UFC 151 Fallout: Fighters Don't Cancel Entire Fight Cards, Promoters Do

Levi Nile@@levinileContributor IIIAugust 28, 2012

Apr. 9, 2011; San Diego, CA, USA; UFC president Dana White sits cageside during a Strikeforce bout at the Valley View Casino Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

So it’s come to this: The Captain has decided to jump on a lifeboat and let one of his brightest stars go down with the ship named UFC 151

Of course, it’s all Jon Jones and his coach Greg Jackson's fault. After all, they are but one fighter and one trainer, and thus responsible for the fate of the entire card and all the other fighters and their supporters that will now not get paid.

Not all that long ago, Affliction saw the cancellation of their third card—and their company soon after—when Josh Barnett was denied license to fight Fedor Emelianenko. As a new company with little experience in dealing with the problems that can plague a fight promotion at each and every stage, they simply fell apart.

Dana White enjoyed this to no end and used it as proof positive that all other organizations were so woefully out of their depth compared to the UFC that there really wasn’t any competition at all.

Back then, the notion of having to cancel an entire card because one fighter fell out was the sure sign of amateur hands at work. MMA is for the big boys, and the big boys expect the unexpected and plan accordingly; that’s why there are such things as co-headliner bouts.

And yet here we are, mourning the loss of a card that never was, and if Dana White has anything to say about it, we will be pointing our fingers at Jon Jones and Greg Jackson, crying “They did it! This was their decision!” for years to come.

And that is nothing but bunk.

Dana White and co. do a pretty incredible job on a daily basis with the UFC, putting out quality cards that also have many fights with clear divisional ramifications, but for UFC 151, they dropped the ball.

This was not a great card built from the ground up. It was a passable card built around one man, and when that happens, all eggs are in one basket, and that is never wise. When the main event fell through (as they do from time to time), the lack of depth the card suffered could no longer be denied, so instead it was canceled and the blame game began in earnest.

It is totally unwise and unfair to put the fate of an entire card upon the shoulders of one man. Main event fighters fall off cards all the time, and if anyone should know that, it’s Dana White. Yet they went ahead and did it anyway, and when Dan Henderson got injured, Jones was placed in a no-win situation.

The truth is, none of the fault of a cancelled card belongs to Jones or his coach, Greg Jackson, as neither man is in charge of the UFC and they don’t put the fights together or run the machine that delivers the finished product to the fans on fight night.

The fate of an entire card should never have been based on the decision of Jones in the first place, but because it was, it shows that White and everyone else at Zuffa didn’t put a lot of forethought into things, which is a clear bungle when you consider one of White’s sayings about his job is, “Something goes wrong every single day.”

For a man who seems to expect the worst and claims that being able to deal with adverse situations is one of the reasons why he’s the best man for the job, he let this one situation come up and slap him right in the face. Now he’s casting the blame on Jones and Jackson, proving all his detractors right by showing that he is more than happy to throw one of his own under the bus if it allows him to deflect harsh criticism, and make no mistake about it, UFC 151 failed due to the hubris of White.

But that’s not going to stop him from spinning this any way he can in order to make one of his rising stars look simply horrible.

“Good for you Jon Jones; you’re rich and you’ve got some money. You don’t need to take this fight, but there are a bunch of guys on the undercard that this is how they feed their family. This is how they make their living,” stated White, as reported by MMAweekly.com.

“This is one of those disgusting decisions that doesn't just effect you. You just affected 16 other people's lives. I don't think this is a decision that is going to make Jon Jones popular with the fans, sponsors, cable distributors, television network executives, or other fighters.” 

Of course, when spun like this, Jones and Jackson sound spoiled and almost cruel, which is exactly as White wanted it. But he and the rest of Zuffa have been in this business for a long while, and they know what can go wrong; any company who’s been millions in the hole only to post a profit after years of effort knows just how badly things can go wrong.

The UFC is now a huge corporation that has enough rainy-day money in the bank to eat many such disappointing nights while making sure their fighters get paid. When they were still young in their ownership of the company, they had to deal with a horrid show in UFC 33 where all the fights went the distance, and in turn, the fans who ordered the PPV didn’t get to see the last three rounds of the main event title fight.

Many people were disappointed and many wanted their money back. Zuffa didn’t fold and the UFC didn’t collapse because White and the Fertitta brothers are good business men who know the value of saving money for the bad times.

And because of that, it is hard to believe that Zuffa would decide against paying the fighters who were scheduled to fight on the UFC 151 undercard: after all, they have shown that they are happy to give out many thousands of dollars in bonuses to fighters who they felt got screwed by bad judging, such as Nam Phan, who was given a win bonus in his first bout against Leonard Garcia, even though the judges awarded the victory to Garcia and not Phan. 

In fact, for the same amount of money they hand out for one fight-of-the-night bonus, nearly all the undercard fighters (the ones that Jones is apparently stealing food from, not to mention their families) could have been paid by Zuffa, which would be the right thing. 

But in this case, they decided that their point would be better illustrated by leading the voices of many in a Zuffa penned sing-a-long and to the end of inflaming the passions behind those voices, they appear (for now) to have decided not to pay out any money (under the guise that either they don’t have it, or can’t afford to do it, etc.), content to point their fingers at Jones and Jackson.

And what’s a shame is that so many people are buying it.

When looking at a circus like this, it’s hard to remember who’s responsible for what job, because so many voices are screaming and so many accusations being hurled.

To be fair to Dana White, I do not think he is a mean or evil man, or a cruel one. He is one of the most passionate supporters of his company and the sport, and would probably cut off his right hand Yakuza-style if he thought MMA needed it.

But none of those great virtues in a leader can change some basic facts: White is the fight promoter, not Jones or Jackson. It’s his job to make sure the UFC doesn’t get blindsided by situations like this, and this time he failed.

It might sound as if this is too harsh on White and Zuffa, but in reality that’s what White and the UFC are supposed to be able to do—deal with the unexpected—which rival companies like Affliction and others could not.  

But White didn't act like a promoter; in fact, he went the exact opposite direction and scrapped the whole show and hung the blame on one of their most active fighters of late—not to mention their brightest star—and all seemingly done in defense of wounded pride or slighted ego.  

For the longest time now, nearly without fail, any shortcomings of White could be justly forgiven or overlooked because of how transparent and honest he is with the way he conducts business. His flaws are part of his charm, and he’s as uncompromising as the sport he’s championed relentlessly for the past ten years.

In the March 2012 issue of UFC magazine, White talked about fighters and protecting them from the many pitfalls of the fight game.  

Q: Are you able to see a fighter for the first time and in a few seconds know, oh yeah, he’s got it?

White: You can. But this is a crazy business. You’ll see a guy who looks like he could be great. But all it takes is one little thing to spin his career off track. Bad Management. A girlfriend or wife terrorizing him behind the scenes. All kinds of personal problems. The cling-ons. The cling-ons are the lowest of the low. The crawl out from under the rocks when a guy becomes successful, and they’re f#@king everywhere.

Q: Is it part of your responsibility to suss out the cling-ons and help the fighters avoid them?

White: I try to.  

White has been great to the fans and fighters and he’s been incredible for the sport because he loves it so much. He’s been tireless in the service of the UFC and MMA, and up until now, he’s never put his needs or wants before those of the sport.

All that changed for the first time when he decided to pass the buck and the blame to a man who honestly didn’t deserve it and in all probability didn’t see it coming. After all, the UFC had never cancelled a fight card in the entire history of the company.

Should Jones have handled things differently? I think so, but any time an opponent is switched at the last minute, the risks rise, and when you consider how different the game plans of Henderson and Chael Sonnen are, you see they are very different fighters.

Jones would have had everything to lose in that situation if he’d have taken a fight with Sonnen, and considering how often he’s been fighting over the past 18 months it’s perfectly understandable that he would want to give a fighter like Sonnen—who would be the best proven takedown artist Jones has ever faced—the attention he’s due, and that isn’t found inside of eight days.

Normally, I am a staunch advocate that fighters should be about the business of fighting and nothing else. If called to fight, they must say yes, without hesitation; that is their job, after all.

I personally think Jones should have taken any opponent put in front of him. But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to put Jones on trial in the court of public opinion, especially when you’ve got the loudest microphone and can paint as villainous a picture of Jones as you want.

What’s true of Jones in guilt is equally true of White, if not more so. Jones is a fighter, and he should have fought, bottom line. But White is the promoter, and he should have found a way to keep the card alive, if for no other reason that seeing all the other fighters paid (which is his responsibility as their employer) or for the sake of keeping the UFC’s record of no cancelled shows a perfect one.

Now, White is attacking Jones, quite possibly to the long term detriment of his young career. He’s currently working on making Jones out to be a pariah, which seems far more damaging than anything a “cling-on” could do. 

Jones is guilty of not taking the fight placed in front of him. What he’s not guilty of is cancelling the entire card, because that is not within his power.

Fighters don’t cancel entire fight cards, promoters do.


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