Thursday, August 23, 2012
Area 151, where an entire card went missing
By Chuck Mindenhall
UFC 151 will never happen. It disappeared from the UFC’s timeline, much like the 13th floor in many elevators.
How did we get here? It all happened in the fog of rumor, very fast and very stealthily.
It began when the main event’s challenger, Dan Henderson, partially tore his MCL in training at Team Quest this past week, and had to back out of his fight with Jon Jones. That left the UFC scrambling (once again) to fill a big spot on very short notice, this time for a main event just nine days removed from touching gloves.
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Of course, a quiet disaster ensued behind the scenes, which in 2012 feels like a recurring nightmare for UFC matchmaker Joe Silva. The UFC first asked No. 1 contender Lyoto Machida to step in, but he declined. Dana White said he could hardly blame Machida given the circumstances.
But then the UFC asked the barely recovered middleweight Chael Sonnen, the most marketable Plan B ever invented, if he’d do it. This was a last-ditch effort. Sonnen not only agreed, he was online booking his flight to Vegas before Jones could even respond.
Then Jones responded. And his response was an unexpected, particularly divisive “no.”
Down went UFC 151.
The UFC hosted a media call to explain the ramifications of that “no” today, a moment White referred to as one of his “all-time lows as the UFC president.” The long and short: There won’t be a UFC 151. The louder, overarching gist was more accusatory: Jones and his trainer Greg Jackson (who advised him) just squandered millions of dollars for the company and left a million people in the lurch. Fans, fighters, media and the promotion alike. Even Joe Rogan had his comedy show canceled at the Mandalay Bay. It was a complete and careless domino effect.
And it meant that UFC 151 disappeared from the Las Vegas Strip as if it were all an epic David Copperfield trick.
Abracadabra. Gone. Kaput.
But for as much as Jones and Jackson are getting blasted for being so inconsiderate, there’s room to spread some blame here. Begin with the fact that Jay Hieron -- filling in for an injured Josh Koscheck -- was in the rickety co-main against Jake Ellenberger. A fight like that never stood a chance as a makeshift headliner in a worst-case scenario of a pay-per-view. There was no way the main event could be extracted this late without the whole house of cards falling down.
So it fell.
And this plays into the new and popular criticism that the UFC has been playing fast and loose with words like “event.” The depth of 2012 pay-per-view cards is far different from PPV cards of yesteryear. A big part of that is injuries. Koscheck-Ellenberger might have been able to stand on its own, but Hieron-Ellenberger could not. In short, more and more cards are vulnerable, and part of that has to do with the sheer volume of events.
Jon Jones turned down a chance to save UFC 151 from extinction. Does that mean he deserves all of the blame?
UFC 147 should never have been a pay-per-view. Had Rich Franklin not been the “company man” one more time, that one might not have been salvaged either. In retrospect, many wished UFC 149 had been scrapped, after they spent $50 to discover their own disappointment.
Sonnen was willing to step up in a pinch because he had nothing to lose in a spot like that. Jones was advised it’d be foolish to accept the fight, and for reasons that make perfect sense -- to the individual, that is. To everybody outside of the individual, it felt like the rug was pulled out on something good. Sonnen-Jones had the potential to be bigger than Henderson-Jones, and a week was the perfect amount of time to suffer another Sonnen buildup.
As for the magnitude of the bout? If Jones didn’t like the idea of a Machida rematch based on poor PPV numbers, he’d have loved the business end of a Sonnen fight. Apparently that logic didn’t stack up next to basic preparedness. Jones’ penance is that he’s being redirected to Toronto (again) to fight Machida (again) on Sept. 22, in a playback bout not too many people were clamoring for. Is it his penance, or ours?
Either way, it’s the way the quiet disaster played out behind the scenes.
And for the first time in Zuffa history, a scheduled card had to be scrapped -- unless you count the original UFC 145 in Montreal that was supposed to go down in March. That one was nixed when Henderson turned down a fight with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, preferring to wait on his title shot with Jones. That one was still in the planning stages; this one was nine days away. Henderson played a hand in both cancellations (one by choice, the other by injury).
Jones played a hand, too. Only his hand had the power to shut down Labor Day weekend.
It all becomes the fallout of UFC 151, which no longer exists.