm also aware that there's going to be a lot of people who want to see me do well," Jones said. "I just think the boos will probably outweigh the cheers, which I'm comfortable with. Right now, It's kind of fun to hate me.
"I truly feel with a dominating performance, everything is going to be OK. I think the fans will be quicker to forget than what it may seem like."
Either way, the narrative will change. Since UFC 151 was canceled, there's been little if any mention of Jones' arrest and jail-free plea agreement over the summer for driving while intoxicated in Binghamton.
If Jones (16-1, 10-1 UFC) successfully defends his title for a fourth straight time on Saturday, talk will again focus on his place among the pound-for-pound best fighters in MMA. Should he lose to Belfort (21-9, 9-5), a former light heavyweight and heavyweight champion who has fought at middleweight since 2009, the narrative still changes.
Same with White.
He said he doesn't regret anything he said or did, and added that he expects to sit down with Jones while in Toronto. Still, he has a job to do -- promote his champion four weeks after he bashed him.
"If anybody doesn't think that Jon Jones and Vitor Belfort aren't going to get in there and get after it, you're crazy," White said.
As Jones began his rise to prominence and dominance in the UFC in 2010, he aimed to please. To not offend. To be politically correct. To come off as likable to all media and fans. But as his success continues to grow (example: a three-year promotional deal with Nike) and his public image takes more hits than he ever has in the cage, Jones said he has learned a few things.
"To be comfortable in my own skin and to be who I am," he said. "That's really all I was ever meant to be, is just me. Not really try to be accepted. Just accept who I am.
"I know my general makeup is a good person," he said. "So, I just dare to be me and let people think what they want."
In the four weeks since UFC 151 was canceled on Aug. 23, Jones has gained more than 21,000 new Twitter followers, according to twittercounter.com.
"All this stuff, whether it's good or bad, it really is free publicity," Jones said. "It's free marketing. Whether it's a good story or a bad story, the truth of who I am will come out over time. Right now, it's creating fan interest and I'm grateful for that."