By Sonny Sachdeva, January 15 2015 —
January was a tumultuous month for Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Jon “Bones” Jones.
Just three days after defeating bitter rival Daniel Cormier via unanimous decision on Jan. 3rd, defending his Light Heavyweight Championship for the eighth consecutive time and further solidifying his place as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Jones released a statement via Yahoo Sports that he was checking himself into a drug treatment facility.
Further details emerged when the UFC stated that Jones was given a random drug test on Dec. 4 where he tested positive for benzoylecgonine — the main metabolite in cocaine. On average, benzoylecgonine can be detected in urine for up to five days, and in some cases, up to 10.
As cocaine is not banned by the Nevada Athletic Commission when it does not interfere with competitions, Jones wasn’t punished. The failed drug test didn’t affect his championship bout with Cormier, as he passed a later drug test and never tested positive for performance-enhancing substances.
Yet the ordeal had a significant impact on Jones and the UFC in terms of public perception by disrupting the organization’s attempts to find mainstream success.
The UFC has made great strides towards this goal. While fighting was once considered too barbaric for mainstream viewing, the guidance of president Dana White brought about a change in public perception, allowing them to develop partnerships with well-known names like Fox Sports and Reebok.
That being said, professional sports in North America have long been dominated by the four powerhouse leagues — the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB. While the UFC is inching closer to that elite group, they’re still miles away.
In Jones, they have the one thing that could take them there — a true marquee star. The story is already written. He’s the youngest champion in UFC history, a fighter who is not only physically gifted, but also the most creative martial artist the sport has seen.
His electric personality has landed him sponsorships with Nike, Gatorade and Reebok — partnerships that were previously off-limits for UFC fighters.
He’s exactly the type of star the UFC needs to build itself around to earn greater public acceptance.
Despite this, the young champion’s antics are making it difficult for fans to rally around him.
First there was the incident in 2012 when Jones was charged with driving under the influence. Then there’s the growing perception that Jones’ polite public demeanor is a false front to gain mass appeal. And now, sinking him even lower, is the revelation of substance abuse.
Despite his continued athletic prosperity, Jones’ personal decisions continue to cloud his path towards stardom.
His opportunity is now. With former superstars Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva fading into the background, the UFC is the Jon “Bones” Jones show through and through.
Just as the NHL has Sidney Crosby and the NBA has Lebron James, the UFC has “Bones.”
But the unfortunate consequence of becoming the league’s marquee star is the responsibility to remain focused entirely on the game.
These other marquee figures are prone to keeping squeaky clean public personas for a reason — they understand that they represent more than themselves or their team. They represent their sport as a whole.
Jones has a chance to be the one to legitimize the UFC among professional sports in North America, but he must first show that he’s willing to fully embrace the opportunity and all that comes with it.