Jon Jones alone didn't put the Versus cable network back on DirecTV, but the public clamor and inside dealing that took place to get the rising star's Ultimate Fighting Championship bout in front of as many fans as possible did make an impression.
Jones, a 22-year-old preacher's son from upstate New York, is matched against light-heavyweight Brandon Vera in the network's debut "UFC Live" card at 6 p.m. PDT Sunday in Broomfield, Colo.
Until Monday, Versus had been kept off DirecTV since September, the result of a reported financial squabble in which the Comcast-owned sports network was charging a higher fee. Disagreement ensued, and Versus was blacked out.
The ever-vocal fans of mixed martial arts made their dissatisfaction known as lower-weight fights in the UFC-owned World Extreme Cagefighting organization on Versus were going unseen.
"I know the fans were upset about WEC fights not being on the air, and I can only imagine that the volume multiplied by a number I can't even guess with the fans knowing this UFC fight [with Jones] wasn't going to be on, either," UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta said.
Fertitta admitted that he got into the ear of the DirecTV officials, and his company has given millions of dollars to DirecTV via monthly UFC pay-per-view cards. Fertitta said he told the DirecTV officials "it'd be nice" to have Versus accessible to the 25 million satellite customers in the U.S. and Latin America.
Versus returned to DirecTV under the same agreement that was in place in August 2009, sources who were close to the negotiations but not authorized to speak publicly told The Times this week.
"The MMA fans played a role," Versus President Jamie Davis said. "I wouldn't say this was entirely about MMA, but everything is coming to a head this spring for us, with the Indy Racing League's first race, the [ NHL] playoffs getting ready to start. But I know the MMA fans were very loud. They did not want to miss this fight."
Now it's up to Jones to entertain.
The 6-foot-4 fighter is 3-1 in UFC action since he was signed three weeks before a UFC card in August 2008. He beat UFC veteran Stephan Bonnar by unanimous decision in early 2009, then scored a submission choke on Jake O'Brien on the well-viewed UFC 100 card in July.
Jones' rise is compelling. He started wrestling as a high school freshman and by his senior year in Binghamton, N.Y., he was 40-0, proceeding to a national junior college title in Iowa. Then, five months after joining an MMA gym, UFC matchmaker Joe Silva called upon Jones as a replacement fighter.
Jones might be the most improvisational fighter in the organization.
"It's uncommon to see the heavier-weight guys flying through the air with flying knees. I can look like a [pro wrestling] guy at times, doing the crazy things," Jones said. "And I wasn't schooled in the basic 1-2-3, jab-cross-left hook combinations. I thought up things on my own, like jab-jab-spinning backfist. I had started trying it while shadowboxing, then took it to my practice partners and saw that blocking the unseen and unexpected is hard to do."
Jones is now under the guidance of MMA guru Greg Jackson.
"But my whole game is still the unexpected," Jones said.
That was part of the problem in his Dec. 5 disqualification loss to Matt Hamill, when Jones battered his foe throughout the first round, but then threw too many illegal elbows with Hamill flattened on the mat. Hamill was too injured to continue, and Jones was disqualified.
His pregnant girlfriend, Jessie Moses, was so distraught while watching the result on television in New York that she began crying excessively, went into labor and gave birth to the couple's second girl, Carmen.
"That whole night crushed me," Jones said.
It's a distant memory now, with the UFC giving Jones his first main event and millions able to watch.