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In leadup to rematch with Gustafsson, Jones, UFC clash

Photo: Carlos M. Saavedra/SI/Getty Images

As the UFC's reigning light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones has entered into a battle of wills with company president Dana White.

It's not exactly a brawl, but jabs continue to be thrown back and forth between Jon Jones and the UFC.

The promotion seemed to be picking a fight with its light heavyweight champion last month when Dana White, the company president and blowtorch, told reporters that a rematch with Alexander Gustafsson was set for August. Well, it was set except for the one 205-pound detail not in the room: Jones hadn't yet signed a fight agreement. This smelled of strong-arm tactics, feeding fans the news that a bout many of them were excited to see was hanging in the balance while the champ dillydallied.

Of course, the promotion's spin machine twisted the story around into a we're-a-happy-family portrait once Jones met with White and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta. After all parties smiled at each other and gave bro-hugs, the bosses persuaded the octagon king to abandon his stance that Daniel Cormier was a more appealing option as a challenger. Actually, the champ held on to that, saying in a UFC press release: "I think Cormier is the tougher fighter, but the fans want to see me fight Gustafsson." The important part of that statement is the last part. The press release was to announce an agreement for Jones to fight Gustafsson on Sept. 27.

So all's well that ends well, right? There never was any discontent here, we were told, just a miscommunication, since Jones and his manager were in Brazil when the UFC was trying to nail down the details of the Gustafsson rematch -- and we all know that there are no phones in Brazil. Stuff gets said, then it's forgotten. And now? Say cheese, everyone.

That might have closed the book, or at least this chapter, if the topic of the UFC's premature announcement hadn't come up when Jones was a guest of Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of the MMAfighting.com show The MMA Hour. "I thought it was unprofessional," said Jones. "I thought it was a bullying technique, bully-style."

Hmm, maybe the wound's not entirely scabbed over. And how do you combat a bully's attack? By pushing back, which Jones did during the same interview. Dana White has been floating Stockholm as a possible site of the Gustafsson fight, which certainly would boost the promotion's work-in-progress profile in Europe. But Jones snuffed that out on Monday.

"It won't be Sweden. No chance," he said. "I have no reason to. I'm the champ, and he's the challenger. I don't find it appropriate for me to go to his backyard."

You'd have to be a real hater to find fault in the champ for that, though I have to acknowledge that it would be a boss move for him to go beat the guy up in his backyard. Still, this is Jones shining light on a concept that seems obscure to many fighters: The athletes in the UFC are independent contractors with different interests at stake than the promotion. Just as it was wise of Jones to turn down that short-notice title fight with Chael Sonnen nearly two years ago, even though it resulted in the cancellation of UFC 151, Jones is doing the smart thing by putting his own interests first here. That's what Dana White does, and that's what makes him a thriving businessman.

HAVING SECOND THOUGHTS? NOT REALLY

It was late on Saturday night, and in the quiet aftermath of a quieter fight card that meandered from low-key to ho-hum, a couple of things seemed to have settled into a haze of certainty. Demetrious Johnson had further solidified his standing as the king of 125-pound fighters with a graceful, self-assured performance in the main event, and in the co-main Rory MacDonald had brought home some of the goods his young career had been promising for years.

These two artful outings brightened up the future, and roads opened up. But rather than spout off on what I thought the UFC should do with its flyweight champ and top welterweight contender, I just took a deep breath and tossed out a possibility and an uncertainty. And where did that open-minded attitude get me? Nowhere. Within a half hour of me pressing the key on my laptop to send in my story, Dana White was painting a different picture, definitive in a "wasn't it obvious?" way. Guess the UFC president and I didn't coordinate our messages very well.

What I wrote about Johnson: "Well, where and when the champ fights next and the identity of the man who'll next stand across the cage from him are yet to be determined."

What Dana White said on the Fox Sports 1 postfight show: "Dodson makes the most sense. I mean, Dodson is the man. That fight was awesome."

My retraction: OK, yes, John Dodson is the logical next opponent for "Mighty Mouse," because he gave the champ his toughest challenge yet in a competitive fight that went the distance last year. And "The Magician" has honed even more tricks since then, knocking out of both guys he's faced. He's ready.

But I left the door open for other possibilities because it sounded like Johnson had something else in mind. The champ kept mentioning Brad Pickett, the longtime bantamweight who is one of only two men -- the other being then-champ Dominick Cruz -- to own a victory over "Mighty Mouse." The fact Pickett is a thrill-a-minute guy, having earned Knockout or Fight of the Night bonuses on six of his last nine workdays, doesn't hurt the appeal of this potential title bout. But the appropriately nicknamed "One Punch" has had just one flyweight fight, so he probably should fancy up his little resume a bit before getting a shot.

That leaves Dodson as, yes, the man. But that's not to say White is blindly committed to him. "I'm not saying that's the next fight we're doing," the poobah said on the postfight show, "but I like it."

Me, too.

Now on to what I wrote about Rory MacDonald: "MacDonald, the local boy, sure gave TV viewers and cageside ticketholders their money's worth, with a thorough thrashing that puts him in the driver's seat for the next shot at champ Johny Hendricks."

What Dana White said: "The kid is coming into his own. He's great. But Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler -- the winner of that fight gets the next title shot."

My retraction:

Yeah, that space was left blank on purpose. Maybe I'm just stubborn, but I'm not ready to concede that I was misguided in anointing MacDonald. He's No. 2 among welterweights in the SI.com rankings, so from our angle, he's next in line. The UFC's own rankings do slot Lawler ahead of MacDonald, and while an argument easily can be made for Robbie, I just don't put much weight behind the official Top 15s. Even though they're voted on by media, the panel is missing a lot of the sport's most legitimate opinion-makers, perhaps because the UFC has brazenly manipulated its rankings as part of contract negotiations.

Maybe rather than saying MacDonald is in the driver's seat, we should take that analogy further and place him at the finish line, having already turned in a rocket-fueled time trial. Now Rory gets to sit and wait to see if either Lawler or Brown, who climb into their driver's seats next month, can catch up to him.

TIME IS MONEY...OR NOT

People in MMA not named Dana White often complain about fighter pay, but no one's come up with a workable solution. Until Mike Garret, that is. The young Brit stepped into a Warriors Combat cage last Friday night in London and knocked out his opponent in 3.5 seconds. No matter what amount is written on your paycheck, the hourly wage has got to be astronomical on a workday like that.

Then again, it sort of represented an hourly salary cut for Garret, who in his most recent previous bout, back in January, KO'd his opponent in just 1.3 seconds.

The only problem: Garret fights as an amateur.

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