Cooler Heads Need to Prevail
On Thursday August 23rd, in an unprecedented move, the UFC officially announced it was canceling UFC 151 “Jones vs Henderson”. Originally, Jon “Bones” Jones, the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, was slated to face former Pride and Strikeforce Champion Dan Henderson. However, eight days before the scheduled event, Henderson was forced to scratch due to a knee injury.
In a desperate attempt to save the card, the UFC offered the fight to everyone’s favorite bad guy, former middleweight contender, Chael Sonnen. Sonnen immediately accepted the fight but surprisingly Jones ultimately declined.
This series of events has triggered an absolute firestorm of reactions and over-reactions.
Most are placing the lion’s share of blame directly on the twenty-five year old shoulders of Jones. UFC President Dana White said “When you are a champion, much less one of the guys who is supposed to be one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, you are supposed to step up. Jon Jones is a guy a lot of fans don’t like, and I don’t think this is going to make him any more popular. Lorenzo Fertitta (UFC chairman and CEO) and I are disgusted with Jon Jones”. White also criticized trainer Greg Jackson, stating “Chael is just coming up from 185 pounds. He said that not only would he face Jones in eight days, he’d jump in a plane to Vegas and fight him that night if he was asked to. Jon Jones said 'I'm not fighting Chael Sonnen with eight days' notice. Jones’s trainer, Greg Jackson, told Jon that taking the fight with Chael would be the biggest mistake of his life. That’s what he told Jon Jones. Let me tell you, this guy (Greg Jackson) is a sport killer.” Dana White isn’t alone in his criticism of Jones. Several UFC fighters also weighed in with their opinions:
“Jones said he's not fighting Chael on 8 days notice. I did. .... Just sayin”
“How to ruin an entire event Bones knows. Things that people learned today: Chael is the man! A lot of people will be losing money. Jon Jones doesn't give a shit.”
“The news of UFC 151 cancelled is heartbreaking! Trying to stay positive that its Gods plan & not mine!!! Jon Jones is selfish for that!”
“I am so livid right now. I was the biggest Jon Jones fan but not anymore that guy is bad for the sport his fans and other fighters he doesn't understand or forgot what it's like being a lower ranked fighter like me or Jeff Hougland who make pennies compared to him and fighting is our livelihood and we survive by fighting and all the hard work those 20 other fighters put in are going to waste utterly disgusted”
“Me and Rick Story took a fight on 24 hrs notice! Champ what?!?! Jon Jones you can send my check to PO box 198. EH NJ. Rent is due the first, so preferably by then.”
The UFC quickly announced that Lyoto Machida would be given the next title shot against Jones at UFC 152 scheduled for September 22. Incredibly, Machida refused to take the fight on such short notice. Originally, Machida, a former UFC LHW Champion, had earned the right to challenge the Jones/Henderson winner after a highlight reel knockout of Ryan Bader on the last installment of UFC on Fox. Machida stated that he refused the fight because he wouldn’t be ready to face Jones on such short notice. In the most curious move of all, the UFC then handed the next title challenge to a phenom of a different era. It has been announced that middleweight and former UFC champion Vitor Belfort will challenge for the UFC LHW belt at UFC 152.
All and all, this entire situation is simply a tornado of emotions and a comedy of errors. Most want to lay all the blame at the feet of Jones and Jackson when in reality the blame should be placed on the situation. The promoters want to make money. The fighters want to fight and earn a paycheck. The fans want to see the fights. When issues like this occur, people often throw around blame instead of reviewing the situation from a more rational perspective.
From the perspective of the fans, it’s understandable why they would lose respect for Jones. After all, fighters are supposed to be gladiators. They live by the mantra of being willing to fight anyone, anywhere, anytime. When the fighters are unwilling to fulfill this “obligation”, that illusion is shattered. There is one thing fans often forget when discussing the decisions made by professional athletes; the word “PROFESSIONAL”. This is their career. There is no potential worse situation for a fighter like Jones than taking a fight on short notice in a situation where he has nothing to gain and everything to lose. Especially when his opponent is in the exact opposite situation, everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Imagine if Jones accepted this fight and lost. How much money could this have potentially cost him? I have to imagine there is a huge difference between a share of PPV dollars for a champion and a challenger. However, at least he would have kept our respect, right? Wrong! With the typical MMA fan, you’re only as good as your last fight. To many fans, they would simply jump to the conclusion that he is a fraud. No allowances would be made for taking a fight on short notice. Would the outraged fans or fighters losing a payday chip in to make up the financial difference if in fact he did lose such a fight? Of course not!
Will Jones’s refusal cost him money in the future? Not likely. MMA fans are fickle and will forget this whole situation soon enough. Even if they don’t, Jones receives a cut of the PPV buys. He will make the same amount of money whether the fans buy his future PPVs to root for him to win or lose.
It’s really easy to review this situation and call Jones a prima donna, selfish, or even a coward. That’s because we have nothing to lose. As for the fighters making negative comments, with all due respect to Michael Bisping, Vinny Magalhaes, and Abel Trujillo, you aren’t Jon Jones and have never been in this position. With all due respect to Charlie Brenneman, even though you may have taken a fight on 24 hours notice, you did it out of necessity, not really choice. Your fight against Rick Story was an opportunity to be noticed and appreciated by Dana White. It was a chance to become a name in the UFC and you took advantage. That being said, Jon Jones owes you nothing. If you had the ability and charisma of Jones, then maybe you could have saved this card by yourself. But you’re not and because this card was canceled because of the absence of Jones, to a degree, you are simply riding his coat tails.
Please note that other fighters in better positions regularly pass on fights when they have worked themselves into a position when they are at or near the top. The aforementioned Machida refused to expedite his title challenge. Carlos Condit, the interim welterweight champion, refuses to defend his interim title and is waiting for Georges St-Pierre, the current welterweight champion, to recover from a torn ACL. These instances are common. In the UFC, when you are close to challenging for a title, a loss can set you back several years.
As a fan, I would have loved to see Jones fight Sonnen and the card saved. Frankly, I think Jones should have taken the fight. However, once again, what do I have to lose? Regardless of the outcome, I still go to work Monday morning, write a few more MMA articles, and my life will go on as usual. I lose nothing. As it so happens, since Jones pulled out, I’ll have to find something else to do that Saturday night. This is fairly typical with sports fans in general. We all complain when professional athletes make unpopular decisions solely based upon money. Once again, fan logic omits the word “PROFESSIONAL”. We forget that these people are trying to earn a living. This is often lost. 95% of sports fans would love to be a professional athlete. “I’d gladly take a pay-cut from what I’m making today if I could be a professional (insert sport) athlete.” We celebrate athletes because they live our dream.
Yet there is a crucial flaw in this logic. Athletes like Jon Jones weren’t just born into their situations. They worked very hard to reach these levels. Championships aren’t awarded at birth but earned with blood, sweat and tears. Like everything in life, the harder we work to earn a goal, the less likely we are to risk the reward.
What about the UFC’s role in this debacle? There have been many Main Event fights canceled throughout the years due to multiple reasons. However, they have never canceled a show. On many of these occasions, the fans have been upset with the remaining fights and didn’t view them as PPV worthy. In these instances, Dana White has remarked that people stating these opinions weren’t the real fans. The real fans would buy the PPV regardless. Additionally, throughout the years, we’ve been reminded by White that what separates boxing and UFC PPV’s is the strength of the card as a whole. The UFC PPV customer shouldn’t be upset with a quick finish like a boxing PPV show because the UFC guarantees a minimum of five fights per PPV. When the card is filled with quick finishes, the UFC airs the best preliminary fights to fill the PPV timeframe. With this in play, shouldn’t the UFC share some of the blame for not putting together a fight card that can overcome the loss of a single fight? Especially, when one of the competitors is on the wrong side of 40? Ultimately, the UFC has gone against what they have marketed and advertised for years. They put together a much anticipated fight card with only one fight to justify the PPV. In turn, the UFC has shirked responsibility and effectively spun the issue so Jones solely absorbs the ire from the fans and fighters.
If that wasn’t bad enough, we have an even bigger issue. The next challenger for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship is a middleweight who isn’t even the top contender in his weight class. Previous to that, the title shot was awarded to another middleweight who lost to the current middleweight champion. Great logic! Get knocked out in your last fight challenging for the middleweight title and the logical reward is fighting for the title in a heavier weight class. On what planet does that make sense?
In all of this, we need to cut the UFC some slack. Where they may have put together a card in which the strength was based on one match-up, they are having some problems which are beyond their control. Two champions are sitting out due to injury. One champion just defended his belt and does not intend to fight until early 2013. They have an interim champion who refuses to fight until the actual champion returns from injury. Notable PPV draws such as Alistair Overeem and Nick Diaz are currently serving suspensions. All the while, many if not most of their top PPV draws are currently under contract for other fights. It should also be noted that Josh Koscheck and Jake Ellenberger were slated to fight on this card as well but the fight was scratched due to a Koscheck back injury. While it may not be fair to lay all of the blame for this debacle on Jon Jones, the UFC was thinking outside of the box and made a few attempts to salvage this card.
The best way to describe UFC 151, clusterf$%k. Perhaps even FUBAR is an apt description. At the end of the day this event was the perfect storm coming together of unfortunate circumstances, poor planning, poor match-making, and poor handling of the fallout. There is plenty of blame to go around and no single entity should bare the blame for this comedy of errors.
photo credit - mmafrenzy.com