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The Leverage Game: What’s Going on Between Jon Jones and UFC?

After Francis Ngannou knocked out Stipe Miocic, fight fans everywhere were already excited about his first title defense because we knew that it would be Jon Jones. Jones has been talking about it for a long time now and the fight was already in the works at one point, but the UFC and Jones couldn’t come to an agreement on pay for the fight. 

Jones said that he wanted more money than what the UFC was offering. Dana White, at the time, said Jones was asking for “Deontay Wilder” money for the fight, but this time around Jones has vowed to be more transparent about dollar amounts. From what I can tell I still haven’t seen any bottom line dollar amount or even know if the disagreement is about the base pay or the PPV split on the backend. 

Jones’ camp believes the fight could be a $50 million payday and Jones publicly has said that $8-10 million is too low, but it begs the question what’s the exact dollar amount he’s asking for? Would you take a fight for $8-10 million dollars to headline a massive UFC event plus the PPV split on the backend or any potential bonuses? Probably, right? So what’s the hang-up? I suppose to answer this question we thoroughly consider both sides. 

From the Jones Perspective

Can Jon Jones make a case that he was underpaid for a portion of his career? Sure, if we compare his earnings from then to what he makes now his case is completely valid because he is vastly more marketable than he was in his early days, therein lies his problem. In the early days of his career, Jones was a relatively unknown fighter and while he did rise to fame with an impressive win streak, he was bound by a contract and if the UFC gives him more money outside of his contract there has to be a merit system for it which is why they have the PPV points, fight bonuses and the likes. The fighters have an opportunity to put more in their pocket than the finite dollar amounts that are on the paper, but that comes with a price tag that doesn’t include just winning. 

If you look at Jones’ earnings before and after he got his Light Heavyweight title, you can see that as his marketability rose, so did his paydays. Over the course of his career he’s made over $7 million dollars and when you compare that to someone like Conor McGregor that seems like a really low number– so, what’s the difference? They both win, although, McGregor did just lose to Dustin Poirier while Jones hasn’t actually lost; he vacated his title to move up a weight class. Considering this, I can see why Jones would want top dollar for this fight. 

From the UFC’s Perspective

Earlier I asked what the difference between Conor McGregor and Jon Jones is and this is where the UFC’s perspective can shed some light on the answer. If we’re the UFC, we know that Jones is a big money fight, but realistically, McGregor is an even bigger fight and here’s why. 

For all of Jones’ talent, he has black marks on his record that people will always question. Let’s first look at his image. He has a bible verse tattooed on his chest and he talks about God and his faith a lot. That kind of stuff really resonates with the public and garners support, but then he was involved in a hit-and-run, there was drugs (PEDs/Cocaine), and other troubles that still plague public opinion of him– some probably even believe that he shouldn’t be fighting any more. This is a problem because despite anything Jones does after all of that, people still don’t really care for him which makes him less marketable. 

I know some people will say Conor got in trouble and he had stuff, but people expected that of him. He built a brand and image around being the badass who knocks people out and doesn’t care what people think. Now I won’t say that his troubles with women weren’t a little sketchy, he was never charged with anything and it seems all of that has settled down and those days are behind him. That’s what the public sees now. The business man, the man who built a brand, the family man and that’s what’s helped him stay marketable. 

Jones isn’t a detriment to the UFC brand which is why is still a top draw, but I can almost certainly tell you that if you did focus groups and tested to see which fighters are more well known and well liked, the answer would be McGregor. The UFC knows this which is why they are more than happy to throw McGregor back in there against Poirier. 

The fact that the UFC knows how much McGregor is worth outside of the UFC is why he has so much leverage. The UFC knows that while people love a good fighter, they love a good villain more. The UFC knows that people love a hero more, because anyone can fight or be a fighter, but being a figure or an icon is something completely different. 

Case in point, the Paul Brothers are big money fights, why? Because people will pay to see them fight. Conversely, however, if I were to get two unknown very skilled fighters I would need to make people want to come see the fight which means spending money on marketing and promoting the fight and fighters. Sure the event might do okay, but it definitely won’t be anywhere near the big numbers a fight between Donald Trump and Robert De Niro would fetch and that’s just purely based on interest. This is why the UFC holds all the leverage and McGregor figured out how to tip the scales in his favor by playing a role, then building a brand outside of the UFC (Whiskey/Mayweather fight) and proving that if they don’t help him get rich he’s going to help someone else get rich. 

In the end…

The UFC can survive without Jones and McGregor, but the truth is that when you look at who adds value to the UFC it’s McGregor and not Jones. Hardcore fans love Jones, but the name of the game is to make more money and to make more money you have to bring in more fans. What has Jones done outside of the UFC other than tarnish his public and professional image? Years after Jones retires people will still be talking about his suspensions for PEDs and questioning whether or not he was using them the whole time or not. Sure Jones can go over to Bellator or some other fight promotion, but it won’t be enough for that promotion to steal the UFC’s market position which is why they seemingly aren’t budging on the numbers. 

If Jones wanted to keep his market value going into this fight he shouldn’t have vacated his belt. He should have done everything in his power to fight Israel Adesanya because that would have allowed him to retain his Light Heavyweight belt, given time for Ngannou to get the belt from Stipe and that would have lined up a huge potential fight between two champions instead of the champion and a former champion who vacated his title.

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