To be a champion is to be the best in your field, but to cheat in order to gain the advantage over those around you cannot and will not be celebrated in sport.
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is highly rated as one of the best to ever grace the MMA stage. At the cost of actions inside and outside the octagon, a stain has been left on the legacy of Jones. The eye poke has been a common act of cheating within his fights and has gained attention from pundits, current fighters, and legends of the sport.
Since the beginning of ‘mixed martial arts’ in the early 90s, the rules have significantly adapted to protect the fighters who enter combat. The sport is still everchanging and developing in time and athletes tend to discover ways to bend the rules or find new techniques to gain the advantage over their opponent.
Eye poking is illegal in the UFC and this is a universal rule amongst the various MMA organisations. The commonality of the foul in Jon ‘Bones’ Jones fights brings a question mark over the action being deliberate rather than unintentional. Many of Jones’ title fights have had their headline stolen at the expense of eye-gouging; most particularly in the 2014 matchup with Glover Teixeira.
In an interview with Inside MMA, legend and former heavyweight champion Bas Rutten claimed Jones was a “dirty fighter” and that he purposefully rubs his fingers into the face of his opponent. Not only Rutten but plenty of fans of the sport are aware of the persistent fouls in Jones’ game. Many joke about the trademark ‘Jon Jones eye poke’ and it is an ongoing gag within the MMA community despite the dangerous nature of the illegal move.
After his bout with Teixeira, Jones defended his actions insisting that the pokes were inadvertent.
“I realise that I do it. I realise the criticism that I got from it. It’s not on purpose. If you watch my fights, a lot of the times when guys get poked in the eyes, it’s me extending my arm in a reactionary way.”
Jones continued to back himself up, describing the incident as something that just happens instinctually. The concept of using an open hand to measure out your opponent before throwing a big shot or simply just to maintain distance is a display of good fight IQ. It is smart to keep in control of your opponent especially in an MMA bout.
However, open-fingered 4-ounce gloves and little to no punishment for eye pokes asks the question: why wouldn’t you take advantage by cheating?
Jon Jones is a professional who will look to dominate and win every time he enters the octagon. Some will remember him as one of the best to ever do it, a well-rounded fighter with a broad skillset and an immaculate record of victories. Others will focus on the controversies. The cheating, the positive drug tests, the foul play and the court cases.