Athletes are slaves to the rules of their sport. Jordan, Ali, Ruth or any other all-time sports great must master the basic skills that make up that sport. They are also, usually, able to ride the edge of the rules, whenever necessary, to come out victorious. But regardless of the competition, sport in itself is not life; it is not true or real in the sense that we have created it out of a particular set of arbitrary boundaries. Combat sports are no exception. Jon “Bones” Jones, however, seems to disagree.
Recently, Jones commented on Floyd Mayweather’s victory against Robert Guerrero, telling the listeners of Power 105.1 that:
“To be honest with you, if it was all hands, it would probably be a pretty competitive match. But that's not fighting, either. You can't be at the bar and be like, alright, no kicking, no taking me down, don't stretch my shirt out. It's not like that. What I do, I consider it to be the true art of fighting. To do everything. Fighting Floyd Mayweather wouldn't even be right. Nobody would want to see that.”
Jones’s comment misses the mark on so many levels.
First, the comment is more self-aggrandizing than truly analytical and only furthers Jones’s growing air of arrogance that, in the very least, has rubbed me the wrong way. Jones has had an impressive win streak. He is a superlative striker whose work ethic until now is unquestionable. Despite that, however, he is not the greatest fighter to step inside the Octagon. He isn’t even the greatest living champion — that distinction belongs to Anderson Silva, who holds far more records and maintains a less grandiose approach to combat that Jones could learn much from. (See the documentary “Like Water” for examples of Silva’s philosophic and humble approach to combat.)
Second, Jones’s comment completely glosses over the 60-pound difference in weight between himself and Mayweather. I would hope that he could be competitive inside a boxing ring against a man that much smaller. If, however, we could magically shrink Jones down to a welterweight, I have little doubt he would succumb to Mayweather’s boxing IQ the way so many others have.
Third, and most importantly, Jones’s viewpoint totally and utterly ignores the reality that he is a product of the MMA rules within which he competes. His laudable striking skills are merit-worthy within the specific, arbitrary and unrealistic set of rules that the UFC currently employs. Jones, like anyone else inside the UFC, or another MMA promotional company, or any boxer for that matter, does not practice the “true art of fighting.”
In a fight, a wise man once told me, the only rule is “Win!” There is no prohibition against groin shots, eye gouging, punches to the back of the head or knees to the spine as exist in the UFC. On the street, when your safety, or that of a loved one, is threatened, the primordial dominates; the id will transform itself into any physical form that can help it prevent subjugation by another. There is no “Big” John McCarthy there to say, “No, don’t do that.”
It seems that Jones has forgotten that he only fights men below 205 pounds. Maybe he doesn’t even realize that the UFC has undergone considerable changes in an effort to appeal to a wider audience. The closest a sport has ever come to true fighting is the early UFC tournaments. Back then there were only two rules: no biting and no eye gouging. Weight classes didn’t exist, and groin shots were legal! And that had a profound effect on fight strategy; just ask Joe Son and Keith Hackney. If I’m ever in a fight and someone tried to put me into a guillotine, you can be sure my response will likely resemble that of Hackney. That is reality, or as close as has been legal in modern America. How might have Jones fared in this Wild West version of combat? We’ll never know. Yet, that is beside the point, as even those early UFC tournaments had rules and were therefore outside the reach of true fighting.
Jones is a great fighter. I look forward to many more years of watching him ply his trade inside the Octagon. But before he creates hypothetical match-ups across sports, without regard for rules or weight parameters, however, he should focus on dominating his own sport. Not only does he have Anderson Silva’s shadow to contend with, but Jones has many other worthy contenders against which he can prove his greatness: Dan Henderson, Daniel Cormier or Cain Velasquez are three I would like to see Jones fight soon.
Combat sports afford us drama, a shadow of the brutalities of true fighting, that in modern society are too difficult to face daily, but are nonetheless present. Boxing and MMA are windows looking out into the chaos of true fighting, all the more enjoyable for the distance from reality.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.