The MMA world was taken aback this week as the UFC announced that its signature show would be undergoing a number of changes. No more Friday nights, for starters, and Zuffa will be meddling with the format a bit as well. Going into its 17th season, far longer than anyone thought it was going to go, the other drastic change coming about was the announcement of the coaches: UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and former middleweight contender Chael Sonnen. For all the talk of whether or not Sonnen deserves both the coaching slot and the title shot are for another day; the show itself could potentially be “can’t miss” television. And there are five things I want to see this upcoming season.
5. Greg Jackson and Dana White in The Same Room
It what could be the most awkward interactions ever, imagine if Dana White and the man he blames for “murdering” UFC 151 had to be in the same room and chat. It would make Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz spending 20 minutes in silence look like a fence-mending session. Jones has said that Jackson may not be there for the six weeks due to the nature of running Team Jackson/Winkeljohn but if he is the interactions between him and Dana could wind up becoming priceless.
4. The Real Jon Jones Coming Out
Jon Jones is so insanely talented it’s mind boggling to think; this is a guy who went from being a prospect no one thought much of to the world champion and undisputed #1 light heavyweight in the world in three years. The guy that people thought Andre Gusmao would run over and the guy who took apart Rashad Evans are two entirely different guys but the one thing that people question is his “realness.” Jones hasn’t felt genuine as a person during interviews, et al, for a long time. He’s always had this guard up; let’s see what happens when he has to stop being polite and the cameras stop rolling. Jon Jones hasn’t had to be himself in a long time.
It’s why interviews with him after the DUI have been a stark contrast to the ones before. He’s always had this perception he has to BE a particular type of person with the title and it lends credence to guys calling him “fake” and such. People came around to liking Tito Ortiz a lot more (and Ken Shamrock a lot less) after season three of TUF; let’s see how the cameras affect the way we look at Jon Jones.
3. The Real Chael Sonnen Coming Out
Sonnen has become one of the sport’s most polarizing figures because of his mouth; he’s gone from a regular guy to the best trash talker in MMA to the amusement or chagrin of many. But there are moments when Sonnen turns it off and becomes a genuinely likeable guy; watch the pre-fight hype with Brian Stann to see this.
To hear Sonnen discuss how he had a problem with fighting Stann because he was a friend, and that he needed counsel from his opponent, was a rare moment where the guy who wasn’t selling a fight came out. It’s hard to dislike Sonnen when he discusses how he promised his father on his deathbed he’d win a world title, and how for just one moment he’d trade everything to be a world champion. It’s easy to dislike the guy that trashes Jones as a “brat.”
I’d like to see that guy more often; the trash talker can be obnoxious. The genuine human being is infinitely more interesting than a character.
2. The Coaching Styles of Both Men
On the one hand you have a fighter who is so gifted that combat sport just seems natural. On the other you have a guy who has a singular style that he imposes on others. The interesting thing to see is how they teach.
Jones is an interesting case. Guys who are as remarkably skilled as Jones in other sports generally don’t wind up being good coaches. It’s hard to be able to teach someone to “just out-athlete the guy” like Jones sometimes does; a lot of what Jones does can’t be taught because of his unique level of athleticism. He’ll also be younger than a lot of the guys he’s coaching, as well. Seeing how they deal with someone who’s a prodigy, at a much higher plane in their field, will be interesting.
Sonnen has been coaching wrestling for a long time at the youth level and started at Team Quest with Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland and Randy Couture. Working with those three, all known for being hard-headed no-nonsense types, probably has given him a real tough coaching style. I’d love to see him work a hard wrestling practice with some prospects; Sonnen was an Olympic alternate in part because of how hard he worked. He takes pride in being able to out-last and out-endure anyone and it’ll be curious to see how that sort of lunatic devotion to physical conditioning rubs off on his team.
1. The Interactions of Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen
Jon Jones has said he has no respect for Sonnen and his dislike of him is coming out the more and more he talks about him. The fireworks from the way those two interact with one another so far, especially since Sonnen has this ability to just get under someone’s skin so effectively, probably isn’t going to compare to six weeks of dealing with one another on a regular basis. Imagine if Jones shows up and Sonnen has a breathalyzer for him. Or when Sonnen’s TRT becomes an issue, as well, as you know Jones has a dozen insults of Sonnen based on this alone stuck in his craw. Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans may have had the highest rated episode in the show’s history because of Kimbo Slice but the incessant trash talking was amusing on any number of levels.