Sunday, October 7, 2012

Jon Jones Apologetics: Why You Should Not Hate Jon Jones

"I hate Jon Jones!"

If I had a nickel for every time I've seen that comment posted on a YouTube video discussion or message board, I could retire a wealthy man. Truth be told, initially I didn't care much for Jon Jones myself. Sure, he seemed a nice enough kid with a great attitude but at the end of the day he was just a little too superhuman for his own good. Here was this seemingly invincible giant wiping the floor with the toughest guys in the world and making it look appallingly easy. Watching a guy as tough as Mauricio Rua get tossed around like a ragdoll and pummeled senseless was surreal. It wasn't just that Jon crushed him utterly and completely, it was the astonishing, almost sickening nonchalance with which he did so. He made one of the deadliest and most feared 205 pounders of all time look like a complete amateur.

Let's face it, people like rooting for the underdog. Everyone loves a good Rocky story. So when a guy like Jon comes along who just annihilates everyone, it's tough to be a fan. Cheering for Jon as he crushes whoever finds himself on the wrong end of that incredible 84.5 inch reach feels a lot like cheering for a poacher in the act of clubbing a baby seal. It just seems so unfair. Where's the sport in it? And it's even tougher to be a fan when people like bitter former teammate Rashad Evans smear him through the MMA media, accusing him of being disingenuous which then gets picked up and regurgitated ad nauseum via Twitter, podcasts, forums, blogs, etc.


I'm ashamed to admit I was once one of Jon's critics and for reasons so stupid they defy description. How easy it was to dismiss his incredible accomplishments as an accident of dumb luck.

"Hey, he was born into an elite gene pool. His brothers are NFL players so he obviously has a genetic advantage. He's a natural athlete who could have played any sport professionally. It comes easier for him than it does for everyone else. His arms are too long, he's too fast, too graceful, he was born with all these gifts. It just isn't fair."

Yeah. No. Was Jon born with the genetic potential to be one of the most dominant fighters of all time? Yes, but holding it against him makes about as much sense as hating Michael Phelps or Michael Jordan for being born with tremendous potential. In other words, none. The fact is, you don't reach the top of any highly competitive sport without working extremely hard and being completely focused. This is especially true for a sport as fiercely competitive as MMA. Jon Jones has accomplished more than anyone in a shorter period of time than anyone because Jon was willing to sacrifice more than anyone.

You see the 84.5 inch reach, the natural athleticism, the money, the fame and dominant performance after dominant performance. What you don't see are the years of hard work and sacrifice leading up to these performances. You don't see Jon training 5 times a day for 8 weeks straight before every fight. You don't see the willingness to forgo a social life and live like a monk for months at a time, never going off of his diet, never sleeping in, never missing a workout. You don't see Jon studying tape of his opponents with his team, always searching for a pattern that might lead to an opening. Nor do you see Jon and his coaches studying tape of Jon for hours on end, looking for holes in his game and trying to shore up the leaks. Most importantly, you don't see Jon getting punched in the face, held down, smashed and submitted in training day after day for years on end and still coming back for more. The great Michelangelo said it best, "If the people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem wonderful at all."

Speaking from experience, it takes a ton of work to be a competitive martial artist at the absolute bottom rung of the competitive latter. Ignoring the tremendous courage it takes to compete in a full contact fight—courage 99% of the world will never have—the training is the really hard part. You get your ass kicked, you're hurt, you're tired, you're sore, you don't feel like training. There's no money, no glory, no attention, no fans and there sure as hell are no groupies. Competing as an amateur is tough. Competing as a low level professional on the regional circuit is even tougher. Making it from the bush leagues to the UFC is its own tremendous accomplishment. But to actually do what Jon Jones has done, going from complete unknown to the most dominant light-heavyweight champion of all time in just four years, is a feat almost defying description. It's like going from regional junior high basketball competition to winning an NBA championship and being named VMP in just 3 years. And then going on to repeat that feat four more times in the span of 365 days.

And now to address the common criticisms of Jon:

"He's coached by Greg Jackson. I hate that guy! He's a sport killer!"
Would anyone hate Greg Jackson were it not for Dana White's constant smear campaign? I have said it before and I will say it again, Dana White is a master of propaganda. He exploits people, lies constantly and has the time of his life doing it. Which is not to say he is Satan incarnate, or even that he has done more harm than good for the sport (he most certainly has not). Dana White has simply followed Vince McMahon's business model, very shrewdly making himself the biggest star of the company and (literally) positioning himself as the center of attention at every press conference. For every word a fighter speaks, Dana speaks five. He loves attention, loves being a celebrity, loves lording it over people in subordinate positions and ultimately, hurts himself and his own brand by letting his ego run amok.

"It's my way and no other way."
Dana wants the most exciting fights from the biggest names in fighting. When a guy like Greg seemingly obstructs this end, Dana takes great umbrage and makes it his purpose in life to destroy the obstruction. It is expected that Dana would trash Greg at every opportunity, and to his credit, he has done an extremely good job of getting the brainless TUF fanboy crowd to repeat his anti-Jackson propaganda all over the internet. Ultimately though, I believe Dana makes a mistake in devaluing the Jon Jones brand by trashing Jon alongside Greg. Dana costs himself money to make his light-heavyweight champion, a guy the company has a great deal invested in, look like a coward. Why would anyone want to buy UFC brand merchandise featuring a fighter that they hate? Likewise, if you are going to market Jon as a heel, it at least makes sense to make him a badass renegade heel as opposed to some coward. What does it say about your company if some gutless loser is the most dominant champion the 205 lb. division has ever seen? Oops.

"He's ducking Chael Sonnen. Jon 'Chicken Bones' Jones is afraid of Chael!"
The reason given for why Jon didn't accept the fight with Chael by Dana White was "Greg Jackson is a sport killer who didn't want the fight on short notice." I agree completely with Jon's decision to say fuck off to Dana—and anyone repeating Dana's propaganda—but not for the reason Greg has given. The fact is, Chael Sonnen has done nothing to earn a fight with Jon. Chael is a lay-and-pray artist with a UFC record of 5-6. Jon would wipe the floor with him in what would be the most one sided thrashing of Chael's life. Ask anyone who actually knows anything about the sport and they will tell you the same. Jon is a much better wrestler than Anderson Silva (who beat Chael twice, in case you've forgotten) and is considerably larger and stronger. Jon is more aggressive, has more versatile striking and in my estimation, superior conditioning to Anderson. In short, Jon would crush Chael like a bug and could do so sleepwalking.

Chael with his replica belt
Chael is an okay fighter and an extremely good talker who had nothing to lose and everything to gain from a fight with Jon. He talked himself into a title shot at 185 following three lackluster lay-and-pray victories. Following his loss to Silva, he got busted for steroids, suspended for a year, had a solid comeback vs. Brian Stann and an incredibly lackluster performance vs. Michael Bisping. And somehow this series of events qualified him for a rematch with Anderson? I think not. Chael has no business fighting for any title, let alone at 205 vs. the greatest champion the division has ever seen. Giving Chael a rematch with Anderson was as farcical as giving Brock Lesnar a title shot after only two fights and a record of 1-1 in the UFC. I could elaborate on this but Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports has already written a terrific article explaining how ridiculous it is to suggest Chael has earned a fight with Jon, let alone that Jon would actually be afraid of Chael. (He also agrees with me about what an effective master of propaganda Dana is and that the fighters really ought to unionize but probably never will).

"He said he doesn't want to fight Anderson. What a pussy. He's afraid!"
Personally, I tend to think Jon would be a huge favorite to win this fight but that's besides the point. Jon has little to gain by beating a guy from a lower weight class who is 12 years older than him, even when that guy is a legend like Anderson. It also takes two to tango and Anderson has said many times that doesn't want to fight Jon. He's also said that no Brazilian can beat him at this point. Quite an endorsement coming from the guy everyone agrees is the pound-for-pound best in the world. If Anderson has that much respect for Jon, maybe you should too...

"Jon Jones isn't genuine. He's a phony!"
You might want to ask yourself what exactly qualifies you to say with authority who the "real" Jon is. How would you know whether he is genuine or not without spending extensive time in his presence getting to know him personally? Or were you just repeating something you once heard Rashad Evans say after Jon became champion instead of Rashad? Jon said Rashad would be more bitter than ever after losing to him and it looks like he was right. Rashad treated Jon like a friend until Jon became a bigger star than him, at which point he set about smearing Jon at every opportunity to anyone who would listen. Doesn't that make Rashad the disingenuous one?

"He crashed his car! He had a DUI! Jon Jones is evil personified! THE SKY IS FALLING!"
I don't excuse this unfortunate incident but I do appreciate that no one was hurt, damage to public property was minimal and a lesson was most certainly learned. Much has been made of this one mistake but it generally seems that the people making the most noise about it are doing so to divert attention from their own wrongdoings. Chael Sonnen, for instance, has been attacking Jon on his Twitter page but anyone taking his barbs with more than a grain of salt are overlooking the fact that Chael is a convicted conman who is currently on probation for money laundering in connection to mortgage fraud. Get a clue. Chael is attacking Jon because that is literally the only way he can keep his name relevant at this point in his career. He's one step up from the Honky Tonk Man.

"He's cocky. He's too confident. I don't like that."
You need to believe in yourself to succeed in any intensely competitive field. If Jon started talking about how he's the greatest thing since sliced bread and his sweat cures cancer, that would be one thing. But the fact is he accomplished a hell of a lot very quickly and has a great deal to be proud of. Bluntly, he's earned the right to be a little cocky. And even then, he certainly isn't much more cocky than the next winning fighter, he just  gets more attention than the next guy. If you have never lived in the fishbowl Jon finds himself in as one of the sport's biggest stars, you have no way of understanding how every perceived flaw is magnified. Mountains are made out of mole hills and the slightest hint of arrogance gets distorted into something more. Why? Because as Joe Rogan explains, sometimes people want you to be a dick.


"I don't like the way he fights. He comes out crawling so people can't kick him. He kicks people's knees back. He waves his fingers too much in front of people's faces."
Tough shit. None of that constitutes cheating and if it approached the point where it could begin to constitute cheating, it's the referee's job to call him on it. Mainly the words I hear thrown around a lot in reference to these tactics are "cheap," "shady," and "fight like a man." David Sirlin explains why this is incredibly stupid far better than I could ever hope to in his excellent essay, Playing to Win:

"You're not going to see a classic scrub throw his opponent 5 times in a row. But why not? What if doing so is strategically the sequence of moves that optimize his chances of winning? Here we've encountered our first clash: the scrub is only willing to play to win within his own made-up mental set of rules. These rules can be staggeringly arbitrary. If you beat a scrub by throwing projectile attacks at him, keeping your distance and preventing him from getting near you...that's cheap. If you throw him repeatedly, that's cheap, too. We've covered that one. If you sit in block for 50 seconds doing no moves, that's cheap. Nearly anything you do that ends up making you win is a prime candidate for being called cheap."

"Doing one move or sequence over and over and over is another great way to get called cheap. This goes right to the heart of the matter: why can the scrub not defeat something so obvious and telegraphed as a single move done over and over? Is he such a poor player that he can't counter that move? And if the move is, for whatever reason, extremely difficult to counter, then wouldn't I be a fool for not using that move? The first step in becoming a top player is the realization that playing to win means doing whatever most increases your chances of winning. The game knows no rules of "honor" or of "cheapness." The game only knows winning and losing."

To summarize, why do people hate Jon? They hate him because he destroyed their heroes and made it look easy. They hate him because they don't see the endless hours of hard work and years of sacrifice behind his dominant victories. Mostly, they just hate him because Uncle Dana told them to.

If you found this article interesting, stay tuned for a follow up article on the most unjustly hated man in MMA today, Greg Jackson himself.

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