First things first: I’m rooting for Jon Jones. I want him to follow through on his self-improvement goals, focus on humility, turn his life around. Over the last 18 months or so, it seemed he was making progress in that direction. In September 2018, shortly after a performance-enhancing drug suspension was substantially reduced, a contrite Jones declared himself ready to chase greatness, calling his quest “Comeback Season.”
It was a song we’d heard him sing several times before, but at least this time, the early returns were promising. The first sign was his activity. After a multi-year tear of trouble routinely sidelining him from action, he suddenly found some consistency in the cage. From March 2019 to February 2020, he fought three times, marking his most active stretch since he competed three times in nine months from December 2011 to September 2012. And while his victories weren’t the jaw-dropping performances of old, he still emerged with a trio of wins, re-solidifying himself as the king of the light heavyweights, and just as importantly, positioning himself as a threat to move up and fight UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic in a legitimate superfight.
The last of those victories was barely over a month ago, but any of the goodwill he rebuilt for himself is gone after the events of early Thursday morning, when Jones was arrested yet again, this time for allegedly discharging his Glock and aggravated driving while intoxicated along with two other charges.
While the charges filed against him by the Albuquerque, N.M., police are misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors, respectively, the classifications cannot hide the fact that if they are proven to be true, Jones endangered the public and himself yet again with his reckless actions. He allegedly shot off a gun in downtown Albuquerque. Whether it was accidental or done purposely, he could have taken a life. He allegedly drove his car while under the influence. He could have taken a life.
We are long past the point where we can say Jones is a young man making dumb mistakes. He is a few months shy of his 33rd birthday. He has millions of dollars, he has children, he has a record as one of the best fighters the sport has ever known. He’s also screwed up royally many times in the past. We won’t recount them all here, but suffice it to say, his timeline of arrests and legal woes is as lengthy as his list of MMA achievements, and that is a statement of its own.
The reaction to Jones’ arrest was swift, with most understandably angry that Jones was back making the same bad decisions he’s made before. It’s easy to slam him for yet another horrific misstep, and many won’t miss the chance to do so, but there should be no joy in his struggles. Neither should the focus be on how his legal woes will affect him professionally, or where he will next fall in the UFC schedule. It should be about him getting clean and sober.
Nearly all of Jones’ troubles have been self-inflicted, and they nearly all have one thing in common: Jones was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Over the years, Jones has candidly discussed his thoughts on addictive substances. He has been remarkably open and engaging and complex, and frankly, such vulnerability is easy to appreciate. At various times, he has rationalized his drug consumption, denied addiction, confirmed addiction, casually admitted recreational cocaine use, and discussed his ongoing battle with sobriety.
It has been a lengthy process for him to accept his problem, and perhaps the lesson hasn’t yet totally sunk in. On a human level, it’s not too late. Many of us struggle to accept our flaws, to acknowledge our imperfections and to commit to solutions. Jones isn’t alone in this regard, he’s just a higher-profile case than the rest of us. I would no more doom him to failure than I would doom a family member who suffered through the same issues. I would ask, implore, and beg them to face their issue head on, like a fight. Like the only fight that matters.
That’s where Jones’ head should be now. Not on public relations or his career or anything but seeing clearly where this is all headed if he doesn’t address it. If he continues on his current path, he may not stop until the very worst happens and he loses it all. But a better path remains.
He has millions of dollars, he has healthy children, he has a record as one of the best mixed martial artists the sport has ever known. He has time to right his wrongs and the means to continue the privileged existence that he’s created through his own work and talent. He can still build on this life. But for all his skills, achievements and gifts, none of it is a solution. Not money or reach or endurance. Of all of the things that make him so great, only one intangible matters now: will. This is the greatest fight of his life, and the outcome is all up to him.