The Business of Jon Jones Is 'Thriving' with More Major Deals on the Horizon

Damon MartinContributor IJune 18, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 11:  UFC Fighter Jon Jones  arrives at the 2012 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 11, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

When Forbes released the list of the 100 highest paid athletes worldwide, many sports were represented—football, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, boxing and even cricket.

The payouts for the athletes included their yearly salaries, along with endorsement deals, which in many cases drove the numbers into the top 100.

Multi-time tennis champion Roger Federer came in as the No. 2 highest paid athlete in the world, but he earned only $6.5 million from actual winnings on the court. He pulled in a whopping $65 million in endorsement deals, equaling Tiger Woods, who happened to be No. 1 on the list.

While endorsements didn't drive every athlete's total pay, several in the top 100 raked in millions upon millions of dollars in lucrative deals, accounting for well over half of their total earnings for the year.

One sport that was not represented on the list in 2013 was mixed martial arts.

Now it's not disputed that there are several millionaires in MMA.

Champions like Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva both pull in seven figures from the UFC, with bonuses and pay-per-view points paid out to the fighters. Still, despite St-Pierre landing major sponsorship deals with NOS Energy Drink (a subsidiary of Coca-Cola) and past endorsements with Under Armour and Gatorade, he was still unable to crack the top 100.

The same can be said for Silva, who is an icon in his home country of Brazil and holds down a deal with Nike as well. But he still hasn't pulled in the kind of cash that would place him amongst his athletic peers on the coveted Forbes list of the richest athletes in the world.

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is another fighter on the roster who's likely pulling in over seven figures every time he steps foot in the cage. However, the 25-year-old New York native might just be the first MMA competitor to crack the Forbes list, and it may be sooner rather than later.

Jones inked a major endorsement deal with Nike in 2012 that led to the release of his own signature shoe and shirt from the apparel giant earlier this year.

While the financial figures surrounding just how much Jones earns from his Nike endorsement are unknown, the fact that he landed a worldwide deal with the company was a good foot in the door. Jones is now in position to start kicking down other major endorsement deals with highly regarded, blue chip sponsors.

Just after his recent fight against Chael Sonnen at UFC 159 (while still on crutches from a mangled dislocated toe), Jones and his manager Malki Kawa took meetings with companies like Gatorade and Coca-Cola to expand the fighter's brand.

Also joining Jones' business dealings is Hollywood powerhouse agent Ari Emanuel of William Morris Endeavor. Emanuel helped broker the fighter's deal with Nike and continues to deal with him on new endorsements.

As a matter of fact, on Monday, Jones, along with Emanuel and Kawa, met with producers in Hollywood to discuss some possible projects that could soon land the fighter in front of the cameras (without his gloves on this time).

To hear Jones' manager tell the story, the youngest champion in UFC history is expanding his brand on a daily basis. The path to first-of-their-kind in MMA endorsement deals are just the tip of the iceberg for what they hope to accomplish in the next few years.

"It's thriving. The business of Jon Jones right now is thriving," Kawa told Bleacher Report recently.

As a manager for all my clients I'm always trying to do more, and one thing about Jon—Jon's never satisfied with the here and now.  He's always looking like now we've got Nike, now I want Gatorade.  After Gatorade, I already know the next company he wants to be in line with.  When we go with that company, then I know the next thing.  There's just so many things that we still have to accomplish.

Jones is a magnetic personality in the sport of MMA, but that doesn't mean everyone likes the UFC's reigning 205-pound champion. As a matter of fact, often times he's been portrayed as a cocky kid or perceived as somehow being fake in interviews or appearances. 

In some ways, however, this perception might benefit Jones in the long run, particularly when it comes to his overall success in the endorsement world.

Rarely are any of the top athletes in sports not met with harsh criticisms for how they carry themselves in their personal or professional lives. When LeBron James bolted his hometown of Cleveland to play on the beach in Miami, he was vilified and considered one of the most disliked athletes in sports.

A year later, James won an NBA title and appeared in television commercials and magazine ads worldwide. Oh and by the way, James pulls in $17.8 million a year from the Miami Heat, while most of his money comes by way of endorsements that totaled $42 million last year.

Jones is still a long way from earning LeBron-type money or even landing endorsement deals like NASCAR's Jeff Gordon. Gordon pulled in $5.5 million in sponsorship money last year, placing him at No. 85 on the top 100 list with total earnings reaching $18.2 million.

The fact is, with youth on his side, if Jones continues to reach the same level of success inside the Octagon over the next few years, his endorsement deals could be industry changing for promotions like the UFC and the other fighters who compete there.

"On a business side of things we really haven't even scratched the surface," Kawa said about Jones.

We're trying to break down barriers, we're trying to break down walls.  I really honestly believe the Jon Jones Nike deal is why Reebok is now approaching the UFC the way that they are.  I really honestly believe that the goal Jon set out to do, and I set out to do for Jon, was to get through some of these barriers and get these big, big, blue chip companies to come in.

I think more and more fighters are going to get deals.  I think this is a great thing for everyone.

Following his quick trip to Hollywood to meet with his agent, Jones will soon travel home to New Mexico to prepare for his upcoming bout at UFC 165 against Alexander Gustafsson. 

The title fight will give Jones the chance to break the record for consecutive defenses of the 205-pound belt, which has been his goal ever since he won the gold back in 2011.

If Jones is victorious, there is the potential for even bigger bouts with larger paydays. Jones could move up to heavyweight and challenge for the title or set up a huge showdown with perennial UFC king Silva in a superfight for the ages.

In case anyone forgot, Jones will turn 26 on July 19. This young fighter has plenty of time to conquer the goal of being the best fighter in UFC history and maybe even make a few appearances on Forbes top 100 list in the process.

Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.