“Best pound-for-pound fighter in the world” is arrested and stripped of title

Jon ‘Bones’ Jones, reigning champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship light-heavy weight division, was arrested last week following a hit and run incident on April 26th. Following the incident, Dana White (President of the UFC) announced on Fox Sports Live that Jones would be stripped of his titles, and indefinitely suspended from the championship. He could now also be facing up to a 3 year prison sentence.

Jones is reported to have run a red light in Albuquerque, and caused a pile-up with two other vehicles. The collision left the pregnant Vanessa Sonnenberg with a broken arm. Rather than help, Jones fled the scene on foot, only returning to retrieve cash from his vehicle before fleeing once more. He was identified as he ran by an off-duty police officer, and through documents left in his car. Alongside them was a used marijuana pipe.

He tweeted “Got a lot of soul searching to do. Sorry to everyone I’ve let down”.

Got a lot of soul searching to do. Sorry to everyone I’ve let down

Dana White interviewed Jones after the event: “Obviously he didn’t say a lot”, as his lawyers are still hard at work, but “he’s upset. He wanted to go down as one of the greatest ever”. Nevertheless, “it was a decision we had to make”.

This isn’t the first time Jones’ misdemeanours have been in the limelight. White said: “Jones had a lot of chances,” “this was his last.” In 2011 Jones was convicted for driving with a suspended license, and only seven months later was taken in for driving whilst intoxicated. More recently, Jones has been fined $25,000 for failing a test for cocaine metabolites.

(Picture credit//mmafighting.com)
(Picture credit//mmafighting.com)

Nevertheless, the developments have rocked Jones’ division. With a record of 21 wins to 1 loss, he was named earlier this year by the UFC as the best pound-for pound fighter in the world, and his absence leaves an unmistakable vacuum in the championship. His fighting style is unpredictable, implementing brutal spinning elbows, and as a fighter he is notoriously tenacious. On one occasion, he allowed his arm to be hyper-extended after refusing to submit, before going on to win the fight, and leave the octagon in a sling. Jones was down to face the number one contender, Anthony Johnson, on May 23rd, who will now face the number three contender Daniel Cormier instead. With Jones removed, a real opportunity has been handed to both fighters.

Anthony Johnson tweeted to Jones after the announcement: “best of luck with everything bro. Regardless of everything, you are still the greatest light heavyweight of all time” – revealing a remarkable degree of respect. Johnson’s comment perfectly demonstrates the social extremes in the sport. There’s scope for immense respect and sportsmanship between fighters; Anderson Silva even invited one of his opponents to a barbeque after a fight. Yet there’s also room for some particularly aggressive trash talking. Some of Connor McGregor’s highlights include: “I will break your hip, old man,” and “I will rest my balls on your forehead”.

The twitter-sphere has been alive with other fighters’ responses to the incident. Overwhelmingly, they are in favour of the UFC’s decision. Scott Jorgenson tweeted: “Proud the UFC took a stand and did what is right”. Michael Chiesa similarly posted: “Being a champion isn’t just about winning fights. This was the right decision by the UFC”.

Being a champion isn’t just about winning fights. This was the right decision by the UFC

At the top of all sports, the fame and money can get into your head. We’ve seen it in football, NFL, cricket, and even golf. However, perhaps something about Mixed Martial Arts especially disposes people to ‘delinquent’ behaviour. I talk not of the sport’s violence, but rather of the ego required to compete. The sport manifests perhaps the most visceral and fundamental overcoming of your opponent. It’s not a sport you can step into if you don’t believe in yourself, simply because losing is so physically painful. Who would choose to enter the Octagon, believing they were about to have their features carefully rearranged? I wouldn’t be surprised if, down to the bottom of every division, every fighter was endowed with a genuine sense of invulnerability. Of course, for those at the very top of the sport, this sensation is even more potent. Perhaps this can explain Jones’ long string of repeated offences, despite all official warnings.

However, when we talk in this fashion, we must be wary of how we portray these martial arts. People do complain of the violent mentality instilled by training people to fight in this way. Yet, I wonder if these complaints would be made after incidents involving Karate or Kung-Fu students. Popular culture portrays these arts as manifestations of discipline, self-restraint, and even self-transcendence. Practically, however, there can be very little difference between studying Western and Eastern martial arts. In fact, many elements of Karate and Kung-Fu are incorporated into MMA, and something like boxing can also instil immense discipline. Is there even something vaguely orientalist in this glorification of stereotyped Eastern combat sports?

Therefore I would claim the most important thing is not to tar a whole sport with Jones’ brush. Looking at Jones’ long run of drug and driving related misdemeanours, it seems to be yet another case of a top-class sporting star going off the rails. He is individually culpable, his co-competitors are not. We should focus on the contenders’ responses to Jones’ removal. And on a more intriguing question: what will happen when the great champion is permitted to return?