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15 days in May: How the relationship between Jon Jones and UFC just imploded (again)

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Jon Jones and UFC have been reluctant business partners for more than one decade, but things may have finally boiled over for the last time.

Two weeks ago, things were looking up for Jon Jones. Following a worrisome wobble in his personal life that resulted in an aggravated DWI conviction and one year of supervised probation, the Light Heavyweight champion seemed eager to refocus on his fight career and finally knock off some of the big challenges that would cement his position as G.O.A.T. for decades to come.

Jump forward to today (Sunday May 31, 2020) ...

Jones has just announced via social media that he is vacating his 205-pound title and isn’t coming back unless something serious changes regarding his pay. “Let me know if you guys want to set up a day in 2021 for that Izzy [Israel Adesanya] fight,” he wrote. “Hopefully you guys will be willing to pay by then.”

How did it all go so wrong? The relationship between Jones and UFC has been extremely complicated over the years, with events being mangled, moved and occasionally outright canceled because of various incidents. But since Jones’ latest return from a USADA suspension, the two sides have generally worked well together.

Now, let’s take a look at how things went sour over two short weeks, in Jones’ own words on Twitter.

May 12

This gives you a good lay of the land as we get into things. This has been Jones’ position for a while now: if UFC wants him to do anything other than face the next No. 1-ranked contender for the Light Heavyweight belt, then it has to sweeten the pot for him. That means no rematch with Thiago Santos. No rematch with Dominick Reyes. And no move up to Heavyweight.

May 14

With UFC back and rolling with events, Jones spends fight nights on Twitter interacting with fans. The topic of Francis Ngannou (who just knocked out Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC 249) comes up a lot, and Jones starts actively pushing for the fight. For the first time in a while, he sounds energized at the prospect of pushing outside of his standard wheelhouse of holding the 205-pound throne. Fans are excited at the prospect (if a bit skeptical as a move to heavyweight has been teased for years — always with the caveat that UFC would have to pay him, of course).

May 17

Even with the MMA Twitterverse buzzing about a potential Jones vs. Ngannou “super” fight, UFC President, Dana White, doesn’t sound enthusiastic about the idea at all.

“I don’t know if those guys really want that fight,” White said during the post-fight press conference for Saturday’s final UFC event in Jacksonville Florida. “Let me tell you this ... and I’m not saying this is the case with these two. You see a lot of talk online or whatever it might be. Actually making fights is a whole other ball game.”

May 18

May 19

May 21

This is wild: we get to see just how long it takes for Jones to go from super psyched and ready to move to Heavyweight for one of the biggest fights of his career to just ... shocked at how poorly negotiations with UFC have gone. At 5:55 p.m. ET, he shares he’s talking to UFC about the Ngannou fight. By 6:24 p.m. ET, it sounds like things have broken down and the fight is a no go.

Here’s Jones’ first tease of a potential walk away. But before things get out of control, he reigns things in. Back to fighting for his standard contracted rate against the #1 contender.

May 28

The s**t hits the fan. Dana White tells ESPN that Jones was demanding “an absurd amount of money,” which Jones continued to claim wasn’t true, as they never even made it to a point where they could negotiate money. It’s never good when the word “lie” is used. Jones was quite clear: Dana White was lying about what happened.

May 29

Jones returns to Twitter to again voice his disappointment in how everything went. The way he tells it, he came to UFC about the Ngannou fight and had the door slammed in his face. And then UFC President, Dana White, used his media connections to paint Jones as the unreasonable one.

What’s most interesting to me here: Jones admits he makes $5+ million per fight currently. And then says he’d be happy to “settle” for half of what Deontay Wilder makes, or $15 million. Knowing those numbers, it sounds like UFC is quibbling over maybe $7 million more in pay for Jones to make the Ngannou fight, something that would undoubtedly rake in the equivalent of a million plus buys. Hmmm ...

May 31

Following Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 9: “Woodley vs. Burns” event, White goes into a rant on Jones. “I tarnished you? You’ve done a very good job of tarnishing you,” White says at one point.

Jones does not react very positively to that, and reveals all of White’s talk about text message demands are completely made up - there are no texts from Jones demanding Deontay Wilder money or anything else. In a sane world when two sides are clearly speaking past each other, now would be the time to sit down and try and salvage things. But, then Jones pushes the nuclear button.

And that’s where we sit right now. Of course, it’s worth noting that Jones almost walked away the first time negotiations fell through, and then walked things back. Will he do something similar in a few days? We imagine there’s a process that is more detailed than sending an angry tweet when it comes to vacating your title, since so many of UFC’s contract terms are involved.

But as it stands, it’s clear that Jones and White have not been on good terms for years. UFC’s one-sided negotiating tactics have been a source of much unhappiness amongst fighters for years, and there’s a very good chance Jones is indeed sick of dealing with the headaches that come from trying to forge one’s own path rather than accept whatever UFC will give you.

What do you think, Maniacs? Is this move from Jones going to stick or will cooler heads prevail?