Let’s get this out of the way: No one on the UFC roster can fully replace the buzz Conor McGregor’s buzz, international reach, and bravado. But, if there was one person who could come close it’s Jon ‘Bones’ Jones. Jones was the brash trash-talker and best pound-for-pound fighter on the UFC roster before his legal troubles surfaced and McGregor came exploding onto the scene. That is why he is the perfect replacement for McGregor in UFC 200.
Jones — the interim light heavyweight champion — will fight Daniel Cormier in a rematch of their UFC 182 fight in which Jones won by decision. Jon Jones is still a draw as he only trails McGregor and Rousey in PPV buys for fights they have headlined. Jones is also listed as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the UFC roster — McGregor is eighth. This isn’t just a fill-in fight. It’s a fight people will watch.
Jones also provides a comeback story. He was stripped of his title after some run-ins with the law,but now he is supposedly back on the straight path. He admitted recently he had a drug problem, and the UFC can spin this into a story of a champion coming back from out of the octagon challenges that could’ve derailed an illustrious career. Jones also has family pedigree in that both his brothers — Chandler and Arthur — play in the NFL. It wouldn’t be a shock to see them support their brother on social media leading up to the fight.
Jones is also brash and almost blatantly disrespectful of his opponents. Jones and Cormier do not like each other as evidenced by their interactions before their last fight. (Warning: Jones definitely steps over the line in the YouTube clip below.)
So basically Jones is just like McGregor. He knows how to do interviews. He knows how to create controversy, and he knows how to get people to buy his fights. He was McGregor before McGregor kicked down the door to MMA super-stardom.
He doesn’t have the same draw as McGregor and that is probably due to his technical fighting style. He doesn’t pack the same punch or knock-out opponents like McGregor. Instead he systematically beats his opponents and generally wins by decision. In this way Jones is very similar to Floyd Mayweather.
Right now it would be foolish to say that Jones is on Mcgregor’s level in terms of popularity but he is close enough. The UFC is sending a message to all its fighters — not just Conor McGregor — that no one is bigger than the league. McGregor overplayed his hand, and now Jones will be the beneficiary at UFC 200.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.