UFC 151 Cancelled: Dana White Furious After Jon Jones Refuses to Fight Sonnen on Short Notice

August 23, 2012

The UFC 151 card, scheduled for September 1 in Las Vegas, has been officially cancelled according to UFC president Dana White.

After challenger Dan Henderson suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones refused to fight his replacement, middleweight contender Chael Sonnen. White was quick to point out in today's media conference call that this was the first time in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship that a champion has refused to face an alternative challenger after an injury to his original opponent.

"This is probably one of my all-time lows as being president of UFC,” White said. “Dan Henderson tried to train, he continued to work out and saw a doctor, but there was nothing we could do to save that fight."

“But Chael Sonnen stepped up accepted the fight with Jon Jones last night. As of 8pm last night, we thought we had a fight fans would love to see. Then at about 9pm the one thing I never thought would happen in a million years happened. Jon Jones said, “I won't fight Chael Sonnen on eight days notice’. That has never happened in the history of the UFC, a guy who is a champion, and a guy who is supposed to be one of the best fighters in the world, pound-for-pound, refuses to fight."

“Chael is just coming up from 185 pounds. He said that not only would he face Jones in eight days, he’d jump in a plane to Vegas and fight him that night if he was asked to. Jones’s trainer, Greg Jackson, told Jon that taking the fight with Chael would be the biggest mistake of his life. That’s what he told Jon Jones. Let me tell you, this guy (Greg Jackson) is a sport killer."

In fairness to Jones, Dana White is paraphrasing his alleged statement, so we don't really know exactly what was said. Still, even if it is accurate, Jones appears to have made a business decision that is in his best interests.

Jones is currently at the peak of his game, having run through a handful of respected opponents in his recent bouts. Those victories have given him an aura of invincibility and have led to some fans calling for a mega-fight between Jones and Anderson Silva. In other words, Jones has a lot more to lose with a defeat than does Sonnen.

Although Sonnen has a size disadvantage and is coming off a recent loss to Silva, the one thing he could exploit is Jones' limited preparation for his style and quickness. So even if Jones would likely defeat Sonnen, there is a sound rationale to his position.

Of course, in fairness to White, he is thinking big picture here -- the impact on the undercard fighters, the loss of money already invested, and the potential blow to the reputation of his sport.

"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.”

Jones' decision surprised Henderson.

“This is the first time that the champion wouldn't step up and fight, and I was pretty shocked to hear that," Henderson said. "It's not like he's injured. It's unbelievable to me that he wouldn't take that 'the show must go on' attitude. If there was any way I could have gone, and any way that I thought I could give myself a chance to compete, I would have done that."

In combat sports, injuries happen. The recent boxing card between Tavoris Cloud and Jean Pascal was cancelled due to injury, and fans and sponsors were inconvenienced, but eventually that fight will happen and the cancellation will be forgotten.

Similarly, this setback should not be viewed with a "sky is falling" mentality because it makes the sport looks petty. At this stage in the game, UFC is too big and too far established to regress due to one mere cancellation.

More importantly, by avoiding a poor showing from Jones, the UFC will preserve the invincible image of one of its biggest stars. And in this game, its the stars that bring the PPV buys.

Jones is now scheduled to defend his title in Toronto on September 22 against Lyoto Machida in UFC 152. In a bit of irony, Machida's handlers have indicated that he is not aware of the bout and that preparation could be an issue. Might history repeat itself once more?

By Staff of The Daily Sports Herald and news services

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