A guy called Jonny “Bones” Jones cost me a boys’ weekend in Vegas this summer. And now it looks like two days after my birthday next year, I am going to get to see him probably get punched in the face, perhaps several times. While I am very excited about that, FX is actually even happier. Allow me to explain.
The UFC has called an October 17 media conference call to announce and discuss its star mixed martial artist Jones being cast as a coach on the FX reality show The Ultimate Fighter, in which he will coach a team of UFC wannabes against a team led by a bombastic tough guy called Chael Sonnen in the season that airs in early 2013. After the show wraps, according to the Los Angeles Times, the two will then fight on April 27.
Here’s why this is awesome. Jon Jones is one of the biggest stars in MMA (mixed martial arts, which is to the UFC what football is to the NFL). He has become so popular that he actually got a Nike endorsement deal - not bad for a guy who competes in a sport once called “human cockfighting” that the geniuses (note the sarcasm, please) in New York still won’t sanction. Jones is good looking, double tough, and very likeable - perhaps positioned to be the Tiger Woods (well, before, you know…) of the UFC.
Well, he was. First he had a little DUI issue in May. But the real sparks flew in late summer, when he was scheduled to fight a guy called Dan Henderson, who only punches as hard as an armored tank. “Hendo” got injured and had to bail out of the fight, and Sonnen - despite being admittedly out of shape at the time — offered to jump in at basically the last minute and save the day. But Jones refused the fight, perhaps fearful of pulling a muscle in his net worth, and the UFC cancelled an event for the first time (and, thus, my Vegas trip that was scheduled around the fight).
In a flash, everybody’s All-American was the bad guy. As in the biggest heel turn since Hulk Hogan turned bad. Okay, the Hulkster is probably an unfortunate reference given certain home movies now on the market.
But the whole sport seemed to turn on Jones at the time, including El Jefe of UFC, the always soft-spoken and understated Dana White. It made for great theatre, with plenty of colorful expletives, to be sure.
So now after all of that, Sonnen - who can cut a trash-talking promo better than any professional wrestler since Ric Flair - has literally talked his way into a shot at Jones. It will be on Pay Per View, the marketing will be massive — and very effective — because of the great story of this fight and the big personalities in it, and the PPV numbers should be big.
Some hardcore MMA people won’t like Sonnen getting a shot at Jones because they don’t think he deserves it. They think Sonnen - who fights but also does a lot of on-air work for the Fox networks — is all talk and not worthy of a crack at glory in the octagon. Some known MMA journalists are already calling it a desperate move by UFC and FX. I hear them, I just don’t agree whatsoever. UFC needs to make big, ballsy plays to grow at this point. The sport jumped to Fox because it wants to grow. Putting two big TV stars on The Ultimate Fighter is just good casting. And letting Sonnen - who will obviously be a huge underdog - have a go at Jones is something I will definitely plunk down my 65 bucks to see come April.
But first, the two will meet on FX in the form of the Ultimate Fighter beginning in January. The series — which was born on SpikeTV — is in need of a shot in the arm, and I believe they have found it.
This is about as big a booking as FX and UFC could have gotten for the show, and should bring a lot of fans back and some new ones on board. If it doesn’t, FX and UFC will have to re-examine the series going forward.
But in the mean time, it’s going to be some great TV.
And at the very least, the guy who screwed up my trip to Vegas may get smacked.