This weekend (Sat., April 23, 2016), all-time great former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will finally make his awaited return to the Octagon when he faces Ovince St. Preux in the main event of UFC 197 from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Jones has been out of action since he beat arch rival Daniel Cormier via unanimous decision at January 2015’s UFC 183 in a bout that feels like it took place ages ago. Unlike many other MMA stars of the current era, however, Jones’ absence was not due to injury.
No, “Bones” was infamously stripped of his belt in the aftermath of an incredibly tumultuous early part of 2015 that saw him fail an out-of-competition drug test for cocaine, spend one day in rehab for it, and ultimately succumb to much more serious charges when he broke the arm of a 25-year-old pregnant woman in a highly publicized early morning hit-and-run accident in his adopted home of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Jones paid the price for those acts in the form of 18 months probation and 72 public appearances to warn children of the consequences of mistakes like his, yet even those circumstances apparently couldn’t keep him out of trouble, as he was jailed for violating probation after receiving a slew of tickets during a traffic stop for alleged drag racing.
While those offenses are currently under examination when allegations of racial profiling and other misuse of the law was alleged against the officer in question by Jones’ legal team, there’s is more than obviously a much bigger issue in play, and that’s Jones’ seeming inability to stay out of trouble despite having the mixed martial arts (MMA) world as his proverbial fingertips when it comes to pure fighting talent and skill.
At this point in his triumphant yet troubling tale, it’s lead to a pair of stark contrasts for Jones; ones that have him compared in many ways to decorated, legendary boxers Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson.
On one hand, Jones’ performances in the cage can easily tie him to the body of work of the the aptly-named “Greatest” Ali, who not only transcended the sport of boxing with his amazing 56-5 record, not only with his historic rivalries with Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, and Sonny Liston, but also for his outspoken and trail-blazing accomplishments in the field of civil rights when he refused to fight in the Vietnam War and gave up a portion of his prime years to stand up for his religious and political beliefs.
No, Jones has not done anything remotely close to what Ali did in terms of truly influencing and vitalizing an entire race to stand up for themselves in the face of oppression, and it’s doubtful that he ever will. However, he does have the chance to turn his career around and be remembered as the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time, a title he may already be deserving of based on his in-cage accomplishments alone.
And a lot of that starts with the appearances he’s been forced to make due to his court-levied punishments. If Jones truly practices what he preaches and serves as an example of how troubled children can turn their lives around, then he’ll be remembered as one of the greats and most likely even the greatest as Ali was. Despite his popularity and unique progress in a torn world, Ali was far from perfect, and Jones need not be either.
He simply has to tow the line and stay out of trouble.
But there’s a far more dark and disappointing contrast to the boxing world that is a definite possibility for the one they call “Bones,” and that’s ending up being compared to the ultra-talented but perhaps even more troubled former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
Like Jones, Tyson won the title at an extremely young age, and also like Jones, the results of stardom that early obviously had their adverse effects on what could have been an all-time great career. Like Jones, Tyson was stripped of a significant part of his prime based on his own mistakes when he was also incarcerated, although for far more nefarious reasons.
After shockingly losing his belt to James “Buster” Douglas in arguably the biggest upset of all-time in early 1990, Tyson was subsequently arrested for the rape of Miss Black Rhode Island winner Desiree Washington in July 1991 while awaiting his highly looked forward-to fight with new champion Evander Holyfield, who had won the belt from Douglas in his next fight.
“Iron Mike” was convicted as a jury found him brutish and arrogant, and an appeal from his legal counsel Alan Dershowitz fell upon deaf ears. Tyson was sentenced to six years in prison and four years probation, and even he was released after three and went on to contend for the heavyweight crown following his release, he was clearly never the same after his sad legal troubles.
Tyson is still regarded as one of the most fearsome boxers of his era and even all-time, but it’s clear that he could have been so, so much more.
That brings to the more cautionary comparison of Jones to Tyson, because while it’s clear that “Bones’s” legal troubles, while most certainly egregious and disappointing in their own right, are not quite as serious as Tyson’s more violent offense, and could probably be corrected if the UFC legend would only so choose to avoid foolish carrying on late at night.
The dynamic means that Jones is without a doubt at a career crossroads, one that will almost assuredly define the rest of his days as a fighter and will also most likely be based on his behavior outside of the cage more so than his performances inside of it.
He may not transcend nor define an era like Ali did, but he can certainly takes steps in that direction. Tyson, on the other hand, was more fraught with drug addiction, bankruptcy troubles, and a string of disappointing losses after a sub-prime version of himself emerged from the Indiana Youth Center in 1995. Jones could most certainly go down that dark road himself, as he was warned by a New Mexico judge that he ‘wouldn’t like it’ if he were to appear in front of him again.
Jones has gotten off comparatively easy for his offenses by most accounts, but there’s little doubt that repeat offenses will yield far more damaging results, and that’s simply something his otherwise stellar MMA career can’t handle at this point.
It’s up to him to prove to the entire MMA community, his friends, his family, his peers, and his employers that he is motivated to stay sober and continue building the legacy of the best MMA fighter that ever lived. He has the golden opportunity to have more than a second or even third chance, and he can use it to be considered a legend like a Ali.
Or, he can let his own demons dominate his behavior and end a cautionary footnote in combat sports history like Tyson is. The burden is on his shoulders, and just where this rollercoaster ride is headed next is wholly unknown.
Will it be a fun ride? Only “Bones” can decide that for himself, and in doing so, he will define a legacy that even he may not know the lasting ramifications of.