* * * *Downes:Saturday in London, Jimi “Poster Boy” Manuwa finished Corey Anderson in the first round with a walk-off knockout at UFC Fight Night 107. After such an impressive performance, you’d think a fighter would call out a big name in the light heavyweight division. Perhaps a former champ whose suspension ends in July.Well Ben, you thought wrong. Manuwa has no interest in Jon Jones. You can read some of his extended comments here, but it boils down to “Jon Jones takes steroids.” Ignoring the fact that he eventually backtracks on that comment, he does say that everything Jones has accomplished has been tainted because of the current suspension.
How do you read these comments? If it were about Vitor Belfort, I’m sure you’d be running to grab your pitchfork with Manuwa (17-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC), but are these comments fair to Jones (22-1 MMA, 16-1 UFC)? Do you think the majority of fans share the same view?Fowlkes: The fans who hate “Bones” Jones, and there are plenty of them, probably share that view. But I’d bet even some of them would have to admit that, whether you believe the tainted sex pill excuseor not, you can’t discount everything the man has done based on one failed drug test.
Maybe I’d feel differently if he had suddenly bulked up or gone from a nobody to a world-beater in his mid-30s, but that’s never been the story with Jones.
Remember when he first showed up in the UFC, shortly after his 21st birthday? He was a former junior college wrestler who taught himself striking techniques via YouTube, and he immediately started wrecking fools. Not overpowering them, mind you, but taking them apart with violent precision and mind-blowing creativity.
Are we to believe that this was just the work of the ‘roids? Or do we believe he was clean back then and, what, tormented by years of unparalleled success, he was compelled to look for a chemical advantage, even if it meant risking huge paydays along with his already damaged reputation?
I’ll grant you that Jones hasn’t made things easy on himself. When a rumored party animal gets busted for cocaine and then tries to tell us it was his first time trying the drug and, wouldn’t you know it, he just happened to try it right before the drug test, credibility is bound to be an issue.
But everything I’ve heard on the subject of Jones, from friends and coaches and training partners, paints him as a man who’s most likely to squander, and not enhance his gifts via substance abuse. Is it possible that he went too far in one direction and thought he needed a different type of drug to get back on track? Sure. But even then, I’m not sure it would negate everything he’d done up until that point.
What I wonder is, does Manuwa really believe what he’s saying here? Because I remember playing just enough low-level college football to realize that I should stop playing any manner of college football, and I also remember telling myself at times that these other guys weren’t better than me; they were just on steroids. In fairness, we never, ever got drug-tested, and a lot of them probably were on steroids, but they were also just better than me, with or without them.
You think maybe 37-year-old Manuwa is trying to find a way to explain the current light-heavyweight pecking order in a way that soothes his own ego just a bit?
Downes: You played college football? I had no idea. Is there any type of recreational sports league you’re currently participating in you’d like to mention?
You’re on to something that the comments have something to do with ego, but not for the reason you think. It’s not that Manuwa worries that he’s not as good as Jones. He’s discounting Jones’ accomplishments because he hasn’t done it himself. It’s a subtle difference, but important.
I’m sure Manuwa believes he could beat Jones in a fight. What he can’t do, though, is deny that Jones has accomplished more in his career (at a younger age) than he has.
We’re all guilty of diminishing someone else’s achievements to make ourselves feel better. It’s like when I watch the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament. Sure those kids may go to an Ivy League school and make more money than me, but I can buy alcohol. I bet I could even beat one or two of them in a fight.If you asked the average MMA fan who would win in a fight, Jones or Manuwa, an overwhelming majority would say Jones. You could probably ask members of Manuwa’s immediate family and they’d pick Jones. Manuwa knows that Jones has the better current career (even if he’s on suspension), and the better career in general.More than that, the presence of Jones hangs over the light-heavyweight division whether he’s suspended or not. Champ Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson fight next month at UFC 210 for the 205-pound title. I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t feel like a “true” title match to me. Cormier will try to convince us otherwise, but most people still view Jones as the champ. By delegitimizing Jones, you weaken the figurative chokehold he has on the division.
Isn’t that the real story here? You can’t call yourself the best light-heavyweight in the world unless you beat Jones. He’s the metric by which every 205-pound fighter (and probably any fighter in general) is measured. Despite all his missteps, until Jones steps back inside the octagon and shows us that he’s lost a step, he’s the best in the world. Any attempts to say otherwise are signs of delusion, jealousy, or maybe both.
Fowlkes: For the most part, I agree with that. But here’s a hypothetical scenario for you: Say Jones gets all set to come back once his suspension ends, and then he does something else to screw it up. Maybe it’s another vehicular issue. Maybe it’s drugs (performance-enhancing or otherwise). Say this just keeps happening, until the next thing you know years have gone by and he still hasn’t competed, all because of mistakes of his own making.
Will we still maintain that he’s the best, even if he continues to, in the words of Cormier, disqualify himself? Because it seems to me that there’s an expiration date on that type of exemption. Eventually people will have to move on.
I’m not saying that would mean he wasn’t the greatest in his time, or that his accomplishments need to be undercut by the people who are still in the game, just so they can feel better about themselves. But if he can’t stop sabotaging himself, then sooner or later he’s not going to be known as the troubled/spoiled genius of mixed martial arts. Hell be known instead as the greatest case of squandered talent the sport has ever known.For more on UFC Fight Night 107, check out the UFC Events section of the site.Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAYs MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.