Jon Jones-Francis Ngannou saga should hold lesson for UFC fighters | Opinion
In many ways, Jon Jones is the Floyd Mayweather of mixed martial arts.
Both are the greatest talents of their generations in their respective sports. Mayweather used an otherworldly skill set to surpass Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record, the holy grail of boxing stats. Jones is considered by many the best pound-for-pound talent MMA has ever seen, as he’s well into his 13th year without a legitimate professional defeat.
Mayweather and Jones also are not angels. Mayweather was jailed over domestic abuse charges. Jones has an ongoing history of legal issues, which flared up again just a couple months ago. But both their talents and personalities are such that the public comes back around and pays good money to see them ply their considerable skills.
That’s where the comparisons between Mayweather and Jones diverge.
Mayweather’s nickname, after all, is “Money,” and he’s made an astounding amount of it over the course of his career. Mayweather leveraged his fame into forming his own promotional company.
Mayweather earned a disclosed $100 million fight purse for his bout with Conor McGregor in 2017. That’s before his pay-per-view cut and his co-promoter’s cut.
Jones, for his last fight against Dominick Reyes at UFC 247, had a disclosed purse of $500,000 before his pay-per-view points kicked in.
That’s an unfair comparison of a once-in-a-generation spectacle against an ordinary fight, you say? Fine. Let’s pick an ordinary Mayweather matchup. For Mayweather’s 2014 fight with Marcos Maidana – whose claim to fame for the rest of his life will be that he fought Mayweather – Mayweather’s disclosed purse was $32 million for a bout that did under a million buys.
Jones, the UFC light heavyweight champion, is never going to get Mayweather money, as he’s simply not the transcendent cultural icon Mayweather has become. But you can understand why a fighter of Jones’ caliber, when psyching himself up to take on the challenge of a monster like top heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou, believes he’s earned a guaranteed payday commensurate to his stature as the very best at what he does.
Ngannou has absolutely wrecked his opposition during his current streak of four knockout victories in 1:11 or less. A potential move to heavyweight has long been one of Jones’ most interesting sub-plots, but no potential superfight has captured fans’ imaginations like that of Jones vs. the 265-pound division’s current Man of the Hour.
Jones just thinks that the company for which he’s contracted to fight, which had enough money sitting around this year to pay out $300 million to celebrity vanity investors like Ben Affleck and Giselle Bunchen, should cough up a few more bucks to make a dangerous fight against an opponent roughly 40 pounds heavier.
So he did what few in the UFC’s orbit dare: He took his money considerations public, then expressed his disappointment when it became clear they weren’t going to be met.
“Just sad that the ufc doesn’t see my value against the scariest HW in the world,” Jones tweeted.
It’s worth considering that while Jones vs. Ngannou offers the UFC the potential for plenty of reward, the idea there is no risk on the promotion’s end simply isn’t true. There is plenty of downside for the loser’s future as an elite draw, depending on how the fight plays out.
Jones getting knocked out by Ngannou in a manner similar to the way Ngannou has steamrolled several of the best heavyweights is a real possibility. Then there’s another distinct possibility: Jones neutralizes Ngannou for five rounds in a manner similar to Stipe Miocic at UFC 220. If this happened the second time Ngannou reaches championship-caliber competition, but this time to someone from a weight class down, it would be hard to go through yet another rebuild as a drawing card.
“Obviously that’s a fight that people would love to see,” White told ESPN on Friday. “These guys are talking a lot of smack back and forth. I don’t see that fight happening. I don’t see that fight happening.”
There was no follow-up question on why White doesn’t see the fight happening, but we know this: There’s money to be made in running back Jones’ fight with Dominick Reyes. But there’s a hell of a lot more money in Jones vs. Ngannou, enough that, unless Jones came in with a completely unreasonable demand, should make both Endeavor and the UFC more than enough profit to justify the risk.
It’s the type of roll of the dice the company certainly would have taken during the Fertitta era. White’s lack of interest in pursuing Jones vs. Ngannou underscores, in case there was any remaining doubt, that those days are over.
We should point out here, too, the tacit role managers play in this ecosystem. There are exceptions, like Audie Attar and Paradigm Sports Management, who leveraged McGregor’s champ-champ status into McGregor’s own promotional company, a ridiculously large payday to box Mayweather, and a successful whiskey brand.
But on any given major fight week, you’re as likely to see some managers publicly praise White as much as they do their own clients. Can you even conceive of this happening with, say, the agents of the leading NBA stars? How about a little less cheerleading the promoter and a little more noise about the fact UFC fighters make about 15 percent of the pie compared to the 50/50 split in most other sports?
Maybe we’re at the beginning of the turning point. Henry Cejudo basically walked away and told the UFC to give him a call when they can meet his price. Jones went public in saying he should be better paid for accepting major challenges than he should for an ordinary title defense. If a few more of the biggest-name stars start doing the same, things might change.
Or perhaps from here, Jones will fall back into line. After all, $500,000 plus pay-per-view points is still a hell of a lot better than what most people are earning during an uncertain time. But in an era in which people are terrified to rock the boat, Jones was unafraid to speak up in public and ask for his fair share in order to climb one of the biggest mountains, and that should count for something, too.