TORONTO - It wasn’t very long ago that Jon Jones could do no wrong. The athletic mixed martial artist made a meteoric rise through the UFC’s light-heavyweight division to become the youngest champion in the history of the organization.
Highly skilled, well-spoken and clean-cut, Jones was to be the poster boy for the UFC, a popular cross-over star who could take the organization into every living room in America.
But a DUI charge and a cancelled UFC event later and, boy, how things have changed.
If you happened to catch the open weigh-ins for UFC 152 on Friday afternoon, you would have thought Jones was public enemy No. 1.
The 25-year-old light-heavyweight champ from Rochester, N.Y., was booed mercilessly by fans attending this final bit of UFC business as his name was called by announcer Joe Rogan at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the old Maple Leaf Gardens and now home to the Ryerson Rams.
And Jones, usually calm, cool and collected, didn’t seem to like it one bit or even know how to react to the slight as he took the podium with shouts of “Jon Jones sucks” resonating throughout the arena. A look of hurt and disbelief appeared to come across the champ’s face as he stood on the scale searching the crowd for some allies. But there were few to be found. The usually cocky Jones never looked so out of place.
As Rogan asked him a question, Jones tried to make light of the situation by giving a thumbs-up, thumbs-down gesture to the audience, imploring them to choose whether they were for him or against him. But there was never any doubt; if this had been ancient Rome, Jones would have been a goner.
As far as Rogan’s question, you couldn’t even hear the champ reply, the boos were that loud.
All this came in stark contrast to the thunderous roar that went up as veteran Brazilian challenger Vitor Belfort climbed the podium stairs to take the scale and make the 205-pound weight. Many in the audience stood to applaud the former light-heavyweight champion and chant “Vitor, Vitor, Vitor.”
It’s no secret what Jones has done to raise the ire of fight fans, but it still was a little surprising to be on hand to witness the treatment the 6-foot-4 champion received.
UFC 151, scheduled to take place Sept. 1, was cancelled after Jones’ opponent Dan Henderson pulled out due to injury and the champion would not take a fight with fill-in Chael Sonnen on eight days’ notice.
It’s difficult to say that Jones is responsible for the cancellation, but at the same time, it’s not something UFC champions usually do; usually they take who president Dana White tells them to take if a fill-in opponent is needed. So fans are voicing their displeasure.
How will he react?
It will be interesting to see how the young champion responds to the slight from fans when he steps into the octagon on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre to defend his crown against Belfort. Jones has had to fight tough opponents before, but he has never had to fight the audience too, not like this anyway, and Jones can likely expect more boos to rain down at the ACC.
Will Jones be able to handle it? It is clear he has an ego, but it remains to be seen whether or not it is a fragile one.
Upsets often come when they are least expected. Maybe the star are aligning for an upset at the ACC. Nobody expects Belfort to win, Jones is the odds-on favourite — an 8-1 or 9-1 favourite. This is supposed to be just another fight on Jones’ rapid ascension to mixed martial arts immortality.
But will the drunk-driving charge earlier this year, the weight of a cancelled UFC on his shoulders, a veteran opponent with an impecable pedigree and now a rebelling fanbase be too much for Jones to handle?
Tune in Saturday night.