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Jon Jones and the fine line between lessons and patterns

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the missteps Jon Jones has taken in his career -- including Sunday’s latest when he allegedly ran a red light in Albuquerque, caused a three-car accident, injured a pregnant woman, and fled the scene -- the fact that he supposedly came back to grab a fistful of cash from the abandoned rental car is the reddest of red flags. If true, that was a disarming look at Jones’ instincts. That was the glimpse at the sad place Jones, in his greatness, has ascended to. That is the sum of his experience.

Fleeing a mess that he is believed to have created, with zero regard for anybody but himself.

We won’t know everything until people start explaining, and when they do there’s a 50 percent chance of fog, but this goes beyond Jones’ lesson in the deal and becomes a lesson for the UFC. In the past, like in January when Jones checked into rehab for a single night to deal with a drug issue, it’s always been about how he grows from it. This one can’t be chalked up to immaturity. It’s either a problem that hasn’t yet been fully admitted (or even acknowledged), or worse -- as in, this is just who Jones is. His fans can only hope it’s the former, because the humble preacher’s son from Endicott is a million miles in the rear-view mirror at this point.

Earlier in Jones’ career, back when he became the UFC’s youngest ever champion after beating Mauricio Rua at UFC 128, his coach Greg Jackson said the only man he worried about defeating Jones was Jones himself. Jackson has always been sage. In 2015, Jones can’t get out of his own way. This latest incident, though, demonstrates the kind of erratic behavior that leaves a lot of openings for speculation. If our actions define us, a hit-and-run in broad daylight -- with one quick stop to grab the loot before hopping a fence and vanishing -- is a bad character assessment. If he weren’t coming off of so many mistakes, maybe it could be regarded differently. But this was more in the realm of "what did Jones do this time?" This one was, "how long until Jones destroys himself completely?"

What the UFC should do is take his belt away.

That is a hard thing to imagine, given that Jones is one of the promotion’s biggest stars who had/has a big title defense coming up at UFC 187 against Anthony Johnson, but then again, who is calling the shots here? Drastic times call for drastic measures. If the UFC stands by Jones, it is enabling him at this point. That sheen of invincibility that he carries around is in part made of people turning the other cheek. The UFC stood by Jones through his 2012 DUI/crash in Binghamton, and his recent issue with cocaine, but this one is different. The word "felony" has an ominous ring to it. That sort of thing reflects poorly on the promotion. It also makes that promotion look like suckers if they just stand by. The last thing Jones needs right now is more "yes" men.

And from the look of things, what Jones really needs is some help, or a dose or reality, or possibly both. Maybe he needs new friends and associates. Maybe the move to Albuquerque from his native New York was a bad one, and he needs to reevaluate things. Whatever it is, he could do without the title at this point in time. The right thing for the UFC to do would be to take that symbolic accessory and remind everyone that there is responsibility attached to it. That the belt is really just a decal of the UFC, that the UFC -- which has helped Jones make his millions, and is the avenue for millions more -- expects better professionalism from its tenants. Jones is playing charades with the code of conduct. The code of conduct is either a real thing, or it isn’t. It applies to everyone the same, or no one. It shouldn’t be interpretable for needle movers. It's not in place to prompt skirting or justification. 

I hate moralizing. Especially in a sport where a little outlaw can go a long way. But this latest incident is more of a pattern than it is a lesson for the 27-year-old Jones. This time it’s a lesson for the UFC. And when Jones steps in the Octagon again, if he’s still carrying that belt, we’ll know what was taken from it.

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