5 Lessons Learned as a Result of the Cancellation of UFC 151
By now, you have read countless articles regarding the cancellation of UFC 151. Numerous news stories hit the internet more than four days ago recounting the events leading up to decision by Dana White to pull the plug.
So I will spare you the time and energy of reading another synopsis and quick-witted retort by this writer.
Rather, I would like to share with you five lessons learned as a result of the cancellation.
In the end, if we the fans cannot take more than blame and criticism pointed at Jon Jones and Greg Jackson, then we have not opened our eyes to more pressing issues for the UFC.
5. Top-tier talent within the Light Heavyweight division is scarce
The injury to Dan Henderson’s knee was the catalyst for a cataclysmic spiraling of debilitating events unseen within the UFC.
Reeling to fill the void of Hendo, the UFC attempted to complete negotiations with the top fighters within the division, including Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida.
Both Brazilians declined to accept the fight on short notice and Jones himself declined to accept a fight with Chael Sonnen for the same rationale causing the unprecedented cancellation of the entire event.
One question I had throughout this entire process was, “there are only two healthy light heavyweights who can challenge for the belt? How is that possible?”
The UFC is the pinnacle of mixed martial arts worldwide. Surely a promotion of this magnitude possesses a litany of qualified, high ranking challengers for the illustrious UFC light heavyweight title.
And clearly, I am wrong.
The light heavyweight division has eroded in its talent pool. No longer do three or four highly competitive fighters challenge for the title.
Apparently, outside of a middleweight in Sonnen stepping forward and volunteering to compete and two declines from Rua and Machida, the UFC had no remaining top-tier talent to fill the void left by Henderson’s injury.
What a tragic reality for one of the most dominant divisions of years’ past.
4. Pay discrepancy amongst fighters is abysmal
With the cancellation of the entire card in effect, the undercard fighters will have to wait their turn in line to earn their living.
Champion Jon Jones earned a hefty $400,000 with his defeat of Rashad Evans at UFC 145. This payout was provided by the UFC as his fighting salary only. Earnings outside of the ring including endorsement deals provided the champion with presumably much larger overall earnings.
Assuming that “Bones” is not Terrell Owens and does not squander his money like the United States government, delaying his earnings until his next matchup is not a financial liability for Jones.
Speaking frankly on Twitter, however, undercard competitor Jeff Houghland was not so comfortable with his current financial situation resulting from the cancellation of his fight.
“Wait am I not fighting?? Please say it ain’t so I got bills to pay @ufc !
@JonnyBones Can I at least get one of your new Nike T-shirts? I’ll give it to my kid since I won’t have any money for her school clothes.”
Earning $8,000 in his last matchup in a decision loss to Yves Jabouin in May of 2012, Houghland has earned $20,000 in his last two fights for Zuffa over the past calendar year.
Again, Houghland’s earnings do not include any endorsement deals or other means of income. Yet, the disparity between his paychecks and those of Jon Jones are staggering.
I am not implying that a bantamweight competitor such as Jeff Houghland deserves to earn the same compensation as light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
What I am implying, however, is that the discrepancy between earnings makes it very difficult for the up-and-coming competitors to stay viable within the sport when cancelling one event can be destructive to their yearly earnings.
All major sports have a balance of wages amongst their athletes.
Peyton Manning is the face and arm of the NFL and deservedly earns much more than the scout team quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.
But the lineman who protect Manning day in and day out may not bring the same value to the league that Manning does from a marketing standpoint, but the NFL realizes their importance and provides each player with a substantial minimum salary so that the athlete can prioritize football over the danger of not providing for their family.
3. Dana White and the UFC Brass will now always have a contingency plan
Blasting Jon Jones and trainer Greg Jackson for their decision not to accept Chael Sonnen on eight days’ notice, UFC President provided the business logistics on opposingviews.com.
"It’s major, major deal," said White. "We lose a lot of money, money that’s already been spent. We’re eight days out. We’ve spent tons of money on this fight. How long and how far it goes and how bad it hurts, I don’t know because it’s the first time we’ve done it."
One thing that you really have to think about are the fighters on the undercard. Sure, Jon Jones is rich, what does he care if he cancels the fight? But 20 other fighters on the card added up to almost a half a million dollars in purse money that Jones and Greg Jackson’s decision stole from them. No champion or headliner in UFC history has ever done that. As difficult as Tito Ortiz could be, even Tito never bailed on a fight.
Many people, from fans to PPV distributors, TV networks, sponsors and more importantly fighters who are working hard to support their families and build their careers are hurt badly by this selfish decision.
Regardless if you believe that Jon Jones and Greg Jackson are responsible for the cancellation of this card is irrelevant.
What is relevant, however, is that a situation such as this can never happen again. Not only is money lost, but the reputation of the UFC is tarnished and the bad publicity surrounding this cancellation can linger for some time.
I am quite certain that Dana White, the Fertitta brothers and the UFC brass will always possess a contingency plan so that an event is never cancelled again.
2. Social Media is a Dominant Force within MMA
We all are familiar with social media through the popularity of Facebook, Twitter and various other sites.
The dominance of this vehicle to interact with the masses provided a brilliant image into not only the up-to-the-second transgressions that occurred, but the emotional reaction by those of the event card’s inner circle, and MMA voices nationwide.
Via MMA Weekly, Dennis Hallman voiced his displeasure after the cancellation of his fight with Thiago Tavares by tweeting, “Hey @JonnyBones thanks for being so considerate to your fellow fighters, what a model champion. I guess we can stop the Ali comparisons.”
Charlie Brenneman was also quick to mention that both he and Rick Story took their fights on 24 hour notice after the testosterone replacement therapy saga of Nate Marquardt last summer.
“@jonnybones u can send my check to PO box 198. EH NJ. Rent is due the first, so preferably by then. Thanks,” tweeted Brenneman. He later tweeted, “Me n @rick_story took a fight on 24 hrs notice!! Champ what?!?!”
Champion Jon Jones also issued a formal apology. Quoted by pressconnects.com, Jones issued a statement saying, “(I’m) carrying the cross for my company’s decision,” Jones wrote. “If someone has to take the blame, I will accept full responsibility for the way UFC 151 was canceled. I want to sincerely apologize to all the other athletes/fans who’s (sic) time and money was waisted (sic). I feel terrible about the way that was handled.”
And the list of responses rages on from there.
Because of the influence of social media and instantaneous interaction with virtually everybody, the ebbs and flow of a dynamic business such as mixed martial arts can be viewed and scrutinized through every pair of looking glasses.
No longer does one opinion or a statement of facts from one perspective reign supreme.
Fans are provided not only changes in fight cards, but the reactions to those changes with a click of a mouse or activating an app on their smart phones.
We all now have all the information needed to form an unbiased opinion regarding news. What a novel concept.
1. Loyalty Rarely Trumps Selfishness
Considering this article is posted a few days after this debauchery of professionalism by fighters, management and UFC brass alike, I will finish this article by stating that Jon Jones will never be viewed by Dana White as “the man.”
Jones’s actions and clear lack of loyalty to the UFC in their time of need will never escape White’s memory.
Building the UFC into the billion-dollar empire it is today has taken Dana White and his fellow comrades many years, many hardships and unbridled determination, perseverance and a heart-filled dedication to be the best within all of mixed martial arts.
This work ethic ingrained by the brass has provided many fighters with a very successful living. Millionaire competitors such as Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Urijah Faber and so many more have the UFC to thank for their homes, their cars, the many zeroes in their bank accounts and virtually every other financial gain.
In return, Dana White has made it clear that he wants fighters who are dedicated to this sport by showing up on weight and prepared and eager to leave it all in the cage for the benefit of the fans.
Is that too much to ask of his employees by the president of the company that has made you a millionaire?
Dana White has shown dedication and loyalty to fighters in the past. Fighters exceeding their three fight loss streak—including the likes of Dan Hardy and Brandon Vera—have remained on the UFC roster because they have stepped up and done what was asked of them and busted their asses in the Octagon.
Loyalty, like so many other character traits of the 21st century including accountability and empathy, remains a foreign, abstract notion in the minds of some.
Jon Jones may believe he is loyal to the UFC, his title, his fans and fellow fighters; however, the reality is that the champ is only loyal to number one—himself.