Jon Jones is supposed to be the future of the UFC, and not without good reason.
There isn't a fighter today at or below 205 pounds who would be a favorite in a fight against the 25-year-old UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. His long limbs and unorthodox style make him all but impossible to prepare for in the striking game, his background as a champion wrestler in junior college has helped him defend every single takedown attempt he's faced in his UFC career, and he's got one of the most successful trainers in UFC history behind him in Greg Jackson.
With the Hall-of-Fame trio of Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz now retired, Anderson Silva on the downswing of his career at age 37, and the UFC continuing to grow through its broadcast deal with Fox, Jones is supposed to be the man who helps carry the UFC into the future.
At this point, it's pretty obvious that Jones dropped the ball on Thursday when he refused to fight Chael Sonnen on short notice at next weekend's scheduled UFC 151 fight card, after original opponent Dan Henderson had to withdraw due to a knee injury.
Jones, for whatever reason, hasn't inspired waves of popularity with his rapid rise to the top of the UFC. Jones has attempted to present himself with a certain level of humility in his MMA, career, but many fans have rejected Jones' public persona as a fabrication, and were all too happy to pile on the champion when he crashed his Bentley while driving drunk in Binghamton in May. Unlike Anderson Silva, who is beloved for his greatness and has been largely forgiven his less-than-thrilling moments inside the Octagon (UFC 97, UFC 112), Jones' greatness in the cage seems to have attracted more haters than followers. By turning down a fight - especially one where he'd be a heavy favorite, as he would be against Sonnen - Jones did himself no favors.
"He's been a champion that hasn't been very popular," White said, "and I don't think this is going to do wonders for his popularity."
It certainly hasn't done any wonders for him with the UFC brass.
"Me and Lorenzo [Fertitta] are both disgusted," White said.
Jones should be a bigger star than he is. At the age of 25, he's run roughshod over a generation of light heavyweights, scoring dominant wins over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida and "Suga" Rashad Evans. There's a reason that Nike made him the first MMA fighter to sign a worldwide contract with the athletic wear giant, and that the UFC itself has sponsored Jones for his fights.
Of course, after what happened this week, Jones probably won't have the UFC sponsorship in his next fight, and Nike may come to regret hitching its MMA wagon to the talented-but-immature champion. There's still time for Jones to correct his course if he's going to become the ambassador for MMA that he's expected to be, but it's clear that Jones has some work to do.