In the latest edition of Good Luck With The Truth, we take a stab at just what in the actual hell is going on between Jon Jones and the UFC. Jones, the UFC’s light heavyweight champion of considerable renown, is fishing for a new contract, as we were told by Dana White just last week. But it’s not new new, he has five fights on his existing contract. We were told that by White this week.
The difference of a week in the UFC is the difference between Kafka’s character Gregor Samsa going to bed as a human being in The Metamorphosis, and waking up a giant insect. In other words, we are never truly sure where reality starts or ends or even how we’ll look with antennae.
So what’s going on with the negotiations? Take your best guess, but one suspects icecaps. Jones, who was in South America when the UFC announced he’d be facing Alexander Gustafsson on August 30 (pending his consent), put out a cryptic tweet that said "let’s make a distinction between bad business and bad press." Ominous foreshadowing?
Maybe, because on Monday, White gave an interview to UFC.com to bring everybody up to speed on the hold-up. Turns out Jones doesn’t want to fight Gustafsson, he wants to fight Daniel Cormier. You knew this thing wouldn’t be as easy as two guys signing on to fight one another. You just knew it.
In context, everybody understood that should Gustafsson beat Jimi Manuwa, and should Jones beat Glover Teixeira at UFC 172, that we would replay 2013’s "fight of the year" from UFC 165. There were obstacles to Gustafsson vs. Jones II, but they were successfully navigated. And the rematch was always the dangling carrot, from the fans perspective to the UFC’s to the fighters involved. This was the fight everybody wanted.
But then Cormier frontloaded Dan Henderson into the twilight at UFC 173, and things have rapidly gotten complicated. How complicated? Enough that the UFC converted Cormier from No. 1B contender into a pawn. Enough that Cormier’s knee injury, suffered in training for Henderson, is now being overlooked to reinvent the pecking order. Enough that leveraging and posturing quickly become interchangeable and take place in public.
You can see the entire interview here, but since it’s only six power paragraphs long, I thought I’d dissect the White exclusive to try and figure out what’s what.
So let’s break it down.
Fans have been clamoring for the rematch between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson ever since their epic championship bout at UFC 165 in September of 2013. Some consider that bout to be the greatest fight in company history.
This is one hell of a table setter. For starters, it tells readers (presumably fans) that fans (these readers) want their Gustafsson-Jones II come hell or high water. The word "epic," which is as common in MMA vernacular as "tool," "exposed" and "douche," is meant to demonstrate just how terrifically colossal the thing is. And it is, there’s no mistaking the big nature of the fight. "Clamoring" isn’t necessarily hyperbole. But clearly there’s something "pending," and I tell you what, the vibe isn’t good.
After news broke the night of UFC 173 that Gustafsson agreed to terms on a rematch with Jones, everybody has been waiting on the champion to sign on for the historic rematch.
Here is the first shift in tone. "Everybody" -- you, me, everybody -- has been waiting on Jones to sign a fight that was announced in advance of his consent. Why announced ahead of his consent? Perhaps to put Jones in a compromising position publicly. Perhaps. Because the implication here is clear: It’s up to Jones not to ruin all of tomorrow’s parties. Gustafsson signed on, so what’s the hold up? The "historic" adjective is key, too. Jones surely wouldn’t let business get in the way of history! Imagine if Napoleon had done that! No, Jones needs to do this Gustafsson encore and we mean pronto.
So what's the hold up?
Dare we peek over this ledge? Oh please, don’t let there be a hold-up, oh please…yup, should have freaking known. It’s Jon Jones.
According to UFC president Dana White, Jones doesn't want to fight Gustafsson. In fact, the champion has said that he would rather face Daniel Cormier, who is coming off a dominant victory over legend Dan Henderson.
So there it is. Jones, the champion, is ducking Gustafsson just like 53 percent of the fight world suspected he would. He wants to fight Cormier, who scored the "dominant" victory over the "legend" Henderson. Ain’t that just the take all. Remember, after his UFC 172 victory over Teixeira, Jones didn’t even want to hear "that kid’s name." Gustafsson is like Voldemort with a Swedish accent and a mile of range. Now Jones refuses to fight him again. It’s all very tidy. But let’s get to the good part...
"Just to clear up a couple things, people think we're in contract negotiations with Jon Jones – we’re not. Jon Jones still has five fights left on his contract," White said Monday afternoon in an exclusive interview with UFC.com. "So what we're doing right now is trying to get him to sign the bout agreement for Gustafsson. He doesn't want to fight Gustafsson…Lorenzo and I have a meeting with Jones on Thursday to get him to sign the bout agreement, and he's asking to fight Cormier instead."
Never mind that a Dana White interview on UFC.com should never be anything other than exclusive, we’ve seen this before.
The quickest path to outrage in the fight game is to shrug your shoulders and hint at unspoken cowardice. We’ve seen it with Anderson Silva when he didn’t want to fight Chael Sonnen again. There was Tito Ortiz back in the day. Nick Diaz accused Georges St-Pierre of ducking all the hitters. This is a surest way to foster outrage, by pointing an accusatory finger in a general direction…to make it appear as though one guy is, for whatever reason, dodging the other.
Which of course could be true. But, then again, it could be false. That the concept is being floated publicly from the promotional side of the ledger tells you how the UFC wants you to see it. Most conversations like this stay behind closed doors until they are resolved. In the case of Jones, who Dana White has blown up publicly before, it’s the race to mold perception. First impressions last the longest, and White knows that better than anybody.
Cormier recently spoke to sportsworldnews.com and said he'd be willing to fight Gustafsson if Jones won't sign to fight the Swede. White said if Jones doesn't sign the contract, who knows, Cormier vs. Gustafsson could be the move.
This to me seems slightly subjective. Jones either fights Gustafsson like everybody planned, or Cormier can fight Gustafsson ("who knows"). That’s the vague ultimatum being championed here. Either sign the fight sheet, or the UFC (maybe) moves on without you.
Only, that’s complicated, too. Jones is the company’s most dominant champion in a time when dominant champions are scarce, and he’s atop every rational person’s pound-for-pound list (insomuch as rational people have P4P lists). If what we’re hearing is true, he’s not asking for a cupcake, he’s asking for Cormier, who promised he could take him down 100 times if he so desired. That’s why it’s weird when the UFC sort of closes the walls on Jones and makes it appear as though he’s being difficult for reasons that we can’t, for the very life of us, possibly fathom.
I want to see Gustafsson-Jones II as much as the next guy, but in negotiations, people posture. People see what sticks. People make demands. It’s meant to be a back-and-forth. Although, wait…no negotiations are taking place. There's only a bout sheet sitting under Jones' nose. The UFC simply wants him to sign it. If only things were that simple.
Is Jones being difficult? Possibly. But when he tweets out "Let’s make a distinction between bad business and bad press" as a prelude to something, well, it’s hard to think he’s aiming those words at Twitter followers, so much as those people in positions to blur the lines to that distinction.