Here is some unsolicited advice for Jon Jones' management team, offered by someone who has interviewed the UFC light heavyweight champ several times and would like to do so again: Take away your man's smart phone!
In the latest in a series of several inexplicable gaffes, Jones recently suggested to a Syracuse radio station that he will not be fighting Rashad Evans any time soon. "I'm expected," he said, "to compete against Lyoto Machida or Rampage Jackson in maybe October, mid-October."
The problem with this is that no one -- not Jones, not manager Malki Kawa, not UFC president Dana White and not matchmaker Joe Silva -- knows who he'll fight next. By mentioning fighters who aren't Evans as potential upcoming opponents, Jones makes it look once again as if he's ducking his former teammate, which he actually isn't.
A lot of fans still don't seem to understand what's gone on here, for whatever reason. At risk of repeating previous reporting, this is what is happening:
• Jones pulled out of an August title defense against Evans because he was told he would need an operation on his injured hand. The surgeon who was to perform the operation offered the opinion that it wasn't needed, but that Jones would need to rest it for awhile -- long enough, it turned out, that Jones wouldn't be able to fight in early August.
• Evans, according to multiple accounts, was given the option of waiting until Jones was ready to fight. He chose not to take it, likely because experience with several long-delayed fights has taught him the relative value of birds in the hand and those in the bush.
• Because this has become such a heated issue and because Evans is nominally the top contender in the 205 pound weight class, UFC would like to make the fight this fall. If Evans comes out of his August fight against Phil Davis with a win and no significant damage, they'll offer the fight to both camps. If Jones actually refuses it, you'll know it, because UFC executives will be screaming bloody murder to every reporter with a working telephone.
• If Evans can't take a fall title shot, Jackson, provided he wins his next fight, is probably next in line, with Machida falling in after him.
• Given everything we know, the most likely scenario is that Evans will beat Davis and fight Jones in the fall, and that it will be an enormously successful promotion that will secure Jones' place as one of the two biggest stars in fighting.
There is no real reason for any of this to be especially controversial. A fight between two world class athletes that has already led to a split in the best fight camp in the game is compelling enough on its own without a lot of extraneous nonsense surrounding it that is leading fans to believe, incorrectly, that the champion is a coward. It has been suggested to me that Jones should do his talking in the cage. I think that is probably right.
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Your big news of late was the passage through the New York State Senate of a bill legalizing mixed martial arts. The bill still has to pass the New York State Assembly and the governor's desk, but prospects for a title fight in Madison Square Garden before the advertising and media figures who will ultimately decide the sport's fate are improving.
"Last year the vote was 32-26, and this time it was 42-18, and we're excited the decision-makers in New York are looking at this sport for what it is, the safest contact sport in the world," said White in a statement.
Naturally, a lot of fans who have been following this are wondering about the role Assemblyman Bob Reilly, a famously determined opponent of the sport, will play. That misses the real issues at play here.
First, Reilly is not quite the power player here that his prominence in the fight press would have it. This is simple: If Governor Andrew Cuomo or Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver want the bill to pass, it will pass. If they don't, it won't. If they don't much care either way, it will be up to individual assemblymen to determine their interests.
Second, Reilly actually has some good points about MMA. I spoke to him at length this winter and was surprised to find that he's informed about the issues here and has coherent reasons, along with some silly ones, for opposing the sport. He thinks it's too dangerous, given what we've learned over the last few years about the effects of contact sports on the brain, which can include depression and violent behavior. He thinks that boxing should be banned as well, which strikes me as the litmus test for whether a given MMA opponent is worth listening to. (Someone who thinks boxing should be allowed but that MMA should be banned is not really worth your attention, and vice versa of course.) He's especially concerned that UFC is functionally self-regulating in many ways: Commissions will unload on a powerless individual like Chael Sonnen, but completely ignore real issues such as weight cutting and whether the Ali Act applies to fighting. None of this is worth dismissing just because Reilly seems to be a bit of a bluenose.
Finally, UFC has not covered itself in glory in its attempts to get the sport legalized in New York, where it has consistently touted the purported economic benefits of allowing fighting. This is outlandish; New York's economy is the size of Australia's, and holding a UFC card or two every year will have no effect whatever on the state's finances. Basing the argument on money, rather than on the idea that fighting is inherently a good thing, the notion that consenting adults should be allowed to do what they want to do, or on the idea that New York deserves the biggest and best of everything, betrays a rather fundamental failure to understand the market. Given the company's global ambitions, that's worth noting.
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The other big news of the week is that a fight between UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz is by now all but official. The matchup itself is fascinating because Diaz is so stylistically unique that it's hard to figure just how the fight will go. At least as fascinating for many is the question of exactly what this fight means for Strikeforce.
The answer to that is easy: Strikeforce doesn't exist. It's a collection of contracts and obligations, many of which Zuffa doesn't particularly care for. Whichever fights the company believes will make money will be made, and the integrity of the Strikeforce brand is probably as big a factor in those decisions as the integrity of the World Fighting Alliance is. That this is even a question at this point is strange; Zuffa has a pretty long track record of buying competing promotions by now, and there's no mystery as to what they do with them.