Levesque column: UFC looks to improve image of Jones, reality show

After four episodes of “The Ultimate Fighter: Team Carwin vs. Team Nelson,” the show has experienced dwindling viewership and weekly performance. Much like our government bailout, “The Ultimate Fighter” could use a UFC stimulus plan.


Cue Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen.

On Tuesday, UFC President Dana White announced — through the Los Angeles Times — the pairing of light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen as opposing coaches for the 17th season of “The Ultimate Fighter.”

The addition of Jones and Sonnen came to the rescue of the long-running reality show, which has been on a steady decline. With the addition of both Jones and Sonnen, the UFC is all but guaranteed a resurgence in an otherwise waning realty show.

“Jon has accepted the fight; he knows this is the fight fans want to see,” White told the Times.

From the outside it seems the UFC made a strategic move to aid its fledgling show on FX. While looking at the greater landscape that assumption is correct. However, the UFC will also use this opportunity to rebuild and strengthen the face of their company, Jon Jones.

So why match Jones with Sonnen?

On paper this fight makes little to no sense. Sonnen is coming off a loss to middleweight champion Anderson Silva and has yet to make his light heavyweight debut in the UFC. Meanwhile, Jones — in his last five fights — has faced five former light heavyweight champions, defeating them all with the relative ease of high school jocks playing dodge ball with a middle school gym class.

This brings us back to the question: How is the UFC repairing Jones’ image by matching him up with Sonnen?

By Jones accepting the fight against Sonnen — a fight people are eager to see — his public perception is already changing. When fighters are willing to set up and take bouts that mixed martial arts fans want to see, a mutual respect and potential admiration begins. The smart move for Jones was accepting a match against an opponent the UFC fans want him to fight, even if that opponent is undeserving.

After failing to fight Sonnen at UFC 151 on short notice, Jones redeems himself by agreeing to a fight in April 2013. A matchup with Sonnen will establish one of the most highly anticipated fights of 2013.

Accepting this fight is just half of the equation. The other half involves his opponent, former middleweight No. 1 contender Sonnen.

Prior to challenging the light heavyweight champion, Sonnen was raking up highlight reel sound bites all directed at current middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Using his best asset, his mouth, Sonnen took aim at Silva while embracing the “bad guy” role in the process. Jones needs Sonnen to replicate that same model with him. If Sonnen embraces the “bad boy” role once more it could serve to strengthen Jones’ image with UFC fans.

While the UFC may have found a short-term fix, in Jones and Sonnen, for a long-term problem, “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, and Sonnen, could provide an opportunity for the UFC to repair and strengthen the Jones brand.

Do you think the UFC is capable of changing the public’s perception of Jones by using “The Ultimate Fighter” platform? Let me know what you think on Twitter at @scottlevesque.

Scott Levesque writes a weekly column for the Clarion on mixed martial arts. He will cover MMA at the local, state and national levels. His handle on Twitter is @scottlevesque.


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