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The UFC's Paradigm Shift: Jon Jones Isn't One Of Us

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UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones isn't like us. In a sport that prides itself on fighters being recognizable and approachable everymen, that presents some public relations problems. Jonathan Snowden explains.

Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Jon "Bones" Jones is the chosen one, the fighter hand picked by UFC management to represent the company as it journeys uncharted waters directly into the heart of mainstream America. On the surface, he's perfectly suited for the role. Good looking, charming, intelligent, quick to smile, Jones seems like a nice guy. He can charm the socks off of Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, or your grandmother on Tuesday and fight like a cornered wolverine on Saturday. Jon Jones is a great Dr. Jekyll; "Bones" Jones a particularly nasty Mr. Hyde.

Unfortunately, Jones just isn't quite clicking. There's something about Jones people don't care for, something beyond their ability to articulate. You can't point your finger at it, but some fans at their core seem to be rejecting Jones. They understand, probably without knowing exactly why, that Jones doesn't represent the MMA ethos as we know it.

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Mixed martial arts has always been different than traditional sports. We're told the fighters are just like us. Regular folk, college graduates, achievers who just happen to work harder and have scary levels of dedication and pain tolerance. Jones is a departure from that. He's so obviously gifted that the standing narrative doesn't fit. Jones' isn't a story of hard work and dedication, though he undoubtedly puts in work at the gym. It's a tale of physical gifts. He's not just like the rest of us - he's been in the spotlight since he was barely out of his teens. In short, Jones is MMA's first mainstream athlete in the worst sense of the word.

He's been carefully protected, meticulously coached and told he was special. He has more in common with basketball or tennis prodigies than a typical fan or fellow fighter. At 20 he turned pro. Three months later he was in the UFC. Things have fallen into place like that for Jones. Even his athletic struggles are gilded and golden, his single loss a result of being a little too aggressive in his overwhelming slaughter of Matt Hammill, disqualified for a downward elbow that caved in his opponent's face.

In many ways, these are good problems. It just requires a shift of focus, a change in narrative, a paradigm shift. Jon Jones isn't your everyman. He's an athletic god, a millionaire before the age of 25. You don't aspire to be Jon Jones any more than you aspire to be Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan. Jon Jones isn't one of us - he's better than us.