In March 2011, reigning UFC light heavyweight king Jon Jones (pictured) became the youngest champion in Octagon history at the tender age of 24. Three lopsided title defenses later, Jones was busted for DWI after wrapping his $190,000 Bentley GT around a telephone pole.
It appeared to be the beginning of a tragic tale sports fans have seen far too many times. A young, gifted athlete cashes in his lotto ticket for fame and fortune, only to implode because he isn’t able to handle his newfound superstardom.
However, Jones refused to become another statistic. Perhaps it was the embarrassment of getting bailed out of jail by his mommy that forced him to right the ship before wrecking it to the point of no return. “Bones” went on to become the first reported UFC fighter to score global sponsorship deals with sporting giants Nike and Gatorade.
Now just 26, Jones is one win away from becoming the most decorated 205-pound champ in UFC history. Dana White couldn’t be more pleased with how fast Jones was able to put his DWI in his rear-view mirror.
“Yeah, a lot of s*** happened to him,” the UFC president stated Thursday of Jones’ difficult 2012. “I just think he went through a little crazy spell there, and then he pulled himself together. When that stuff happens to a young guy with fame and money and all the things that go along with it, that stuff either happens and they pull out of it, or they go into a tailspin and it’s over.
“He pulled himself out of it, and I’m really – I hate to say I’m proud of grown men, but I’m proud of the way he handled it.”
White, who has been around combat sports for several decades, knows all about fighters believing they’re just as invincible outside of the ring as they are inside of it. He witnessed firsthand how longtime BFF Chuck Liddell was blindsided by fame when he became the face of the UFC during his heyday.
“It could go either way. I’ve seen it happen so many times,” White said of the evils athletes are confronted with. “Chuck Liddell, boom, out of nowhere he becomes rich, famous – he was crazy famous. Chuck Liddell, he was the UFC. When you thought of the UFC, you thought of Chuck Liddell.
“Chuck would walk into a club and have 50 girls with him. The things that I saw in that two-year stretch, you couldn’t believe.”
While Liddell also had his issues with alcohol, he still managed to become one of the UFC’s most dominant champions en route to punching his ticket into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Jones has nearly surpassed all of Liddell’s accomplishments, yet is several years away from sniffing the prime of his career. With still so much time remaining to attain even greater achievements, which will certainly attract a brighter spotlight, there’s plenty of time left for Jones to slip up again.
Only time will tell. Although, given how quickly Jones was able to get his life back on track, it’s tough not to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Jones defends his throne against Alexander Gustafsson Saturday at UFC 165.