The more I watch the attempted UFC 159 promo spot that aired during this past Saturday’s TUF 17 Finale event, the more uncomfortable it gets.
There’s UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, looking like it physically hurts him to stand still for the two minutes it takes to talk his upcoming fight. There’s Chael Sonnen, reciting the prepared material you couldn’t help but picture him practicing in the hotel bathroom mirror earlier that day. Between them is UFC play-by-play man Jon Anik, who might have had an easier time trying to interview a couple of Buicks.
And this, at least theoretically, was supposed to convince fans that a title fight months in the making – a title fight clearly chosen for its marketability and convenience rather than its logical mandate – will be worth the pay-per-view price tag on April 27. As Jones bolted from the interview while Sonnen stuck around as if expecting Anik to ask him to run down this week’s five-day forecast, you couldn’t feel the heat so much as the painful awkwardness of it all.
Speaking to John Morgan of MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) at Monday’s tryouts for “The Ultimate Fighter 18,” UFC President Dana White tried to refocus the hype by putting some words in the champ’s mouth.
“Chael and Jon Jones didn’t really talk too much smack during the season,” White said. “Now that it’s off, Jon Jones said to me the other night, ‘I’ve never actually wanted to hurt another guy that I’ve fought. I want to hurt Chael Sonnen.’ So even though they didn’t talk trash during the season, Jon Jones does not like Chael Sonnen at all.”
This rhetoric ought to be familiar to anyone who recalls that time when Georges St-Pierre totally told White that he wanted to put the worst beating we’d ever seen on Nick Diaz, as well as the time Anthony Pettis totally texted White to plead for a fight with featherweight champ Jose Aldo. Either the UFC president is not the man you want to secretly gossip about coworkers with, or else he has no problem filling in the gaps when his fighters aren’t pulling their weight in the hype department. As a fight promoter, that kind of thing is in his job description, if not his DNA.
We know that Sonnen understands how that game is played. If anything, he’s a little too eager to demonstrate just how completely he gets it, which makes him seem like a parody of himself at times. You watch that clip of him stylin’ and profilin’ next to Anik and Jones, and you start to feel like he could seamlessly transition into selling you a used car and a ticket to his traveling circus, all in the very next breath.
Jones doesn’t do that. Maybe that’s because, as the world’s greatest light heavyweight and one of the sport’s pound-for-pound best, he doesn’t have to. And, whether he’s doing it intentionally or not, his refusal to play along sort of makes Sonnen’s schtick seem even more ridiculous in contrast.
Jones is the champion, and the champion doesn’t have to hype fights to maintain relevancy. All he has to do is stay the champ. Now the UFC wants him to fight the guy whose whole thing is hype and headlines? Fine. Let him talk. Let him fulfill the duties of his office. Then when it’s time to fight, the champion can do what he does well, which is beat up professional fighters and make it look easy.
Like Jones wrote on his Twitter: “I could care less about promoting my game is winning.” It’s such a succinct explanation you can even forgive him for messing up a commonly messed up phrase (for the last time, if you could care less about something, that means you do care about it; couldn’t care less means the other thing).
By doing nothing, Jones makes Sonnen’s efforts seem even more absurd. By refusing to engage, he leaves Sonnen arguing with himself until he’s ultimately standing there alone, looking like a man who went for a high five and got left hanging.
Is Jones doing any of that on purpose? That’s a tougher one to answer, especially since it involves trying to get inside the head of an uncommonly gifted fighter who comes off as more inscrutable every time he tries to explain himself. All we know is what we can see, and from the looks of things, it sure doesn’t seem like Jones cares whether anyone is buying the stuff that comes out of Sonnen’s mouth.
Maybe that’s his way of rebelling against the culture that rewards fighters like Sonnen with more title shots than they’ve earned, but without ticking off the boss all over again. Maybe it’s all just a pleasant accident, as useful for Jones as it is uncomfortable for us to watch.
Still, if you know you’re the one who more consistently excels at the fighting part of the business, why not let the other guy do all the shouting? The nice thing about this sport is that whoever remains conscious at the end usually gets the last word.
For more on UFC 159, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.