On the first Saturday night of 2015, I rushed out of work to watch the UFC light heavyweight title fight.
I joined the crowd at Jack Dempsey’s in Midtown to see, with the millions of others around the world, Jon “Bones” Jones defend his belt against Daniel Cormier. I’d never seen Jones fight before, but he was spectacular.
Jones combined brutal savagery with meticulous precision to defeat the former US Olympic wrestler, whose technical prowess was previously unmatched. I left the bar knowing I had just watched one of the best fights in history and Jones was one bad hombre.
This weekend, the world will return its gaze to the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The names of the marquee will change to Mayweather-Pacquiao, and the octagon will be switched out for a 20' x 20' square with ropes.
However, there is one fighter everyone will be talking about that night: Jones. The MMA star would have been one of the luminaries attending boxing's "Fight of the Century," and he probably would have even been ringside as a guest of one of the principals.
But, as of now, we won't be looking for the camera to cut to him before or during the fight. Jones has suffered a tremendous fall from grace, and the once-proud champion now faces steep odds against a difficult opponent: himself.
Jones was arrested and charged in a hit-and-run last weekend in Albuquerque, NM. He surrendered Monday, posted bond and stood before a judge the next day.
According to the police, witnesses said Jones fled the scene after he ran a red light and collided with the car of a 25-year-old pregnant woman, who suffered a fractured arm and wrist. Jones quickly returned to his rented SUV to collect a large sum of cash before fleeing again.
Responding officers also found a pipe with marijuana located inside the SUV.
This isn’t the first driving disgrace involving the former champ, whose license was suspended in 2012 for a DWI in Binghamton, NY, where he wrecked a Bentley.
Similarly, Jones’ title defense against Cormier ended with a unanimous decision in favor of Jones, but the victory became clouded when Nevada revealed Jones tested positive for cocaine metabolite before the fight.
Since the drug test took place outside the competition window and wasn’t a performance-enhancing drug, Jones kept the victory and the belt.
This time around, UFC President Dana White took decisive action, stripping Jones of the title and imposing an indefinite suspension.
Instead of headlining UFC 187, Jones will be replaced in the title fight by the same Daniel Cormier he beat in January.
The MGM Grand Garden Arena will host the fight Memorial Day weekend, and Cormier will fight the number-one-ranked light heavyweight contender, Anthony Johnson.
This is no longer an issue of a lapse in judgment or “letting everyone down.” Jones has a problem, and he needs to put his impressive career on hold to address his demons. Spending one day in rehab, as he did earlier this year, wasn’t the first step to anything productive.
The talent Jones possesses is a dangerous drug itself. He has two brothers who play in the NFL, and although he’s the "smallest," he’s probably the best athlete of all three.
The media and MMA fans have coronated him as the pound-for-pound champ of the sport. Eight consecutive title defenses made him the guy everyone fears.
Such professional dominance and respect could easily create an air of invincibility, which may have led Jones down a slippery slope.
The physical nature of his sport, even for someone like Jones who defends himself so well, must take a toll on the neurological system, increasing the likelihood of chemical dependency.
Too many elite athletes and performers have succumbed to the rush of drugs to supplement the highs of great achievement before adoring throngs. Unlike most professional sports players, Jones does so under the microscope of the individual athlete.
If his brothers fail a drug test, they have a structured program in the NFL to discipline and help them. Jones lacks the support system of a team game to help him along this path.
UFC has a policy and offers support, but it lacks the experience and sophistication of a team sport league like the NFL. Jones may have to face this fight alone — like every time he’s stepped into the Octagon.
Jones will go through the legal process and have to answer to these felony charges. He may face jail time, and he will almost certainly go to rehab, court-ordered or otherwise.
At some point, he will have to face the biggest question: Why did you put such foolish actions before your very successful career and the well-being of your family?
He will have to deal with these issues before his fiancee and their three daughters. He will have to seek forgiveness from his fans, extended family and the Christian community he famously supports.
All of these issues must be resolved before he can slip on a pair of fighting gloves and return to the Octagon.
Otherwise, Jon Jones could be the new poster boy for throwing fame and fortune away on drugs and reckless choices. Those who spoke highly of his talents and power will find out his true mettle in the biggest fight of his life.