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Stripping Jones of title, suspending him right thing for UFC to do

By Daniel Austin, Calgary Sun

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones pauses during a press event in Toronto July 9,2013. (Postmedia Network file photo)

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones pauses during a press event in Toronto July 9,2013. (Postmedia Network file photo)

The UFC got this one right.

As much as its decision to suspend Jon Jones and strip him of his light-heavyweight title might seem totally fair and perfectly logical given the severity of his alleged crimes, mixed martial arts’ premiere organization still deserves credit for taking a firm stand.

Jones is the UFC’s biggest star, although Ronda Rousey is in the conversation. His headlining fight against Daniel Cormier at UFC 182 brought in 800,000 pay-per-view buys, 350,000 more than any other MMA pay-per-view in 2014. His face is plastered on video game covers, billboards and countless other UFC promotional materials.

Having Jones fight in the UFC is worth millions, but the organization has sidelined him indefinitely. It’s an appropriate punishment, but recent sports history makes it somewhat surprising.

For anyone who’s been living under a rock, here are the basics of the Jones case.

Jones is alleged to have run a red light early Sunday morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico and hit another car, breaking the arm of the pregnant 25-year-old woman who was driving. He then took off from the scene, but returned to grab a wad of cash before fleeing once again.

Police found a packed marijuana pipe when they searched the rented truck and issued a warrant for Jones’ arrest.

Jones faces felony hit-and-run charges, and was released on US$2,500 bail. He met with UFC bigwigs — CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and president Dana White — Tuesday and the organization announced his suspension later in the day.

The UFC’s powers-that-be acted swiftly, sending a message of zero tolerance about this sort of behaviour. Maybe that shouldn’t be notable, but unfortunately it is.

Contrast the UFC’s response to Jones’ situation with the way the NFL handled Ray Rice last year. There was plenty of evidence suggesting Rice had punched his fiancee and knocked her unconscious in an elevator, but the NFL suspended the then Baltimore Ravens running back for only two games until a video of the attack was made public.

Rice’s crime was obviously very different to what Jones is alleged to have done, but it’s the response of their employers that matters here.

The UFC could have handed out a short suspension to Jones, said ‘It’s the courts who decide whether he’s guilty or not, it’s not our job’ and then waited for the media cycle to move onto something else before allowing him to defend his title. They might even have begun marketing him as a ‘bad boy.’

Chances are, both fans and media would have moved on. There’s a long history of it happening.

Mike Tyson raped a woman. Anthony Johnson, Jones’ opponent at UFC 187, was convicted on domestic violence charges. Floyd Mayweather did time for beating a woman.

These are facts that absolutely should impact the way we process these athletes’ legacies, but too often fans and media overlook criminal behaviour because we’re dazzled by their achievements in sports.

The UFC could have relied on that. It could’ve gotten Jones back in the octagon and waited for the world to get back to talking about his spectacular set of skills. That’s not what the UFC did, though.

The organization takes a lot of criticism — often unfairly — for focusing too much on the bottom line. In this case, though, the UFC did the complete opposite. The suspension will only focus more attention on Jones’ alleged bad behaviour.

Jones is the organization’s biggest star, and it has taken him out of its money-making equation entirely.

Cormier will now fight in Jones’ place against Anthony Johnson for the UFC light-heavyweight belt at UFC 187. It’s a fight hardcore fans will love, but it won’t generate the same mainstream buzz that Jones’ fights always do.

Eventually, the UFC will have to consider when and how to re-insert Jones into the lineup, but there are questions it needs to ask itself first.

This isn’t Jones’ first offense. He was arrested for driving under the influence in 2012 and tested positive for cocaine last December — he did a 24-hour stint in rehab after that one.

It’s a disturbing pattern of behaviour for which the UFC cannot and should not be held accountable, but if the spotlight the organization affords the former champion in any way enables Jones then there must be measures in place to ensure he’s kept on a tight leash ... if and when he returns.

Some people can handle stardom, many others can’t.

Fortunately, the UFC’s actions this week suggest it’s more than capable of deciding whether or not Jones is fit to fight under its bright lights.

Daniel.austin@sunmedia.ca

@SUNDannyAustin

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