In the professional sports world, public relations is a fickle business. One minute, you're on top of the world, and you can do no wrong. The next, you can just as easily find yourself under a barrage of hatred and criticism. All it takes is one little mistake. Any more than that, and you're simply flying too close to the sun, begging to have your wings burned off.
Thus has been the case for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, who went from "media darling" to the fighter every mixed martial arts (MMA) fan loves to hate in a matter of several months.
Whether the vitriol is merited or not, all it took was dropping an unconscious Lyoto Machida on his head at UFC 140, drunk driving into a light pole and allegedly causing the first cancelled event in UFC history, and the "poster boy" became the scapegoat and the villain of the entire promotion.
Or so it would seem.
Heading into UFC 152, which is set to take place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Sat., Sept. 22, 2012, "Bones" will be the prohibitive favorite, but it's likely that the majority of fans will be cheering for his opponent, MMA legend and fan favorite, Vitor Belfort.
It won't be the first time Jones will have had to overcome an obstacle, and it's a role he's starting to become accustomed to. He's aware of the fact that he'll be facing a dangerous opponent, but he has a message for his haters:
Don't forget that he's dangerous, too:
During an interview with AXS TV's "Inside MMA," Jones talked about how he matches up with "The Phenom." He's aware of the challenger's speed, but he takes a bit of umbrage when people bring up the idea and forget that he's not exactly a turtle either:
"His hand speed is definitely something that he has, but I believe I'm really fast, too. A lot of people discredit me for a lot of things. A lot of people who are unfamiliar with MMA just blame it on me being long. But, there's a lot more than being long that has contributed to my success, and speed is one of my advantages, as well. Where Vitor is fast, I believe I'm really fast, as well. We can't forget that he has a Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt, which is a very legitimate black belt. So, that ground game, definitely. I've gotta be on my 'p's and q's.' But, speed, I think I match up really well. Power, he might have an edge on me there. It's gonna be a great fight to watch, for sure."
Experience is another topic that has been brought up, leading up to this fight. It's nothing new, as the critics have brought up a lack of experience before just about every one of Jones' bouts.
As far as the young champ is concerned, the amount of fights and the career length disparity simply means he will be going into Saturday night's title fight as the hungrier competitor:
"That doesn't really mean a whole lot to me. I don't have any plans of losing any time soon. I always work really hard to stay on top of the game and be innovative in my own, personal game. I believe the guy that will beat me is probably in high school, right now, working his butt off to be where I'm at, today. That will probably be the guy that surpasses me. A lot of quote-unquote: 'experienced fighters' are just older men. I believe that with my youth and lack of experience comes a certain amount of ambition and drive. I'm excited about being the younger fighter, and I think it plays to my advantage, tremendously."
If Jones is able to beat Belfort at UFC 152, it will be just another legendary notch in his already full belt. Should he win, the cry for a "superfight" between him and UFC Middleweight Champion will only grow louder.
Jones is aware of the public demand for such a contest to take place, but he also knows there are a lot of other stars that need to align before that could ever happen.
When asked about the possibility of that fight ever taking place, Jones stayed diplomatic, citing his need to stay focused on the opponent currently in front of him:
"I'm really excited for Anderson Silva versus 'GSP.' I think 'GSP' has a tall order in front of him with Silva and Carlos Condit. Anderson Silva's also facing Stephan Bonnar, right now. In this crazy sport of MMA, anything's possible. It's kinda hard to predict the future and see everything going perfectly for both of these fighters. But, as far as entertaining a fight with Anderson Silva, I have a hard time looking past Vitor Belfort. He's a great legend and a great fighter. I would never want to look past him into my future like that. I know it's a cliche answer, but Vitor's a very respectable guy. Maybe that's a topic we can go back to after this fight."