LAS VEGAS — They hadn’t yet pulled Stipe Miocic off the canvas at Apex on Saturday when the Jon Jones tweet storm began.
The former light heavyweight champion was tweeting about Francis Ngannou’s second-round knockout of the man widely regarded as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history in the main event of UFC 260.
And it made sense, given that Jones abandoned the 205-pound division with the expressed intention of making a run at the heavyweight title.
Jones is such a great fighter than even when it seemed in the last few years that he got bored, he was still dominating his opposition and winning fights. A move to heavyweight made sense for him, because it offered fresh challenges and potentially many more lucrative paydays.
An Ngannou-Jones fight for the heavyweight title would be about as big as it gets in the UFC. That would be a massive fight that would reach beyond just the MMA crowd and hit the mainstream.
It’s also the type of fight the UFC has historically been quick to make over the years. If you’ve followed the sport over the two decades in which Dana White has been a part of the promotion’s ownership, you’d know there are very few mega-fights he was unable to put together.
But judging by White’s comments at the post-fight news conference on Saturday and by Jones’ tweets, one might suspect this is going to be the next one on that short list of fights that don't happen.
I don’t buy it, even though both sides made mistakes in the aftermath of Ngannou’s victory.
Jones’ only real mistake was his first tweet after Ngannou, a -135 favorite at BetMGM, finished Miocic. He wrote, “Show me the money.”
Of course, he deserves to get paid handsomely for that fight. It’s ridiculous that fans were ripping him for wanting to be paid. Would you want to fight Ngannou on the cheap? Of course not.
That first tweet was a mistake, though, because instead of instantly beginning the drumbeat for Ngannou-Jones, Jones switched the attention from a fight that would be a career-defining opportunity for him into a business dispute.
If his first tweet had been something like, “Congratulations, Francis. See you in a few months,” the entire narrative would have changed. It would have gotten people excited about the opportunity to see if he could slay the dragon and repeat his unprecedented light heavyweight success.
But tweeting about money got a segment of fans who clearly don’t understand the sport tweaking Jones about being afraid.
Jones isn’t afraid of Ngannou, just like he wasn’t afraid of Daniel Cormier or Shogun Rua or Rampage Jackson or Alexander Gustafsson or any of the other dangerous men that he fought during his run at light heavyweight.
It’s ludicrous to suggest he’s afraid, but Jones himself opened the door to that.
One of the oldest tricks in the book when a fighter doesn’t want to take a fight is to say he does and then ask for far more money than he knows will be available. But this fight would be so big, that’s not an issue.
But White didn’t help things with his first comments at the post-fight news conference. White said, “If I’m Jon Jones and I see that, I’m moving to 185,” to much laughter from the assembled media.
White, of all people, knows Jones is afraid of no man. And his comment can be interpreted more than one way. He could have been trying to build the notion of Ngannou as the boogeyman, the guy all the other fighters are fearful of facing.
It could also be interpreted as a shot at Jones, particularly since the two have had a prickly relationship over the years. White also is well aware that Jones is sensitive and doesn’t take kindly to such comments, so it was not just poking him with the knife, it was poking and twisting.
Jones made a lot of good points during his tweet storm, but he put himself in the crosshairs of the fanboys on social media who love to lob grenades at celebrities with the benefit of anonymity.
One Twitter user noted that Ngannou would probably KO Jones if he connected. Jones responded by writing, “Bro I’ve gotten out of the way from much faster punchers. And I have a pretty solid chin. Let’s not forget fight IQ, reach, speed, distance. I’m not going to just stand there like Stipe did.”
That is exactly the intrigue in this fight: Can Jones do to Ngannou what he did to Cormier and so many others and nullify Ngannou’s offense almost entirely while using his range to pick him apart?
There is an argument to be made on both sides, which is why this fight is so damn compelling. Jones acknowledged that in a tweet on Sunday when he wrote, in part, “… this is an opportunity of a lifetime for everyone involved.”
Do you imagine the UFC would rather have an Ngannou-Jones fight that matches its fearsome new champion against arguably the greatest MMA fighter who ever lived, or would it want to make a rematch of one of the worst fights it staged in its modern history by pairing Ngannou with Derrick Lewis in his first defense?
Jones’ tweets and White’s tweaks are all a part of the negotiating process.
It’s a big fight. Both sides know it.
It will be done.
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