UFC 159 Boils Down To One Purpose – Making Jon Jones A Genuine Star. Everything Else is Secondary

“He can’t back up anything he says.” — Jon Jones on Chael Sonnen

Jon Jones has been bandied about as the future of MMA for almost as long as he’s been in the UFC. One could tell early in his career that there was something special to him; greatness was developing right in front of your eyes. We knew how good he could be and it accelerated like wildfire the tougher the challenges became. It felt rushed when he took on Mauricio “Shogun” Rua on six weeks’ notice for the UFC light heavyweight title, like he had skipped a year or two of development, and yet he looked like he deserved to be in the cage early on at UFC 128.

He became an elite fighter almost overnight and yet the sort of fame he should get for being the best light heavyweight fighter in the world, and perhaps the best pound for pound, has eluded him. Jones should be talked about and discussed like how Brock Lesnar was every time he fights; mainstream media should show up and there should be the “big fight” feel to him. Jones has everything you’d want out of a UFC champion: a stellar athletic background punctuated with two brothers in the NFL and the sort of finishing ability at the elite level that’s Anderson Silva-like.

Jones just doesn’t win; he’s finished all but one of his opponents in devastating fashion from a who’s who of the light heavyweight division. He should be the guy who cracks a million PPV buys like Floyd Mayweather Jr. does every time he fights; Jones is a marvel to watch and one of the embodiments of the sport. He’s exceptionally talented and right now stands on the precipice of becoming the greatest American fighter in MMA ever before he hits 30.

This is why UFC 159, and Jones coaching a season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” has placed him in an unenviable spot: needing someone else’s star to make his shine bright.

It’s why Chael Sonnen got the next title shot after Vitor Belfort, and the plumb coaching gig on TUF season 17, when Dan Henderson was waiting in the wings for his promised title shot and others were knocking on the door. Chael may have been a desperation ploy to keep UFC 151 alive that backfired but the UFC stumbled onto something in the backlash: Chael Sonnen’s presence alone made Jon Jones look like a bigger star than he was. Jones is in the same spot Canelo Alvarez is in right now in that regard: he’s going to be a massive star but hasn’t quite reached it yet. It’s why he has the Nike deal, and his own shoe, and why anyone who matters loves watching him fight.

Jones wasn’t a hardcore favorite but not quite a mainstream star as well; he was in that middle ground where he could pop a good buy rate between 400-600k and exceeding the high end felt out of his reach. For some reason Jones didn’t connect with people like he should … and then Chael Sonnen got involved.

The man whom everyone in MMA wanted to talk about or interview was setting his sights on the champion and with it came another phenomenon seemingly unique to MMA: all the low-information, mouth-breathing types had someone else to trash after Sonnen was dispatched by Anderson Silva in spectacular fashion. The lemmings would recant Sonnen’s line of him being the “real middleweight champion” and such to the amazement of anyone with a brain but something unique happened: more eyeballs started going onto Jones.

That’s why the UFC put together Jones vs. Sonnen despite the protestations of anyone who argued for a championship vetting process involving contenders who’ve earned shots as opposed to someone who’s merely yelled their way into one like Sonnen. The perception is that of Sonnen being a star to more people than not; his shtick has gotten the “casual fan” interested in the fight and Saturday night will probably be one of the biggest selling pay per views of the year because Sonnen’s profile meshed with Jones should propel the UFC to a highly profitable night.

Sonnen’s involvement is more carnival barker than contestant; if he wins more than a round in a losing effort Jones/Sonnen probably will have to be considered for Upset of the Year. But Sonnen’s presence is a fairly smart one for Zuffa; the end game is to make Jon Jones a star and nothing less will do.

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