After a few days to think on it, and amid some continued fan outcry, Dana White has stepped up to bat for Jon Jones and his open handed defense.
It's amazing how a little remove and an outpouring of fan dissent will change a man's tune. Immediately post UFC 172, Dana White was echoing the voice of the people when he told Ariel Helwani that "we've got to stop that stuff," in response to Helwani's questions about Jones' open hand strategy and the eye pokes resulting from it. He's not exactly going off message now, but in a recent conversation with MMA Junkie, White was much more firm in his support for the light heavyweight champion and his actions.
White was still beating the drum of the need for fighters to keep their hands closed, and the problems that traditional open handed guards present in causing eye pokes, but steered the conversation away from "guys who have reach."
"It's not just taller fighters," he said. "Jones has that range and he can do it, but lots of guys do it because that's how you block punches. So you keep your hands open and you slap punches down. Then guys are rushing in and you're doing whatever, and guys get poked in the eyes.
Eventually he was fairly hard line in his dismissal of Jones as a repeat offender in a broken system, making it clear that most criticism is coming from a needlessly vocal fanbase who "are always going to go overboard with Jon Jones because they don't like him."
"[Jones] poked him in the eye twice, and then the referee warned him about it, and he never did it again," White said. "They're making it sound like he was targeting his eyes and sticking his fingers in his eyes the entire fight and nobody did anything about it. He did it twice, he was warned, and he never did it again in a five-round fight."
It may run somewhat contrary to his previous sentiments on the topic, but it's actually refreshing to see White going to bat for the light heavyweight champion. White is correct in his feelings that Jones will always have an uphill battle with the core UFC fanbase, but a big part of winning that battle comes from the promotion not joining in the chorus to tear him down. If the UFC can still make eye pokes a priority without making it about Jon Jones, they would probably be better off for it.