Jon Jones has finally settled his legal trouble and will most likely return to MMA once he has completed the terms of his plea deal. That means that UFC should start planning how and when it will bring Jones back into the fold. UFC suspended Jones indefinitely after multiple public missteps including a hit and run. He was suspended at a time when he was the best pound-for-pound fighter in MMA and one of the biggest draws in the sport.
If we are to believe Jones, the hit and run was a wake-up call. Assuming he stays out of trouble, UFC will need to plan how to bring him back into competition. Jones is still a draw and will still sell PPV fights, so it makes sense that UFC would bring him back eventually. It just needs to be done strategically.
It’s more of a PR battle than anything. Jones is still one of the best fighters in the world and holds name recognition. The UFC has hit a point where it needs to continue to build a stable of personalities in addition to star Ronda Rousey. Recent marquee fights have been put on hold due to injuries — McGregor vs. Aldo comes to mind — and that won’t change due to the nature of training. That means the more household names the better it is for UFC. Right now, most casual fans know Rousey and interim champion Conor McGregor. A Jones return add another fighter with name recognition and would surely sell tickets and PPVs.
Jones last fight against Cormier sold 800,00 PPVs, while Cormier vs. Johnson — same weight class, same title — sold 325,000. At the standard $59.99 for high-definition PPV, thats a difference of $28,495,250. The only fights that have been on the same level as Jones’ most recent fight were Conor McGregor vs. Mendes (825,000 PPV buys) and Ronda Rousey vs. Correia (900,000 PPV buys). No other fight has gone above 650,000 PPV buys, which includes Rousey’s matchup against Cat Zingano.
Of course, UFC needs to walk a fine line. A redemption story line needs to be built around Jones’ return. Jones needs to prove to the general public that he has learned from his mistakes and has realized that he put his legacy at risk. From the sounds of it, Jones will be returning to the octagon and unless UFC plans to bury his big personality or release him to a competitor, UFC should be planning a redemption tour now. The focus on Jones’ rehabilitation and return to fighting could generate high viewership numbers and a large amount of PPV buys. Starting the discussion of Jones’ struggles and eventual return could begin when Daniel Cormier fights Alexander Gustafsson this weekend, would be a good first step.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.