In professional sports, it's often said that there are no acceptable excuses. For example, when a fighter takes dietary supplements, they are responsible for any banned substances they ingest even if the banned substances aren't listed ingredients.
Despite the usual lecture on responsibility, Jon Jones had good reason to be confused about the rules regarding illegal strikes.
In the case of fighting, fighters are required to know all of the rules.* But after the post-fight interview, it's clear that Jon Jones did not. However, he had good reason to be confused even if he had been paying some level of attention to the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.
In July of 2008, changes to the Unified Rules were passed by the Association of Boxing Commissions that would have permitted the usage of 12 to 6 elbow strikes, as long as they were not to the spine or back of the head.
Despite these rule changes being ratified by the ABC, other issues within the rule changes prevented these rules from being ratified.
Nevertheless, I can still recall that for months after the passing of those rule changes, referees themselves were confused as to the current state of the 12 to 6 elbow rule, as well as the rule regarding strikes to the back of the head.
For that matter, if you look at the situations involving eye pokes of Rich Franklin, Anthony Johnson, and Josh Koscheck, you'll see that referees still don't agree on the prescribed handling of fouls and recovery time.
Recently on the Sherdog Radio Network, TJ DeSantis and Jordan Breen stated clearly that the five minute recovery time is currently only allowed for groin strikes and is not involved in other fouls. To hear part of their in-depth discussion, download the podcast and listen at the 91-minute mark.
I can remember reading about athletic commission officials stating the same thing.
On the other side of the debate, Rich Franklin adamantly declared on MMA Live a few weeks ago that the proper application allows for a five minute recovery time for all fouls.
It seems like when a foul happens, it's basically a matter of chance as to how the referee will apply the rule.
Clearly things aren't all that clear, and I'm sure that some of the referees weren't too sure of the elbow rule before Steve Mazzagatti pointed it out to all of us on Saturday night.
Some might make the argument that what should be considered is how the rule has been applied in previous instances.
In the case of the illegal elbows, if Jones was relying upon previous applications of the rule, then maybe he's innocent. If you've watched Diego Sanchez's fight with Clay Guida, you'll see that Sanchez lands many 12-6 elbows to the top of Guida's head from inside Sanchez's guard.
Nothing was done about this, and so from watching this exchange, which was highly- visible on the latest UFC Countdown show, you can see how a fighter could see those highlights and think to himself, "Gee, those are some nasty elbows! I should really use those things the next time I fight!"
I don't know if Jones had ever seen people using those elbows in the past, but if he had, his confusion as to why the referees are suddenly calling them fouls is understandable.
None of this excuses Jones if we go back to our initial statement about excuses. What this does show, however, is that if Jon Jones is guilty of not knowing the rules, he's not alone. Not by a long shot.