The light heavyweight division has historically been the marquee division in the UFC, with stars like Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture formerly taking center stage in years past. The attention to the division continued in 2015, but it isn’t for the right reasons. Two of the top three fighters in the division have been on the wrong side of the headlines recently, and the prognosis for a recovery back into the positive side of the limelight has yet to be determined. Jon Jones has had a troubled past from the start, and this April he was involved with a hit and run accident where he hit another car causing a pregnant passenger to break her wrist, before grabbing some unknown items and fleeing the scene on foot. He was stripped of his belt less than a month away from defending it for a 9th time against Anthony Johnson. Jones has been almost completely silent since the incident, and a plea deal is allegedly in the works to get Jones off with the least punishment possible to enable a return to fighting.
Johnson has had a troubled past and it has frequently been involving women, most significantly domestic violence. Johnson recently came under fire for going on a misogynistic rant over a woman who was apparently rude to him, and he bragged about handling the situation by using harsh language and throwing the woman’s yoga mat, then yelling obscenities at the press for writing about the situation at UFC 191 after his win. Although these two men have garnered the biggest negative headlines amongst the division, there are other fighters who have said or done some questionable things as well. Although the notion that any attention, negative or positive, is good in combat sports, the preponderance of negative attention combined with an absent former champion and shallow division may be the demise of the division.
Ever since Chuck Liddell lost his title to Rampage Jackson, the title has moved around within 1 defense of it between Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua before settling on the waist of Jon Jones. Jon Jones took the title from Shogun almost effortlessly and became an immediate hit with fans. Jones got his title fight on 6 weeks notice as a result of an injury to his training partner Rashad Evans who was originally booked to fight Shogun at UFC 128. Jones allegedly stopped a theft in progress the day of his title fight to return stolen goods to a helpless lady who was robbed hours prior to putting on the performance of a lifetime, and appearing to be a humble and growing 23 year old Jones was the new hope to be a long reigning champion and pay per view draw in the division. Jones had an almost unblemished record with a single controversial disqualification loss in a fight that he was clearly winning, and had an unpredictable and exciting fighting style to put on the table.
Jones went on to defend the title first against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson by fourth round rear naked choke, becoming the first person to finish Rampage in the UFC, and around the same time Jones and former training partner Rashad Evans developed a feud over a comment over Jones being willing to fight Evans. Evans who felt slighted by this move, spoke out on the character flaws of Jones, ending their once close friendship and in a move not completely as a result of the feud brewing with Jones, decided to leave Jackson’s camp in New Mexico to join the Blackzillians camp in Florida and get more time with the coaches there. As the feud was growing, Jones managed to defeat Lyoto Machida by guillotine choke in the second round, after being hit and overcoming adversity, something that had not yet been seen from Jones. Jones third title defense was against Evans, and the feud between the two was boiling hot as ever for the two men as the fight was approaching. Jones came off arrogant and conceited at times in his trash talk with Evans, a wrinkle not yet exposed out of Jones and the start of a series of events that lead to Jones being painted as a less than humble figure. Jones went on to dominate Evans via decision and was scheduled to fight Dan Henderson next at UFC 151.
Around a month following Jones title defense against Evans, Jones in a shocking move drove his Bentley while drunk and crashed into a telephone pole. Jones was charged with a DWI and to make matters worse, Jones was in a committed relationship with kids and had several women in his car, none of which he was dating. The incident created massive amounts of negative press, but Jones was only issued a slap on the wrist legally. Jones level of preparation for his bout with Henderson was in question, and those questions were never answered because with less than 2 weeks before UFC 151, Henderson suffered a knee injury and was forced to pull out of the fight. UFC president Dana White frantically attempted to find a replacement and when Chael Sonnen agreed to sign on the dotted line, Jones turned down the fight and as a result UFC 151 was cancelled and Jones was instead to fight Vitor Belfort at UFC 152. The cancellation of UFC 151 caused outrage against Jones and made him a villain in the eyes of fans, lacking the character that viewers wanted to see in a champion. Jones was able to run through Belfort with the exception of a close armbar that Belfort secured in the first round that was inches away from being finished. Jones again showed his ability to overcome adversity and was now scheduled to fight the man who he turned down a fight against before, Chael Sonnen.
Jones and Sonnen coached the Ultimate Fighter against each other, serving as a platform to sell their feud to casual fans. Much to the dismay of those looking for drama, both men were relatively reserved and cordial, especially the normally brash Sonnen who was portrayed as a honest and true man who was completely invested in the well being of the fighters on his team. Their once hot feud cooled down a bit, evident by the low number of pay per view buys for their UFC 159 fight, and Jones dominated Sonnen en route to a TKO victory in the first round. Jones now was scheduled to have the questionable contender and physical equal, Alexander Gustafsson on his next dance card. Jones was not thrilled by the resume of his opponent, and reportedly took Gustafsson lightly which proved to be a big mistake. Jones and Gustafsson had a back and forth war that left both men cut, battered and exhausted, and for the first time Jones showed the heart of a champion, as he took a more significant beating from Gustafsson than all of the damage from his previous fights combined. Jones looked to have possibly turned his negative image around for the better, showing good sportsmanship towards Gustafsson after the fight. Fans spoke too soon in this assertion, but that revelation wouldn’t be revealed for some time.
Jones went on to fight Glover Teixeira next, and it looked that Teixeira was a bigger threat in the striking department than his previous opponents, as Teixeira was coming off of a TKO win over divisional stable Ryan Bader. Jones dominated Teixeira, cranking the right arm of his foe in the first round, effectively limiting the punching power and ability of Teixeira. Jones caught some controversy for eye pokes as a result of the extension of his lead arm, a tactic to find range that he frequently uses. Jones posted a selfie instagram video mocking the eye poke criticism, and attempted to use the excuse that his phone was hacked. This wasn’t the first or last time that Jones posted little offensive pictures or videos as a result of his phone being “hacked.” Jones was now scheduled to face Gustafsson in a rematch, but after an injury to his opponent undefeated former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier became a replacement. Cormier and Jones already had some bad blood from an encounter that the two had years before being in the UFC spotlight, where Jones and Cormier, both talented amateur wrestlers at the time, crossed paths, and Jones made a cocky remark telling Cormier that he could beat him. Cormier didn’t take it as the joke that Jones intended it to be, and the seed for their future bad blood was planted.
Jones and Cormier didn’t like each other and it was no surprise to anyone familiar with the two men, but at a press conference an encounter between the two men went south in a way that no one would have predicted. A full fledged brawl broke out after a head touch lead to a headbuttt, then pushes, punches and shoe throwing followed. This brawl made Jones even more of a villain than he was after getting a DWI and turning down a fight with Sonnen. The trash talk between the two was unprecedented for what the two men usually engaged in before fights, and Jones seriousness in preparation was once again questioned as he tested positive for cocaine in the months leading up to the fight. On the night of the fight it looked like Cormier fought angry. Jones fought a more technical fight and won a clear decision over the formerly undefeated Cormier, but the bad blood continued to flow after the fight as Jones made a pelvic thrust towards Cormier immediately after the end of the last round. Jones now defeated the man who had the greatest chance to defeat him in emphatic fashion, and was booked to fight Anthony Johnson who was coming off of a first round knockout win over Jones toughest opponent to date, Alexander Gustafsson.
Jones was scheduled to face Johnson last May, but his career took a drastic turn for the worse following a hit and run accident. Jones ran a red light, smashed his rental car into the vehicle of a pregnant women and ran from the scene. Jones broke the pregnant woman’s wrist, and did run back to the scene after initially fleeing, but it was for all the wrong reasons. Instead of checking on the women who he struck, he grabbed some items from his car and ran away again. The rental car had licensing paperwork with Jones information inside it, along with condoms and marijuana. Jones was wanted by police immediately, and after a day Jones turned himself in. The UFC suspended Jones indefinitely and stripped him of the light heavyweight title, effectively vacating the belt immediately. Daniel Cormier was called as the replacement for Jones against Johnson, and after surviving some punishment Cormier submitted Johnson in the third stanza.
At the moment, the once marquee division that was selling out arenas and selling records in pay per view buys is missing their longest reigning champion due to legal issues, and his image is forever tainted by a laundry list of problems. Now, a recently defeated Cormier holds the belt, and is challenging Gustafsson in his first title defense, coming off of a loss to Johnson. The rightful champion Jones is awaiting clearance from the trial from the hit and run incident, and there is no prediction on how long it will be until he can return. Jones has hearing next week, and the future of the division could rely on the outcome of that very event. If Jones can come back and return to form, and get the belt back again, he will return to the top of the pound for pound list and be able to continue his legacy. If Jones is able to show that he has learned and grown from his missteps, and is able to become a more personable and positive role model in the future, he has the potential to be a massive star. In the meantime, stay updated next week for the hearing that will determine the next immediate steps in Jones’ career.