As my friend Scott Hale explained to me last week, “Jon Jones is the one.” There is always a “one” in every major sport, that single player that takes it to a new level and ingrains that sport into the American psyche.
In pro football it was Joe Namath, at least in my opinion, who took the burgeoning NFL from simply a cool game on Sunday into the stratosphere above and beyond college football. Pro basketball has had four such players: Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and, of course, Michael Jordan. What’s funny about basketball is that even though the sport is designed for the advent of celebrity star power, it’s still found a way to get itself into a financial mess.
That’s another story, right? Baseball has had a myriad of in the American conscience stars. Boxing had Muhammed Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Mike Tyson. Golf had Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and now Tiger Woods. Even NASCAR had Dale Earnhardt and today Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon and Jr. Hockey? Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky.
UFC has Jon “Bones” Jones. Jones won’t take Mixed Martial Arts to the next level just because he’s the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion of the world. That’s too easy. He won’t take the sport to the next level because he fights for Dana White and the Fertittas. No, the reason that Jones will take the sport to the next level is because, like his predecessors MJ, Magic, Ali and Namath, Jones isn’t just one of the very best athletically that the sport has ever seen, he’s also the most charismatic and, at the end of the day, a fighter that American audiences can relate to.
MMA is a worldwide sport phenomenon. As impressive as that is, consumerism exists chiefly in the United States and the audience that will always have the greatest potential for any sport succeeding, if marketed correctly, is in the U.S. UFC’s slate of champions reads like a multi-cultural center run version of “We Are the World”:
Yes, it’s true that Dominick Cruz, Cain Velasquez, and Frankie Edgar are all Americans, but Velasquez is on the shelf and hasn’t gotten a chance yet to show how awesome he truly is after destroying Brock Lesnar. His overall appeal should be great, but UFC appears to be moving on by putting the defeated Lesnar into the next TUF series versus Junior Dos Santos. Cruz and Edgar are relatively known, not well-known, and both fight in the smaller divisions. As with boxing, unless you’re the absolute best in the sport, ala a Manny Pacquaio or Floyd Mayweather Jr., it’s tough to get noticed as a small dude. The other three UFC Champions, Jose Aldo, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre, aren’t Americans.
That leaves Jones. Jones, because of his good looks, undeniable charm, and incredible Octagon abilities, is the first fighter that UFC has ever seen that could, possibly, demand his own price. That’s a big deal and one that, in my opinion, Dana and the Fertittas might be worried about.
Jones is gifted and smart enough, and incredibly disciplined enough, to build on his star power. Under the right management, Jones could literally take himself into the discussion of brilliance that’s usually only reserved for a player in one of the major sports or someone like Iron Mike, Ali, or Joe Broadway.
Whether or not UFC allows Jon “Bones” Jones to take them along for the ride is another matter altogether.
Until next time, stay off the mat.