When UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones announced his intention to move up in weight to face top heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou, it seemed like a fight fan's dream come true. Jones has established himself as one of the best fighters to ever set foot in the Octagon, and he would not only be moving up in weight, but doing so against one of the most dangerous men in the division.
In a matter of days, the situation went from exciting to frustrating with Jones now claiming to have vacated his championship and having asked the UFC for his release while calling promotion president Dana White a liar. Meanwhile, White has taken his own shots in the media, leading to a tense situation between the two sides.
Let's take a look at how we got to this point.
The build of a superfight
Fans have wanted to see Jones move up to heavyweight for years. In Ngannou, it seemed he found the ideal opponent to make that move. Jones and Ngannou began to toss around the idea of a fight following Ngannou's terrifying. Jones initially tweeted, "send the deal," after suggesting his win over Thiago Santos came against a more technical striker than the heavyweight knockout artist and a minor war of words began between the two.
First you can save the rest of your tongue pictures for your other homies and yes I’m right here, just waking up from watching that Derek Lewis fight again. You ain’t scaring nobody, I saw your heart. You’re a big old mouse, I’ll expose you https://t.co/F6FEcc4mGE— Jon Bones Jones (@JonnyBones) May 20, 2020
While the talks excited many fans at the prospects of Jones finally moving up to take on the biggest challenges available, there remained skepticism about it being real given Jones' propensity for teasing big moves in the past only to never act on them.
Talks break down
Jones wanted to be compensated for taking the risk of moving up to heavyweight to face maybe the hardest hitter in the division and it appeared to take very little time for talks to break down between Jones and the UFC. On May 21, Jones tweeted, "Currently in negotiation with @UFC as we speak." Less than 30 minutes later, Jones followed up by simply tweeting, "unbelievable."
Before even discussing numbers, the UFC was unwilling to pay more for the Francis super fight / for me to move to heavyweight. Said I could possibly earn more in pay-per-view buys.— Jon Bones Jones (@JonnyBones) May 21, 2020
Jones would go on to tweet that the UFC was unwilling to bump his pay for the Ngannou fight, with negotiations never even hitting the point of talking numbers. He also said, "It's been fun you guys, maybe I'll see you all in a year or two," but eventually backed off the idea, tweeting that he was ready to move on to a fight with light heavyweight contender Jan Blachowicz instead, "I've had some time to think about it and Im a lot less emotional. Just sad that the ufc doesn't see my value against the scariest HW in the world. Jan I guess you're next in line #badbusiness #shocked."
War of words ensues
On May 28, White spoke to ESPN and claimed, "For the amount of money [Jon Jones is] asking for, it's not gonna happen. You couldn't be asking for a more absurd amount of money at a worse time." The comments seemed to be the tipping point for Jones, as the light heavyweight champion wrote, "It's interesting to just sit here and watch your boss lie to the camera like this. We never discussed any increase in pay. Immediately the conversation was that I already made enough. I never made a number offer."
White, speaking to media ahead of UFC on ESPN 9 the following day, said Jones had demanded "what Deontay Wilder makes." Wilder, the former WBC heavyweight boxing champion, mad roughly $30 million in his most recent fight, a loss to Tyson Fury. The loss kicked off another storm of angry tweets from Jones, where the champ said, "Don't be a f---ing liar, my reputation has already taking enough hits. I don't need this bulls--- Dana. I never asked for [Deontay] Wilder's numbers. And how about since [Deontay] is making 30 million, we settle for half of that. Since you said I'm the goat and everything."
This came after White again answered questions from the media in Las Vegas where he responded to a question that Jones said he had tarnished his legacy.
"He can do whatever he wants," White said. "He wants to sit out, fight, he can do whatever. He can say whatever he wants publicly. It's his God-given right in America. He can say whatever he wants. When he's ready to come back, he can.
"In one of his tweets, he said I tarnished his name. I tarnished you? You've done a very good job of tarnishing you."
Over the weekend, Jones sent tweets suggesting the UFC release him from his contract and also said he was vacating the championship, suggesting the UFC book a fight between Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz for the vacant title.
If Jones does return, it would seem that return would be at light heavyweight. It should be noted that there are interesting fights lined up for him in the division. Dominick Reyes and Thiago Santos have strong cases for rematches, especially Reyes, who the majority of the media believe won his February fight with Jones. Jan Blachowicz has also made himself into a strong contender with a three-fight winning streak, including a February first-round knockout of Corey Anderson that positioned him as a new, fresh challenger for Jones.
Jones may or may not be serious about vacating the light heavyweight championship, and even about wanting a release from the UFC. If he is serious, he could be out of action for a year or more. White and the UFC aren't likely to suddenly back down on talk of a bump in pay, and they almost certainly wouldn't release Jones and allow a promotion like Bellator to sign an all-time great still in the prime of his career. Jones may not be willing to back down on his demands either, even for a fight in the light heavyweight division. It's a game of chicken being played during a pandemic that has completely removed a live gate from the equation. Getting these two sides to line up in ways that make sense financially may be too big of a hurdle to clear in 2020.