UFC president Dana White on Thursday had to do something he never thought he’d ever have to do. Following a knee injury to UFC 151 main event title challenger Dan Henderson – who was slated to fight UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones –White had to pull the plug, cancelling the entire UFC 151: Jones vs. Henderson event.
That’s the short of it. The long of it was a whirlwind 24 hours in which he thought the event would still take place, and a hastily assembled Thursday UFC 151 conference call that he thought would be used to announce a shift in opponents… not the cancellation of the event, altogether.
After several contenders turned down the shot at Jones, for various reasons, one man stepped up and accepted the challenge: Chael Sonnen. The UFC immediately went to work.
“Chael Sonnen accepted the fight with Jon Jones, wanted the fight bad. So as of eight, nine o’clock (Wednesday) night, we had a fight,” recounted White during Thursday’s announcement. “We here at the UFC started working.
“I was gonna do this call, and this was obviously going to be a much different call this morning, but the one thing that I never thought in a million years would happen, happened. Jon Jones said, ‘I’m not fighting Chael Sonnen with eight days notice.’”
The decision to not take the fight ultimately falls on the shoulders of Jones, but he didn’t make the decision without a consult first, and for that, White leveled some harsh criticism at Jones’ head trainer, Greg Jackson.
“Again, something that’s never happened in UFC history. A guy that’s a world champion and considered one of the pound-for-pound best turns down a fight,” said an exasperated White.
“How about this? He says I gotta sit down and talk to my coaches. His coach, Greg Jackson, says there is no way you take this fight. You don’t take this fight on eight days notice. It would be the biggest mistake of your entire career.
“Wow! Chael Sonnen is a 185-pounder, who wants to move up to 205, who hasn’t trained for this fight. The fight is in eight days, and he says he’ll fly here tonight to fight the supposed pound-for-pound third best fighter in the world, the world champion, and you have so much… I mean, how much faith do you have in your champion, in your guy?”
White has a point, but then again, so does Jones and his camp.
“It was actually three days notice; it’s not eight days notice because you don’t train the last week of a fight camp. That’s when you do media and weight cutting; there’s no real training going on there. When I was asked if fighting Sonnen for a world title on three days notice was a smart idea, I said no,” Jackson on Thursday explained to MMAWeekly.com.
“Chael is in a great position in that he’d been training with Dan Henderson for this fight, getting him ready, and he’s in shape. He knows the plan on what they’re gonna do to get around Jon. So he’s ready to go,” Jackson continued. “It’s not like he’s stepping off the couch and into a fight. So taking a fight of that caliber with a guy that’s ready, on three days notice, for a world championship, without any time to prepare, is just not professional to me.”
With Henderson’s return timeline unclear, Jones agreed to face Lyoto Machida, the top UFC light heavyweight contender after Henderson, at UFC 152 on Sept. 22 in Toronto.
They tried to make the Machida fight for UFC 151, but Machida was already en route to Brazil. White said he could accept that.
What he couldn’t seem to accept was Jackson telling Jones that it wasn’t a smart idea to take a fight with Sonnen just eight days away from the event.
“I’ll go on the record saying, this guy is a (expletive) sport killer!” White said of Jackson. “This guy is from another planet. I’ve never even seen anything like it in my life.”
He is no more enamored by his current 205-pound champion.
“Good for you Jon Jones; you’re rich and you’ve got some money. You don’t need to take this fight, but there’s 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.
“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.”
At the time he counseled Jones, Jackson was unaware that the cancellation of one fight would lead to the cancellation of the entire event. In the end, however, he probably wouldn’t have told him anything different had he known.
“I don’t think I would’ve changed my opinion about it,” he told MMAWeekly.com. “That still doesn’t sound like a good idea at all.
“I was giving my opinion on if that was a good fight or not. Sonnen is no joke. He’s a great, great fighter.”
There are obviously differing factors for each side of the argument.
White, the promoter, sees the whole equation more from the “bigger picture” business side of the equation: how many dollars and sense it cost the UFC and all the various parties that would benefit from UFC 151 moving forward, including the other fighters on the card.
Jones and his camp have more of a vested interest in him being successful in whatever fight he takes, retaining the belt, and forwarding his brand. His brand is something that’s become quite valuable of late, including a recent sponsorship signing with Nike.
But whatever the reasoning of Jones’ camp, White wasn’t buying; particularly when it came to Jackson, whom White has often criticized for his approach to coaching fighters.
“Saying if Jon Jones takes the fight with Chael Sonnen it’d be the biggest mistake of his entire career because he’s not ready for that guy? Greg Jackson should never be interviewed by anybody ever again,” said White. “Except by a psychiatrist.”
Jackson wouldn’t bite, however, when it came to White’s barbs.
“I won’t say a bad thing about Dana White,” said Jones’ coach. “I respect him and I’m sorry he feels that way.”
Stay tuned to MMAWeekly.com for more about the UFC 151 cancellation and related UFC news.