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By: Shawn Ennis, MMATorch Senior Columnist
The canceling of UFC 151 next weekend is unprecedented this close to an event, and it has some long-reaching ramifications. Some of these ramifications are out of the UFC's hands, but Dana White didn't do himself any favors today with his irresponsible tantrum of a media call to announce the news. We'll get to that in a minute, though. First, let's take a look at a few of the angles that are at play here with this announcement.
This is Jon Jones' fault
Let's face facts here: Jon Jones didn't cancel UFC 151. The UFC did. Yes, he was offered Chael Sonnen as a replacement on eight days' notice. We can probably be reasonably sure that Dana White told him the event cancellation was at least a possibility in the event that he didn't take the fight, and yet here we are. So what's the right way to look at this? Starting with Jones' point of view, there are a few different ways to see it. From a sporting perspective, it would have made no sense for him to take the fight. Chael Sonnen just lost in very convincing fashion to Anderson Silva in July. That couldn't be fresher in peoples' minds. But Sonnen is still a high-level fighter. Anderson Silva had a full camp to prepare for him. Jones would have had eight days. Sonnen, for his part, had nothing to lose. He would have gone from title shot to title shot in a span of two months – and that's a title shot at light heavyweight that he probably wasn't going to get any other way. If he loses, he's still a hero for stepping up to face one of the sport's best three pound-for-pound fighters. And if he wins? Well, imagine that furor. Not only is it a money fight for him just to take the first bout, but if he were to actually pull off a win and force a rematch, that's two huge paydays he wasn't getting any other way.
The UFC didn't have anything to lose either. Sonnen was just a part of the most successful event of 2012, and even losing didn't diminish Sonnen's ineffable persona. In fact, the two-time middleweight runner-up had already begun a trash talk campaign against Jones (who of course ruined it by acknowledging that it's all a put-on - something we already knew, but come on). Also, of course, the show goes on, which is a win in and of itself for the promotion.
But let's look at it from a personal standpoint. A "selfish" (as White described it) point of view, if you will. Jon Jones is an elite-level fighter. But he's not beloved like Chuck Liddell or Randy Couture were in their eras. He's largely reviled for being "too fake" or "too cocky." Jon Jones isn't making money on his persona, or his status as an MMA icon. He's got to win in order to keep the perks that have come to him thus far. If he were to lose, especially to a guy coming off a loss to Anderson Silva, that would be devastating for him. Remember how Jones didn't want to fight Silva because of what one of them could potentially lose with a loss? All the risk he talked about with a Silva fight is shifted squarely on his shoulders. It's a lose-lose from a sporting aspect.
If he wins, he beat a blown up middleweight who just got wrecked by Anderson Silva. And even if he wins by decision and doesn't dominate Sonnen, that gets people on his case about how great he is not. If he loses, his domination over the light heavyweight division thus far means nothing. Or at least it would mean a lot less than it does right now. It'd be an asterisk on what has a chance of being the greatest career we've ever seen.
Now to be fair, there is definitely a more positive way to look at the personal aspect. The preceding paragraph is a worst-case scenario. The other side of the coin is that Jones could take the fight on eight days' notice and it could turn into a rehabilitation of his image. He could be seen as a "true champion" who "takes on all comers, any time, any place." If other fighters found out that he saved the card from being cancelled, his reputation among his peers would be sterling.
As it is, you've got Charlie Brenneman saying that Jones can send him rent money since it's his fault the event was cancelled. Not a good thing, and not exactly fair either. For the record, I think Jones would have been wise to take the fight. There are no sure things in MMA, but if you're looking for something as close to that as possible, look at a possible Sonnen-Jones matchup. Jones more than likely would have obliterated Sonnen. Then the event goes on as planned, everyone gets paid, Jones is heralded for taking the fight on short notice (even if it was against a guy who didn't deserve the shot), and everyone goes on their merry way to UFC 152. But that's me. My biggest annoyance is that I don't get to see fights next weekend when I really wanted to. I don't have a potential to lose millions of dollars by taking or refusing a fight. To me, it's hard to fault the guy for not taking it. Michael Bisping has already come out and said that he fought Sonnen on eight days' notice. That's true, but Bisping also had a lot more to gain and a lot less to lose by taking that fight. He lost, but he's in what could be another title eliminator already at UFC 152. Not too shabby.
There is one more thing I want to address here. I said earlier that Dana White's media call was irresponsible, and even knowing his propensity for outbursts, I find this one completely inexcusable. Dana White basically just took the guy who is potentially the face of his promotion for the next several years and called him a selfish coward. Not in those exact words, of course, but we all get the message. And he did this why? Because the guy wouldn't take a fight on just over a week's notice against what he considered to be a dangerous enough opponent that he'd need more than a week to prepare. Really? You're going to throw the youngest champion in UFC history under the bus because he doesn't want a fight that makes no sense and has very little upside for him? White essentially told all the fighters who were scheduled to fight at UFC 151 and all the fans who were looking forward to the event, "Hey, you guys are upset about this? Blame that guy." It's mind-blowing that he would do this. If there's one thing Dana White needs to do, in my humble opinion, it's to give a little thought to what he's going to say when he's upset about something instead of just scheduling a quickie conference call while he's still upset.
This is the UFC's fault
There are those who will say that the UFC brought this on themselves because their events are too thin. Think about that for just a minute, and you might realize how ludicrous it is. So what one is insinuating with that line of thought is that the UFC should put two main-event-caliber fights on each card? And not just main event, but pay-per-view main event-caliber? That would be insane. If you've got two main events, you've got two cards. Look, all we MMA apologists love to talk about how UFC cards are more worth the money than boxing cards because the cards are deeper. And you know what? It's still true even if you don't have two fights on the card that could potentially headline. Sure, every now and then you get a "supercard" containing two or even three fights that could headline, but there's a reason that those ones stand out. It's not the norm. It would be bad business if it were the norm. Regardless of all the complaints about the UFC's card depth, UFC cards are sold by the main event. All the rest is gravy. Just look at UFC 148. No one was complaining about how thin that card was, and boy was it ever thin. You think anyone would have been thrilled with Griffin-Ortiz III in the main event instead of Silva-Sonnen?
Not to mention, they probably could have headlined this event with Koscheck-Ellenberger, had Koscheck not pulled out of the fight. It wouldn't have been overwhelming by any means, but it was more appealing than Ellenberger-Hieron at the top of a card. The latter could main event an FX or Fuel card (more likely Fuel) but on a PPV, no chance. To those that are going to say that this is an indication of the UFC's propensity to run too many events, you're wrong. It's an indication that injuries happen in MMA, and they happen to have ravaged a summer that would have been home to some unbelievable cards (on paper, anyway).
These things happen in MMA. It sucks, but they do. It's easy to blame Jon Jones (Dana White foolishly made doubly sure of that), and he does deserve some of the blame. But the most culpable party in all of this is Dan Henderson's knee. But then, Hendo's knee is no fun to yell at on Twitter.
Got something to say? Hit me up on Twitter, @shawnennis, or shoot me an email at ennistorch(at)gmail.com, or just leave a note in the comments.
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