The UFC Wants To Grow Up – With or Without Jon Jones

The Ultimate Fighting Championship burst on the martial arts scene more than 20 years ago, boasting “Eight street-tough warriors wage combat!”

As we recalled in our tribute to the late Kevin Rosier, who competed in the first UFC event back in 1993, announcer Rich Goines warned fans that the show had “No rules! No judges! And no time limits!”

“Anything can happen,” Goines barked out in the show’s introduction, “and probably will!”

Tune in for the mayhem!

But as years went on, the focus turned from spectacle to sport – and what’s happening now is something no one could have predicted back then.

So much has changed.

Much was made of the new out-of-competition drug testing policy enacted this year, including by me. The UFC had previously lagged behind its counterparts in boxing, where Floyd Mayweather Jr famously demanded better PED testing protocol for his bouts. But now, the UFC had finally, at least seemingly, stepped up to take reasonable steps in ensuring a level playing field for its athletes.

Meanwhile, the UFC’s Athlete Code of Conduct, enacted back in 2013, wasn’t as widely discussed – until now.

This week, when MMA pound-for-pound entrant Jon Jones was stripped of his UFC light heavyweight title and suspended indefinitely, the policy claimed the first major casualty.

The catalyst was Jones’ role in a hit and run crash earlier in the week, which ended in injury to a pregnant woman. Jones is said to have ran from the scene, returned to retrieve cash in his car — only to run away again.

The woman sustained a broken arm but is otherwise okay.

As for Jones, he is now facing felony charges of “leaving the scene of an accident involving death or personal injuries.”

The UFC issued a statement yesterday: “As a result of the charge and other violations of the Athlete Code of Conduct Policy, the organization believes it is best to allow Jones time to focus on his pending legal matters.”

Those other violations ostensibly include the time earlier this year Jones tested positive for cocaine. He was fined $25,000 by the promotion back then. He also entered a guilty plea to a DUI charge back in 2012.

The UFC still feels like the “wild west” sometimes, and maybe this is a sign that things are going to change.

UFC commentator Mike Goldberg recently attempted a stint broadcasting NFL games, and was quickly let go for his social media interaction. That’s what separates the UFC from other “big leagues” — no other sports league has its commentators, or even (or especially!) its president, telling off its own fans on Twitter. But both have seemingly settled down.

Times like this offer the feeling that they’re trying to grow up.

Then again, who knows? The code of conduct can be found in its entirety here:

You can judge for yourself. Has it been consistent? How will it be enacted in the future, and how will the sport change?

One thing that probably won’t change is old fans like me complaining about today’s MMA scene. We remember those wild first UFC events, sure, but we don’t miss them – we appreciate the evolution of the sport. More, we remember the more recent days where there were several world class MMA promotions out there. Those were the days, we say.

Instead, today, one monolith dominates. We don’t see many of the world’s best fighting in more than one promotion, offering more than one approach to MMA. It’s unfair to fans and unfair to fighters, who can’t negotiate with more than one promoter on the world stage to get compensated what they deserve.

But here’s where the monopoly may work in our favor.

Unlike in the case of boxing or in “the old days” (which never really exist), we have one promotion to hold accountable – and, in this case, perhaps surprisingly to many, they are doing the right thing.

Once again, it’s a case of “anything can happen – and probably will!”