Dana White had a plan.
After UFC 151's main event between Jon Jones and Dan Henderson took a major blow when Henderson injured his knee in training, White moved quickly to make a replacement fight. He offered the fight to Lyoto Machida, but Machida turned it down due to the short notice he was given and the fact that he hasn't been training since beating Ryan Bader at UFC on Fox earlier this month.
White then moved to the only logical remaining replacement opponent for Jones: former middleweight title contender Chael Sonnen.
Sonnen recently announced his decision to move back to light heavyweight after two failed title tries at middleweight. He was scheduled to face Forrest Griffin in December, but accepted the fight immediately when White offered it to him. He even told White that he would fly to Vegas that night and fight Jones anywhere the UFC wanted him to.
There was just one problem: Jones refused to fight Sonnen on eight days notice.
White put the blame for Jones' decision squarely on coach Greg Jackson. But the real question is: Was Jones right in turning down the fight?
Put simply, I don't believe he was. And I'll tell you why.
Let's get one thing straight: Sonnen did not rightly deserve a fight with Jones. He hasn't earned it. That much is crystal clear. Sonnen lost his last fight to Anderson Silva, and he hasn't fought at light heavyweight in many years. In the purest of sports, Sonnen wouldn't receive any consideration at all, and rightly so.
But the UFC is in the business of selling pay-per-views, and it needed a main event for UFC 151. Sonnen may not have been the best choice, but he was the only choice available who would pique the public interest enough to sell pay-per-views. The UFC was between a rock and a hard place, and Sonnen was the only option, so White went with him.
But Jones threw a wrench in those plans. Why?
I find it hard to believe that Jones isn't confident he could beat Sonnen. Jones would be a heavy favorite going into that fight, and rightly so. Jones has been in training for several months for the Henderson fight, and Sonnen told White he hasn't trained a day since losing to Silva in July.
Jones would likely beat Sonnen, and perhaps he'd even beat him badly. So, why turn it down?
I understand the need to protect your career. Losing is a risky thing for any fighter, Jones included. But there's also something to be said for coming to the aid of the UFC when it needs you the most. And make no mistake about it, the UFC needed Jones to accept this fight. It had spent millions in marketing to push UFC 151 to the public.
On Wednesday night—before Jones turned down the fight—the UFC PR machine had started the process of creating marketing materials for Jones vs. Sonnen. Everything seemed kosher.
But that's all out the window now. For the first time in UFC history, an event has been canceled. All of the marketing money is gone, and the UFC won't get it back.
Fans will be refunded ticket money, which will cost the UFC millions. But a lot of the fans who planned on making the trip to Las Vegas to see a fight on Labor Day weekend may be out of luck when it comes to getting refunds on their flight and hotel bookings.
Meanwhile, the preliminary fighters who were counting on the money they'd make for the event to pay for the training camp they've just gone through are now going to go another few months without a paycheck.
It's a catastrophe for the UFC, and it's incredibly damaging to the brand. And it all could've been avoided if Jones had accepted what would have likely been an easy fight with Sonnen.
I firmly believe this is going to come back to haunt Jones at some point in the future. He has badly damaged his relationship with White, Lorenzo Fertitta and the UFC as a whole. That's something he's going to regret.
All quotes and news from Dana White via conference call.
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