UFC 172 is a little over a week away, but two things are clear to anyone paying attention: Jon Jones is leaving Baltimore with his title credentials intact, and when he does there are going to be a whole pile of people dying to talk trash about him doing it.
So it goes for the best light heavyweight the sport has ever seen. Save for his battle with Alexander Gustafsson, the rangy New Yorker has never really been tested in the cage, and he's not shy about letting people know it.
In turn, people aren't shy about letting him know they think he's a self-important, sanctimonious windbag. Some of those people are fans, others are his cohorts in the 205-pound weight class.
And you know something? That back and forth between Jones and his haters is about the only thing keeping his division afloat right now.
The fact of the matter is that Jones is so far ahead of the curve as an athlete and mixed martial artist that no one is particularly close to competing with him in the cage. Gustafsson did it once and is the safest bet to do it again, but outside of him, it's a bunch of pretenders and guys Jones already dismantled.
Teixeira? His biggest win is over Ryan Bader. Yes he's demolishing guys, but he's not demolishing contenders. He won't demolish Jones. He won't even beat him.
Daniel Cormier? He's 35 years old with a single win at 205 pounds over a guy no one had ever heard of until he was being KO'd by Cormier on eight days notice. He might be a contender, but he might not. No one knows for sure because there's basically no light heavyweight resume to go on.
The rest of the pack? The less said about those guys, the better.
The bottom line is that Jones has basically cleaned out his division and has moved on to a career as a professional troll. He'll prod opponents, potential opponents, guys he'll never fight in a million years, fans, media and occasionally even his own employers.
And he can, because he's so good at what he does.
Thankfully he has so many willing verbal sparring partners, or there would be no reason to pay attention to what was once the UFC's marquee division.
Gustafsson has said he's ducking a rematch. Cormier has said basically everything he could think of to get a fight. Fans are relentless on Twitter and forums. Even Dana White will shamelessly rag on his champion if need be.
But Jones just sits back, soaks it all in, responds with snark and vitriol on occasion and trains for his fights. Then he wins those fights, and that adds even more fuel to the fire.
Six years in and still so much more to learn. Man, how exciting. Stay tuned, my prime should be just around the corner— Jon Bones Jones (@JonnyBones) April 12, 2014
Make no mistake, he's not always in the right. Actually, probably more often than not, he's completely in the wrong. Yet he'll stand up and confidently proclaim his position on things with an attitude that truly grates on people, snatching headlines and dollars from fans aching to see him pay in the cage for his actions away from it.
And right now? Right now, that's exactly what 205 needs. Because Jones has been so dominant, it's hard to sell any contender as truly serious. As a result, the only avenue to maintaining interest is a full-blown Mayweather-esque approach, where a dominant champion says and does things to keep fans engaged.
They may only be engaged to see him catch a beating, but they're engaged nonetheless.
Whether Jones is doing this consciously is another debate entirely. There was a time that it was clear he wasn't, that he was so ill-equipped to handle the PR responsibilities of an elite professional athlete that his every word and move was an immediate, unintentional train wreck.
More recently it seems that he's simply embraced that side of his personality, realizing that all the talk of Jesus and family in the world won't make him popular and that he might as well just enjoy his status as the sport's biggest heel. Realistically, the pay's probably better that way anyway.
What is a certainty, though, is that without Jones' penchant for creating headlines in interviews or 140 characters, the light heavyweight division would be far less of an attraction. His magnetism, regardless of how negative it is, is keeping people invested long enough to get them to shell out to watch him fight, and that's the name of the game.
To paraphrase a reference to a man far more popular than Jones: He's not the villain light heavyweight needs right now. He's the one it deserves.