Jon Jones proves once again to be the shining star UFC needs at a desperate time
The best fighter of all time may have just saved UFC's year with a thrilling win
Given the uneasy highs and lows of Jon Jones' personal and professional life over the past two years, it may be hard for some to receive Saturday's comeback as a true babyface turn or biblical prodigal son triumphantly marching home.
Still, Jones did and said just about all the right things in regaining his light heavyweight title overin their rematch at UFC 214 in Anaheim, California. With one swift left kick to side of Cormier's head, Jones altered his fortune from cautionary tale to a rejuvenated candidate for greatest of all-time in a win that was incredibly valuable for his legacy.
But there was no single entity which benefited more from Jones' performance than his employer, at a time that couldn't have been more opportune amid sagging pay-per-view numbers and a visible lack of crossover star power throughout a difficult 2017 under new ownership.
Nasty enough to finish Cormier in highlight-reel fashion, emotional enough to win back consumers with well-timed humility and strategic enough to further plant a seed towards a big-money superfight with Brock Lesnar, Jones was everything UFC needed him to be on this night.
Even Dana White was singing his praises at every turn, despite both Jones and the UFC's president admitting they haven't spoken to each other in more than a year since the debacle that was UFC 200.
"Incredible. What he just accomplished is next to impossible to do," White said. "To come back after such a huge layoff and especially against a determined and just nasty Daniel Cormier, who was coming after him in the fight and in his face the whole time, what Jon Jones accomplished tonight is incredible."
White was particularly upbeat considering how well the strategically stacked card appeared to be trending after a sell out at the Honda Center.
"Tonight was a big night. Tonight is trending over a million buys," White said. "It was one of the best cards we have ever done. Yeah, it's good to have [Jones] back."
White summed up his year-long silence from Jones as being "normal," referencing his history with UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz and how openly they despised each other despite doing great business together. But White took his praise of Jones on this night to a new level.
"I truly believe that Jon Jones is the best to ever do it. I think he's the best ever and had he not had these things go wrong in his personal life, God knows who he would have beat and what he would have done by now," White said. "But he's, without a doubt, the best. To come after such a huge layoff and all kinds of issues and problems, to do what he did tonight, this guy is the best to ever do it."
Nothing seems to repair broken relationships in sports quite like winning. But with Ronda Rousey fresh off two defeats and an uncertain future, Conor McGregor moonlighting in boxing while nearing a year of inactivity and Georges St-Pierre's comeback pushed off until at least November because of injury, UFC needs Jones star badly at the moment.
The best news for the company was that, at 30, he looked like he hadn't missed a beat throughout the year-long layoff. Moreover, Jones was able to put a somewhat underwhelming and tentative victory over Ovince Saint Preux from 2016 fully behind him.
Jones also did well to turn back his public image by being classy in victory, collapsing to the canvas in tears before his post-fight interview and going out of his way to praise his fallen opponent Cormier with a speech Jones later clarified as being authentic (and not pre-planned) during the post-fight news conference.
"I've always felt that way about Daniel, but it was spontaneous," Jones said. "I've always felt like he's a pretty classy guy and a guy to be respected. He's a standup champion and a model champion but unfortunately I came to this game at a young age with big ideals and there's no mercy in combat so I had to do what I had to do. It was either him or me."
In addition, Jones worked hard to put on a positive twist when recalling the struggles he endured over the past two years, making a point to remind just how self-inflicted the majority of them were.
"I was faithful through my mistakes and through criticism and things like that," Jones said. "It has been really tough. I'm not saying poor me at all. I've been a dumb ass and I've done a lot of things to make myself a laughing stock. But I stayed faithful through it all and now I'm here. So it symbolizes the power of not giving up and making the decision of trying to do better and getting your life back."
But in the end, Jones' best move after the fight was as that of a matchmaker and businessman. He returns to UFC as the much-needed face of its struggling PPV machine and despite likely being headed towards a big-money rematch against Alexander Gustafsson, Jones worked hard to put over the idea of him.
It's an idea Jones first planted a seed for during fight week, creating an instant response from an equally willing Lesnar, despite the fact that the current WWE star must first declare his intentions of coming back and then finish serving a five-month USADA suspension dating back to his two failed drug tests ahead of his one-off return at UFC 200.
Jones had a sound bite ready to deliver in the cage after defeating Cormier, which he completed with a mic drop, saying, "Brock Lesnar, if you want to know what it feels like to get your ass kicked by a guy who weighs 40 pounds less than you, meet me in the Octagon."
Despite the fact that White slow-played the idea after the fight, reiterating he hadn't talked to Lesnar in a long time and "had no idea" the current specifics of his suspension, it's clear Jones knew what he was doing in pushing for the fight. It's just as clear, taking a snapshot of UFC's current lot, just how badly the company could use a crossover fight that might challenge PPV records.
"I have no clue where this Brock Lesnar thing came from or where it started but it got serious really quick," Jones said. "Obviously my manager was like, 'It's going to be a big payday.' But my team at Jackson-Wink said, "Jon you can win that fight. You're going to have to dig deep to get to this level but you can do this.'
"So we made up in our mind that we were serious about it and it would be great for the MMA world. It would definitely break in more to the general public to the sport of mixed martial arts and that's what we need, we need to expand our sport and why not play a part in it."
Jones appeared just as calculated within the cage as he was outside of it on Saturday in a performance that illustrated just how far "Bones" has come in the span of one year.
Last July, he was a pariah to both the company and the sport, with White boldly claiming Jones would never be trusted again to headline a PPV card. One year later, Jones' triumphant return couldn't have been needed more.
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