The winners and losers from the fallout
August, 24, 2012
By Josh Gross
During 12-plus years covering mixed martial arts, I've never seen a day like Aug. 23.
This is the timeline:
Right around 12:30 p.m. ET, the UFC announced president Dana White would host a conference call an hour-and-a-half later to address the fate of UFC 151. Speculation ran wild that Dan Henderson was injured and needed to pull out of his UFC light heavyweight challenge against Jon Jones, which turned out to be true. Speculation was equally strong that Chael Sonnen had been tabbed to replace the former Pride champion. Also true.
What no one knew was this: Jones wanted nothing to do with Sonnen on Sept. 1, Zuffa would cancel a card for the first time in its history and the champ's next defense would come several weeks later against Lyoto Machida in Toronto. Crazy enough. Then Anderson Silva reportedly volunteered to fight at 151 in an effort to save the date (it was too late). Machida declined to fight Jones because he wouldn't have enough time to prepare (he'll probably lose his No. 1 contender status). And Vitor Belfort stepped up to fight Jones in Canada after the UFC no longer deemed Sonnen an option.
Carnage -- leaving mostly losers and few winners. Here's how it shakes out.
Chael Sonnen -- Sonnen nearly talked his way into a "nothing to lose" contest against Jon Jones. As it stands now, he comes off as an opportunist, but that's not a bad thing at all. Sonnen said yes to fighting one of the most dangerous competitors in MMA, a call that would have salvaged an event and probably delivered a better pay-per-view number than Jones-Henderson. Sonnen played this one perfectly and used the moment to redeem himself after losing to Silva last month. The timing of his Twitter attacks on Jones was curious, since it coincided with Henderson's injury, further proof of just how sly the 35-year-old Oregonian can be. Be ready to hear him attack Jones more vociferously than he went after Silva.
Vitor Belfort -- Out of nowhere Belfort swooped in to get a crack at Jones. He was tabbed to fight dangerous Alan Belcher at UFC 153. Instead, he benefits from a "nothing to lose" situation against Jones, should register a big payday on pay-per-view and comes off looking like a guy who will fight anyone, any time. Though Belfort will miss out on fighting in Rio, heading to Toronto (after already having been in camp preparing for Belcher) was a no-brainer.
Anderson Silva -- Perhaps it was an empty gesture, but Silva looks good for offering to step in to keep the Mandalay Bay event intact. The ship had already left port, but this overture by Silva, accused in the past of not being a company guy, won't be forgotten (in a good way) by the UFC.
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comJon Jones turned his back on a bout with Chael Sonnen and sinked UFC 151 in the process.The fans -- Pretty obvious that fans lost out big time. From the people who planned to be in Las Vegas next weekend to those who were content watching at home, nothing in the way this played out benefits the consumer. Losing a chance to see Jones fight Henderson was bad enough. Enduring a card cancellation and the subsequent headaches could very well turn some fans off entirely.
The UFC -- Marketing dollars for UFC 151 will never be recouped. The PR hit associated with canceling an event for the first time is tough to swallow. Having a young stud champion turn down a fight makes for an interesting twist in the promoter-athlete dynamic that has long skewed toward Zuffa. White went after the young star and his camp, leading to a situation that will probably require mending. The cancellation provided more fodder for critics who see recent injury problems and too many events leading to a watered-down product. All in all, an awful day for the people inside UFC.
Undercard fighters -- Bouts already have been shifted for the weeks and months ahead, but the fact that these guys went through entire training camps only to have the rug pulled simply sucks.
Jon Jones -- As terrible as this event was for Zuffa, Jones is taking the brunt of criticism for opting against fighting Sonnen, thus leading to the cancellation of Sept. 1's pay-per-view event. Some will say Jones did the smart thing. There was nothing to gain by fighting Sonnen. Jones was only protecting himself. But the majority won't view it that way. They'll see Jones as selfish, as causing major headaches for his promoter as well as fellow fighters. Being hammered by White and Sonnen will only compound that effect. He could have taken a fight against an underprepared Sonnen, whooped the guy, made a payday and been done with him. Instead, Jones will have to cope with Sonnen chirping incessantly -- something he was already tired of.
Lyoto Machida -- Bye, bye No. 1 contender. Machida's decision to turn down a fight with Jones four weeks from now will put the Brazilian in the crosshairs of fans, pundits and his promoter. In the end, though, it may turn out to be the best decision. Perhaps Machida wouldn't have been prepared on the 22nd (he said he wanted more time to train), and what good would it do him to fight Jones at less than 100 percent? But still, to have been slotted in and then removed from the fight won't ingratiate him to anyone. This means Machida will need another win before getting a title shot. Was the trade-off worth it? Only time will tell.
Greg Jackson -- Jones' trainer isn't White's favorite guy to begin with. Now White has taken to calling Jackson a "f---ing sport killer." Jackson told Jones he thought it was a bad idea to fight Sonnen on eight days' notice. For that he drew the ire of fans and the UFC. Jackson's defense was simple: He didn't believe the bout was in Jones' best interest. Compared to other options at hand, I don't understand why. Sonnen would have delivered a nice payday, meanwhile he wasn't at all prepared for the light heavyweight champion.
Dan Henderson -- Look, he was injured, so there's not a lot he could have done. Henderson wanted to fight and, though he basically was forced out of the gym for two weeks, was willing to take on Jones if he could walk in the cage. At Henderson's age, any setback is a major one. He won't require surgery, but who knows if a title shot will materialize again.