Jon Jones is a UFC fighter, perhaps the greatest UFC fighter of all time. But Jon Jones is also a game developer, working at Epic on the Unreal Engine.
This is the story of how thousands upon thousands of people mistook one humble game developer for the greatest fighter on planet earth.
If you ask MMA fans, there are two Jon Joneses.
There’s Jon Jones the Christian. The MMA superstar with the potential to retire as the greatest fighter the world has ever known. Jon Jones the role model. Jon Jones who does all things through Christ who strengthens him.
Then there’s the other Jon Jones.
The Jon Jones who punched Daniel Cormier during a press conference. Jon Jones who crashed a car whilst drunk. Jon Jones who tested positive for cocaine use during a fight camp.
The Jon Jones who — most recently — drove a car through a red light, crashed into a pregnant driver, and fled the scene on foot, returning 30 minutes later to pick up a massive pile of dollar bills and flee again, leaving drugs and drug paraphernalia scattered in his rental.
But there are more than two Jon Joneses.
In actuality there are thousands. Literally thousands. Not in the metaphorical sense — in the literal sense. The reality: 'Jon Jones' is a common name. In the US alone there over 1000 people named 'Jon Jones'. If you add the name 'John Jones' or 'Jonathan Jones' that number rises to over 30,000.
A lot of people have the name 'Jon Jones'.
But only one Jon Jones was lucky enough (and quick enough) to snag the @jonjones username on Twitter.
That man is — believe it or not — Jon Jones. A US-based game developer who works on the Unreal Engine.
So yes, there are two Jon Joneses. Jon Jones the combat sports superstar, and Jon Jones the game developer. The game developer who took the @jonjones name on Twitter, and unknowingly positioned himself for a world of hurt.
Jon Jones the game developer joined Twitter in July 2007, roughly a year after launch. As you might expect of a professional artist with over 14 years of games industry experience, Jon Jones the game developer is an early adopter.
Jon Jones the UFC superstar is not an early adopter.
July 2009, almost two years later, Jon Jones the MMA fighter joined Twitter. By that point he was already a star in the making. A contender with nine wins and zero losses and three successful UFC fights under his belt.
Nine months later Jones would beat Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua in a brutal one-sided beat down to become the undisputed UFC Light Heavyweight champion.
But Jon Jones the game developer had been made aware of Jon Jones the UFC fighter long before he became a superstar. Before Jones the fighter made it to the UFC, tweets were being sent the developer's way. Mistaken identities. Jon Jones the fighter didn’t have a Twitter account at this point; it made sense that a few rogue tweets would end up in Jon Jones the developer's mentions.
But in late 2008, when Jones made it to the UFC — that’s when this case of mistaken identity began to escalate.
“It got more frequent, and the tweets got angrier and decreasingly literate,” laughs Jones, the game developer.
Those were the early days. Jon had fun with it, replied to a few people, had a few laughs. Occasionally fans would realise their mistake, apologise and move along.
“At that point it was basically like having a phone number that's one digit off from the local pizza place,” says Jones. “You get used to a little extra noise and try to have fun with it. It's not enough to get angry about, because hey, it happens.”
Then: UFC 151.
UFC 151 was a goddamn mess.
By UFC 151 Jon Jones was already the youngest champion in UFC history, a dominant champion who had obliterated everyone in his path. Jones had beaten a murderer’s row of contenders: ex-champions, figureheads, legends of the sport. Many believed he was unbeatable. He was 25 years old and had the MMA world at his feet.
Jones was scheduled to fight Dan Henderson, another ex-champion with a right hand from hell. No-one truly expected Jones to lose this fight, but they did expect fireworks. Fans were excited. Then, disaster. Eight days before the fight, Dan Henderson was forced to pull out after suffering a partial MCL rupture in his knee.
The subsequent scramble: UFC President Dana White and his team had to save the main event. The problem: no Jon Jones, no UFC 151. Jon Jones was a rising star. Management figured UFC 151’s undercard didn’t need much firepower if Jon Jones was headlining. The event’s success was almost exclusively dependent on his presence. If Jones wasn’t fighting on the card it would almost certainly die a brutal death, especially on PPV where the UFC makes the bulk of its money.
But Dana White had a solution. That solution came in the shape of Chael Sonnen.
Chael Sonnen: a trash-talking middleweight who knew how to sell a fight. Technically Sonnen’s fighting weight was 20 pounds less than Jones but he was more than willing to step up for a high profile championship fight. The media narrative: Chael Sonnen was here to save the day. The selfless hero.
Sonnen had no chance against Jones, a massive light heavyweight with a far superior skill-set in almost every possible department. What’s more, Sonnen had already lost two title fights against Anderson Silva, the middleweight champion. No-one thought he had a chance against an oversized opponent like Jon Jones This was nothing but an entertaining filler fight and everyone knew it. It was safe solution for a last minute problem.
But not safe enough. After consulting with his coach Greg Jackson, Jon Jones decided against taking the fight. For the first time in history, the UFC had to cancel an event.
Everyone was furious — fans, fighters, UFC brass. UFC president Dana White was only too happy to bury his golden goose. Dana’s on the record statement: UFC 151 would be remembered “as the event Jon Jones and Greg Jackson murdered”.
Fans were out of pocket. Tickets would be refunded, but hotels, flights? With eight days notice? No chance. And fighters on the undercard? Struggling fighters who had spent months training for fights that were now cancelled? They wouldn’t get paid either.
Jon Jones, the UFC fighter would bear the brunt of all that hate. He would later admit that UFC 151 ruined his image “overnight”.
It would also change the life of Jon Jones, the game developer, forever.
“When Jones backed out of UFC 151,” says Jon, “Everything kicked into overdrive.”
Jon Jones the game developer — the man with the @jonjones Twitter account — estimates he received over 6000 tweets — almost exclusively hate tweets or death threats — over the course of 72 hours. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
“At this point I wasn't plugged-in enough to the MMA world to know at first what the hell was happening or why I was getting 50 tweets every ten seconds, and why my phone was vibrating off the table.
“It was basically page after page of 'FUCK YOU! DIE! I HATE YOU! YOU'RE DISGUSTING! I HOPE YOUR FAMILY DIES IN A FIRE! I RATHER PREFER OTHER PROFESSIONAL PUNCHISTS AND FIND YOUR BEHAVIOR UNCOUTH, SIR! EAT A MOUNTAIN OF SHIT!'
“I had to piece together what was happening through context.”
And when Jon Jones the game developer did piece it together — an epiphany. Jon had a glorious opportunity. A once in a lifetime chance to experience something wonderfully weird. Jon Jones took a day off work and spent 14 hours retweeting and responding to incredible hatestorm being thrown his way.
“I'd basically just take whatever insults they hurled at me, and try to find a funny way to agree with them,” laughs Jon.
“‘Yep, world-class pussy right here!’ or ‘Oh god, I'll never make weight in time for this! I have brownies in the oven!’ Minute after minute, hour after hour.
“It was exhausting, but fun.”
At one point Jon thought it might be funny to actually volunteer to fight Chael Sonnen.
“I said: ‘I'll step up! I'll die instantly and you'll have to hose off the mat, but I'll fight Chael! Let's do it.’”
It was around that time that MMA fans and the MMA media began to take notice. The cat was out of the bag: @jonjones wasn’t the real Jon Jones, but he was handling the mistaken identity, and the subsequent maelstrom of hate, with aplomb. Like a champion even.
That’s when the Good Guy Jon Jones meme took shape.
Good Guy Jon Jones. The obvious insinuation: Jon Jones the fighter was a bad guy. But Jon Jones the video game developer? He was awesome. Jon Jones the game developer doesn’t back out of fights, he makes video games.
“The memes revolve around the basic premise that I'm the kindest, most charitable human being ever to walk the planet,” says Jon. “Of all the things to have a meme made about you for, that's the best possible case, right? I still don't know how to feel about it because it's completely ridiculous.”
Good Guy Jon Jones: never hurt an ant but will fight Chael Sonnen on 8 days notice.
Number of games @jonnybones has shipped? Zero. Number of fights @jonjones has pulled out of? Zero.
Jon Jones the game developer has four very specific rules.
Rule number one: “I will never seek attention myself, I only respond to what comes to me.”
Rule number two: “I will agree to virtually anything anyone asks and see where it takes me.”
Rule number three: “I will never ruin this by trying to make money off of it.”
Rule number four: “I will shut up and disappear the instant people stop finding it funny.”
With great power comes great responsibility. Jon has tried to remain tasteful with what is essentially a license to make fun of an incredibly well-known (and increasingly tragic) public figure.
And with Jon Jones the fighter there’s no shortage of fun to be made. This is a fighter that stumbles from mishap to mishap. There was the press conference punch-up with opponent Daniel Cormier. Followed up almost immediately with a perfectly hilarious moment in an ESPN interview booth where Jon thought he was off the air but wasn’t. (“Hey pussy, you still there? I will literally kill you,” were his exact words to an exasperated Cormier).
Those are the moments that Jon Jones the game developer is happy to play around with — esoteric weird moments that resonate with fans of the sport — but there are others that require a little more sensitivity. Jon Jones the fighter has been the central figure in scandals that aren’t necessarily joking matters.
Like the time Jon Jones tested positive for cocaine use then left rehab after a single day. Or the time he got drunk and crashed his Bentley into a lamppost. Those were borderline.
The Jon Jones hit and run incident? That was not borderline.
April 27, 2015. Jon Jones allegedly drove a rented silver Buick SUV through a red light, hitting and breaking the arm of a pregnant driver. Jones would then flee the scene only to reportedly return, shove a pile of cash into his pants and run off again. Police confirmed that marijuana and a marijuana pipe were found in the car.
As a direct result of this incident, and Jones’ previous misdemeanours, the UFC stripped Jon Jones of his the Light Heavyweight championship belt he’d carried for over four years and suspended him indefinitely.
His life was essentially in ruins. At time of writing, jail time is a very real possibility.
Once more, as you might expect, Jon Jones the game developer received thousands of tweets in response — almost 20,000 he estimates — but this time his approach was slightly different.
“When the drunk driving car crash thing happened I started trying to pump the brakes a bit on making fun, and inject at least a little seriousness into it,” says Jon. “The dude's life is crumbling before the eyes of the world. What kind of horrible jerk would I be to revel in that and court attention at his expense?”
But Jon Jones the game developer still has fun with it.
Most recently: a cute interaction with UFC featherweight contender Cub Swanson and the official UFC account that spawned from another case of mistaken identity. UFC fighter Dominick Cruz meant to tweet at UFC Flyweight John Dodson, but accidentally tweeted another John Dodson who politely replied that he wasn’t a fighter but “just a marketer."
Somewhere along the way Jon Jones the game developer was dragged into the thread and Swanson proposed a fight between Jon Jones the game developer and John Dodson the marketer. Good times.
But Jon Jones the game developer has a unique perspective on Jon Jones the UFC fighter, a perspective that few could possibly understand. Jon is not a UFC fan. Jon’s understanding of his namesake comes almost exclusively via wave upon wave of vitriol filled tweets the likes of which are near-impossible to comprehend.
“I do empathize with him,” says Jon. “He's a young, extraordinarily gifted athlete thrust into the world's merciless view at a time when other guys his age are in college, eating ramen, and trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. How do you even learn how to be a human being when you're that famous, that rich, that early, and absolutely everything you do is publicised and scrutinised because everyone's carving up parts of your life into something they can sell to enrich themselves at your expense?
“Random morons that can't read, write, or think send him hate mail and death threats because he wins and they do it by the thousands. If I were in his place, I'd consider it a non-stop waking nightmare that I wouldn't wish on anyone.”
At some point during this crazy case of mistaken identities, Jon Jones the UFC fighter was made aware of Jon Jones the game developer and promptly blocked him on Twitter, but Jon isn’t bitter.
“I really hope he makes it through all of this and does better.”