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Malki Kawa: UFC and Jon Jones have opened up better lines of communication

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

After a week of media speculation and (deleted) Instagram drama, it was recently announced that UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will indeed rematch Alexander Gustafsson on September 28 at UFC 178. Not on August 30 in Las Vegas, as was originally circled by the UFC. And not against Daniel Cormier, as the UFC said Jones originally preferred. But in September, in Toronto, a year removed from the first fight.

In other words, it took a roundabout way to get back to where we thought we were to begin with.

Jones, who was in Brazil when Lorenzo Fertitta told ESPN that Gustafsson-Jones II would happen on August 30 (pending Jones’ consent), met with the UFC brass on Thursday of last week to sort things out. 

And one of the things being sorted out was a new contract. Jones’ manager Malki Kawa appeared on the Monday edition of The MMA Hour and said that for all the presumptions of tension between his client and the UFC, everything is copacetic. The breakdown, Kawa said, was in communication.

"I think Dana [White] and Lorenzo were trying to get ahold of us while we were in Brazil and because of the communications and stuff like that we never received their calls, or Jon’s phone wasn’t working, whatever it was we just never got on the phone with them," Kawa said. "When we got back into town, we had this meeting and it was just basically, everybody just said their piece and came to agreement on everything and it was done. It wasn’t that hard at all."

Kawa said that the meeting was productive in more ways that one. For starters, Kawa said, everyone agreed that they should stay in better communication to avoid ending up in a situation like what happened last week. He admitted that he and Jones were "shocked at first" when they heard that the UFC announced the Aug. 30 fight with Gustafsson, but that they soon realized that the UFC had been in contact with Jones’ lawyer.

Because of the lapse in communication, things were misconstrued.

"When we sat down with them we realized that the biggest problem that we have on both sides was the communications," Kawa said. "Why are we not getting back with certain things or actually expressing what the real feelings are as far as taking the fight on this date or fighting this opponent or that opponent, or why this guy as opposed to that guy. And when we actually sat down and talked about it actually come out easier.

"I can tell you we choose to stay out of the media with it. We didn’t want to go back or start arguing through the media or fighting through the media or sitting here saying anything. We just were kind of shocked because we didn’t know that this is what they were putting out on the table. Nobody had told us as far as officially between me and Jon anything at that point, and that’s why there was that lapse of communication.

"And then of course it looks like they’re putting all this pressure on Jon, but when actually in fact told our attorney first, offered him the fight -- offered us the fight through him, since we were down in South America – and that’s where the communication kind of fell, because our phones weren’t working the way they normally do."

As for whether or not Jones, who still has five fights left on his existing contract, was able to rework it, Kawa smiled.

"I think everybody left that meeting very happy," he told Ariel Helwani.

Naturally Kawa would not talk about the terms of the new deal, but did say, when asked if his client was now the highest paid fighter in the UFC, "I’d like to think so -- I think he deserves to be."

"Like I said, we left that meeting on Thursday very happy, and I think the UFC left from there very happy as well. And that’s to me what makes a good deal, when everybody can walk away [happy]."

Kawa said that the original Aug. 30 date was a conflict for Jones not just because of his brother’s wedding in early July, but because of how difficult it is for him to travel back and forth with his family between Albuquerque (where he trains with Greg Jackson) and Ithaca, New York, where he lives.

As for whether or not the Cormier instead of Gustafsson stuff was all about Jones posturing in light of the contract negotiations, Kawa said it might have been a little bit of that.

"I think it was a combination of both things," he said. "I think [Jones] wanted a new deal, and I think he also wanted to fight Cormier, and it was nothing to do with not wanting to Gustafsson. I just think that Jon is a guy who wants to take on new challenges.

"With Cormier calling you out all the time and talking trash about you and putting the perception out there that he’s afraid of him, I think he really let the emotions kind of get to him and he wanted a fight Cormier for real. But I think at the same time we also had this thing going on with the contract and a whole bunch of things that were going on."

With Jones now in the habit of posting videos on his Instagram and then deleting them, there’s been a lot of people talking about him "turning heel." When asked what that was all about, Kawa said he didn’t know.

"I have no idea," he said. "I promise you I have no idea. I’ve asked him 100 times and asked him why do you do that? He just looks at me and smiles, so I don’t know.

"I don’t think he’s turning heel, I think what’s going on with Jon is that he’s maturing, and he’s becoming more comfortable saying how he feels and not worrying too much about media backlash. People don’t understand how Jon is -- Jon wants to be a good example, especially for the young kids. He wants people to look up to him and see that he is a guy who put a lot of hard work into what he does. It’s not just something that came to him because he’s 6-foot-4 with long arms, he’s a guy that works really hard to get better at what he does everyday."