Why is Jon Jones trying to tweet his way around Tom Aspinall? Here's a theory ...

LAS VEGAS, NV - March 5: Jon Jones at T-Mobile Arena for UFC 285 -Jones vs Gane : Event on March 5, 2023 in Las Vegas, NV, United States.(Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Jon Jones is solely focused on facing Stipe Miocic next. (Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Maybe you’ve noticed, but UFC heavyweight champion Jon Jones has been trying to tweet his way through it this week. By it, I mean some challenges in the sphere of public opinion. And by through, I mean he’s been trying to convince people that refusing to fight interim champ Tom Aspinall is the best and most noble thing he could do, actually.

Writing on X on Thursday, Jones said he was facing “a pretty clear decision” as he heads back into training camp after recovering from a pectoral injury. The first option is to “stick to exact and original plans” by fighting former champ Stipe Miocic next. The other is to “completely disregard all of the Stipe training I’ve put in and fight another potential hype train that may not even be around in three years.”

Can you tell which way he’s leaning at the moment?

Part of me wants to think it’s all a genius ruse. By going out of his way to make it look like he’s avoiding Aspinall, does he actually add more hype to an eventual Aspinall fight? Is that what so many other Jones title defenses at light heavyweight were missing, some lingering suspicion that Jones was maybe a little worried about those opponents?

I want to believe this for two reasons. One is because it would end with us getting to see Jones vs. Aspinall for the undisputed heavyweight title eventually. The second is because I think it would genuinely work as a sales pitch. You tell people that Jones is swaggering into another fight where he’s the big favorite, they understandably feel like they’ve seen that before. You tell them he’s been pressured into fighting someone he might have preferred to stay away from, however, and that feels like something new.

This is not to say that Jones is scared of Aspinall. I think if you put Jones in a pit with a grizzly bear he’d genuinely feel that he was going to win. Fans love to accuse fighters of being scared, mostly because that’s the emotion those fans are most familiar with when it comes to fighting another human being. But no one makes it very far in this sport if that type of fear governs his or her thinking. They certainly don’t climb to the very top, as Jones has done, or stay there for years and years, to the point where they almost seemed bored with it.

So if it’s not fear that’s keeping Jones from apparently even considering a fight with Aspinall any time soon, and if we operate under the assumption (for now) that it’s not part of a grand plan, what is it?

We have to ask because, clearly, Jones has been working overtime to make Aspinall seem like a nobody. He’s dismissed him as a flash in the pan. He’s called him a hype job who only appeals to U.K. fans. In tweets, he writes him off as an “intern champion,” which feels like a burn at least partially assisted by autocorrect but repeated often enough to make you wonder.

For whatever reason, Jones doesn’t want that fight next. He wants Miocic instead. But why?

The primary explanation is legacy. Or at least, it’s Jones’ perception of his own legacy. Jones is a fighter who cares a great deal about what people think of him. He probably wouldn’t admit that. He might even actively refute it. But it’s true, and it’s been true his entire career.

The irony is that no one has done more damage to Jones’ legacy than Jones himself. He’s made it so that we can’t talk about his career without also talking about his arrests and drug test woes and all the times he’s stood in his own way. There’s not even an option to separate the fighter inside the cage from the person who exists outside of it, since his actions in his personal life have cost him belts, fights and even victories — not just once or twice, mind you, but repeatedly.

Still, Jones is savvy enough to know that sports fans tend to forget about personal transgressions when the professional accomplishments are great enough. He wants to be remembered as the greatest MMA fighter of all time, and just based on in-cage accomplishments he probably deserves that. So when he’s angling for a Miocic fight over an Aspinall one, we have to view it through the lens of legacy. Jones isn’t thinking about who fans care more about now. He’s thinking about how the name will look on his résumé.

Miocic? According to the stats, he’s the best heavyweight champ in UFC history. So if Jones can beat Miocic — even a 41-year-old version of him who hasn’t fought in more than three years — he probably thinks that will go a long way toward cementing him as the greatest ever.

As for Aspinall? He’s a big, scary heavyweight, but beating him now probably doesn’t add all that much to the trophy case. Besides, if he’s really so good he can keep fighting and beating other heavyweights until a win over him would mean more.

To a mind obsessed with curating a certain body of work, it makes sense. The risk is that too much of a focus on curation could also become part of Jones’ legacy. Fight fans aren’t particularly forgiving of those who pick and choose too much. They love fighters who take on all comers, preferably without thinking about career ramifications.

Is that a little bit unfair, especially to someone like Jones who beat absolutely everyone there was to beat at 205 pounds before moving up to heavyweight? Sure. It’s also the reality. And once you find yourself spending all day tweeting about why you won’t fight a certain person? In this business, that’s not usually a sign that you’re winning the battle of public opinion.