Occupy The Throne – Edition #26

In this edition of Occupy The Throne, Samer Kadi and I look at the UFC’s cancellation of UFC 151.

Jeremy Lambert: Last Thursday the UFC did something unprecedented. They cancelled UFC 151, which was scheduled to take place this Saturday, after a number of things went wrong with the main event.

First, Dan Henderson was forced to pull out of the main event with a MCL sprain, leaving champion Jon Jones without a challenger. Scrambling to find a suitable replacement, UFC President called upon Chael Sonnen to replace his training partner against the champ. Even though Sonnen hasn’t won a fight at 205 and is coming off a TKO loss less than two months ago to 185 king Anderson Silva, Sonnen talked a big enough game in the past few weeks to receive a call from the head honcho. With essentially nothing to lose and almost everything to gain, Sonnen immediately accepted the fight. Jones, however, turned it down.

With Jones not willing to fight Sonnen and there being no one else to step up on just over a week’s notice, the UFC apparently had no choice but to cancel the entire event, leaving fans and fighters shocked. Things went well beyond just canceling an event though as Dana unleashed a tirade directed at Jones and his trainer Greg Jackson, who advised Jones to turn down the fight with Sonnen.

When the dust settled, we were left with Jones defending his title on September 22nd against Vitor Belfort, after Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua both turned down the title shot, and a lot of pissed off people, who aimed their vitriol mainly at the 205 champ.

Samer Kadi: In such a complicated turn of invents, pointing fingers and putting the blame on a single party is shortsighted, and overly simplifies what was, quite unfortunately, a situation in which nobody came off looking good. Dan Henderson’s injury meant that save for Zuffa drawing a rabbit out of a hat, the outcome was always going to be far from perfect. Losing a major title fight a mere eight days before it is scheduled to take place meant the UFC was left with very few options.

Whatever short notice plans the UFC managed to muster up all revolved around Jon Jones, who, as we later found out, was essential to UFC 151’s survival. Understandably, the UFC were intent on keeping Jones on the card. The light heavyweight champion however, was unwilling to square off against a different opponent on such short notice.

What does make Jones’ refusal to take the fight questionable is the fact that, from a stylistic perspective, he should be able to sleepwalk through Chael Sonnen. As a result, many were left baffled that “Bones” turned down an extremely favorable match-up against a middleweight stepping up on eight days’ notice. That sentiment is not unfounded, as it is near impossible to envision any version of Chael Sonnen – let alone an underprepared version – to beat Jon Jones. Therefore, it would be hard to deny that this entire debacle could have been avoided had Jones made a seemingly obvious decision and took the Sonnen bout.

That however, does not mean that Jones necessarily made a “wrong” decision, or even a misguided one. Inside the cage, Jones is a perfectionist, as is his trainer and head coach, Greg Jackson. In fact, Jackson’s gym prides itself on careful tape study and astute game planning. As such, it isn’t exactly unreasonable for Jones and his team to show apprehension, especially knowing that they could just as easily take the fight in three weeks, and come in better prepared. It is also hard to overlook that Jon Jones’ career has only just peaked, and following a lucrative deal with Nike, it is difficult to blame the young star for being too careful when it comes to his title reign. No matter how easy a match-up might look, no fight is a foregone conclusion (though this one isn’t too far off), and had Jones taken the fight and somehow lost (for the sake of this column, let’s pretend that it was ever a possibility), he would have looked back at his avoidable decision with great regret.

Jeremy Lambert: My partner laid out the reasons why Jones didn’t take the fight on September 1st against Sonnen and I can’t fault Jones for his reasoning. However, his alternative option made less sense than fighting Sonnen on 8 day’s notice. When he dropped out of the September 1st date, Jones was presented with a September 22nd fight date against Lyoto Machida, which is a fight that he recently spoke out against saying, “it doesn’t make sense.”

Either way, it didn’t seem like Jones would be happy with the outcome. Either fight on the date you’ve been training months for against a different, albeit easier, opponent or fight three weeks later against an opponent you’ve already destroyed and have no interest in fighting again. One outcome benefitted many and put you in the good graces of the company. The other outcome hurt many and pissed off the owner of the company. Jones picked the former. Obviously Jones is no longer fighting Machida at UFC 152, but at the time he made his decision, he had no clue that Vitor Belfort would be his eventual opponent.

To blame Jones for everything would be something that only Dana White and fighters who are looking for a raise would do though. Fact is, if Jon Jones defending his title wasn’t the only reason to purchase UFC 151, the event could’ve taken place as scheduled. We’ve seen main events fall through before and in most cases, the co-main event moved up on spot and things went on as schedule. UFC 131 went from Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard 3 to Quinton Jackson vs. Matt Hamill. UFC 137 went from Georges St. Pierre vs. Carlos Condit to Nick Diaz vs. BJ Penn. UFC 151 would’ve gone from Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson to Jake Ellenberger vs. Jay Hieron. No disrespect to Ellenberger and Hieron, but that’s a fight that would’ve headlined an AXS TV event a year ago.

The UFC failed to build a worthwhile card below the main event, so when the main event fell through, the UFC took the lesser of two money losing evils and decided to make like Jon Jones and not have a fight on September 1st.

Samer Kadi: When you oversaturate the product despite not having a robust enough roster to put on two events per months, fight cards are not always going to be stacked. When cards become all the more watered down due to injuries, you will find yourself in unfortunate situations. The main reason why UFC 151 was cancelled was because it’s a one-fight card. When that fight falls through, the rest of the card followed suit.

For years, the UFC rightly prided itself on putting on stacked cards with great fights all around — unlike their boxing counterpart — and undercards often equaling main events in terms of appeal. That however, is no longer the case. You would be hard pressed to remember the last truly stacked UFC PPV. These events are becoming increasingly less frequent, and it was only a matter of time before the consequences became apparent. It is seldom a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket, and the UFC is paying the price doing just that.

Consequently, putting the blame on Jon Jones for UFC 151’s cancellation is dubious. While it is perfectly understandable to criticize Jones’ decision not to take the bout with Sonnen, putting UFC 151’s cancellation on his shoulders is a step too far. The only decision Jones took was not to fight on the card. The decision to cancel the event on the other hand, emanated from the UFC. Their desire to keep Jones on the card is definitely justified, but when it became obvious that it would not be the case, they ceased looking for alternatives and threw him under the bus.

According to Dana White, both Chris Weidman and Chael Sonnen expressed their desire to step up and fight Jones. When the latter refused, Zuffa could have at least attempted to put together a fight between Sonnen and Weidman. Of course, this may not have eventually materialized, but they would have at least done their best to save the card. Naturally, such a main event would have been a letdown compared to what was previously advertised, but it would have certainly limited the financial damages that will result from the card’s cancellation.

In fact, it is a tad hypocritical to call Jones responsible for other fighters on the card not getting a paycheck and label him as selfish, when the UFC themselves only wanted to go through with the event if the champion would feature. Jones may have apologized on twitter to other fighters on the card, but at that point, he was exercising damage control. The fact that they couldn’t compete is ultimately due to the UFC’s decision, not Jones’.

Jeremy Lambert: Not blaming UFC 151’s cancellation on Jon Jones would’ve meant that Dana White would have to take responsibility for something going wrong in the sport, which is one thing that he’s never been good at. Ratings, attendance, or buyrates bad? Obviously the cards were great, so those poor figures must have to do with a movie opening or the sale at Target. Fighters failing drug tests? Dana can’t test all these guys himself, he’s got to go to Japan, it’s all the Commission’s fault. Can’t sign a certain fighter? Dana did everything he could do expect make him part owner of the company, he can’t help it that the fighter is represented by lunatics.

Dana doesn’t just put the blame on others when things go wrong though, he throws them under the bus and makes sure that the bus driver backs over them three or four times, comes to a complete stop to let the kids off so they can see who is being run over, and then backs over them another five times. Dana called Jones’ coach Greg Jackson, “a f*cking sport-killer” for advising Jones not to take the fight. He buried Jones for refusing to take the fight against Sonnen, essentially said that he never wanted the UFC to sponsor the guy, said that he was disgusted with him, called him selfish, and all but said that Jones would be fired or stripped of the title if he refused to fight on September 22nd.

But Jones did take the fight on September 22nd. So…..COME SEE THE GUY WHO KILLED UFC 151 BY REFUSING TO FIGHT A MIDDLEWEIGHT……FIGHT A MIDDLEWEIGHT! UFC 152! LIVE ON PPV!

Samer Kadi: If there is one thing MMA desperately needs, it is good PR. The main reason why a rather common event in this sport – a fighter pulling out with injury – turned into a complete theatre of misfortunes is not so much the repercussions of said injury, but rather, the way the entire situation was handled. As always, Dana White went into full overreaction rage mode, and completely buried his champion and one of his most marketable stars for turning down an opponent on eight days’ notice – ostensibly forgetting about the fact that he will have to start promoting his next fight in a couple of weeks.

White has the right to feel a bit slighted and let down by Jones, as he would be justified to feel “Bones” could have done the company a favor and step up. The way he expressed his frustration on that embarrassing media call however, was just that…an embarrassment. As only he can, Dana White went into full rant mode and came up with all the narratives that suited him. Aside from Jones, the main target of his tirade was the champion’s trainer, Greg Jackson, whom White advised to visit a psychiatrist. Apparently, thinking that taking on a new opponent on eight days’ notice is unreasonable makes for a mental help worthy offense. Moreover, White’s propaganda saw him conveniently omit the fact that Jackson and Jones expressed willingness in competing against Sonnen in three weeks’ time.

The statement released following UFC 151’s cancellation was equally cringe-worthy, noting that UFC 151 will “forever be remembered as the event Jon Jones and Greg Jackson murdered.” Regardless of who is in the right in this particular situation, this sort of unprofessionalism is part of the reason why, in spite of their commendable hard work, Dana White and the UFC might fall short of the dreams and standards they’ve set for themselves.

Unfortunately, bad PR is not exclusive to the UFC higher-ups. Jones himself is guilty of just that, and it isn’t the first time he’s displayed it. His Facebook outburst following his DUI made a bad situation even worse, and the fact that it took him a full two days to release a statement on his refusal to fight at UFC 151 rather than go in full damage control mode and respond immediately made it all the more easy for those who bought into the White’s narrative to criticize Jones.

Jeremy Lambert: Jon Jones likes to claim that he’s not just a fighter, but also a businessman. The business Jones is in is “The Jon Jones Business.” It’s become very clear over the past year or so that Jones is only looking out for himself and no one else. While being self-employed and only having one client seems like a pretty good deal, it goes south very quick when your business plan sucks and has no direction.

Make no mistake about it, Jones has made a lot of money in a short period of time. He’s the UFC light heavyweight champion and possibly the most talented fighter in the sport, he’s the second or third biggest draw in the company right now, he’s been featured in FOX ads, and he’s signed a deal with Nike. If Jon got into MMA to be the best and make a ton of money, he’s already succeeded. But Jon wants more than that. He wants to be loved.

We all remember Greg Jackson screaming at Jones to, “get some fans” by checking on Lyoto Machida after he choked him unconscious. Jon wants to be loved, but when he steps on that battlefield, he finds himself alone with nothing but his four ounce gloves. Even though it took him two days to issue a statement on his refusal to fight Chael Sonnen, I accepted his reasoning. Then Jon Jones had to be Jon Jones. He took to twitter to try and make himself out as a martyr and he cast blame towards Dan Henderson for not informing the UFC of his possible injury earlier, before Henderson had a clue how serious it was. Then, like the chorus of a potential Taylor Swift song, Jones unfollowed Dana White on twitter.

If Jones embraced the hate and decided to become MMA’s Floyd Mayweather Jr., we’d chalk all of his actions up to, “Bones being Bones,” but because he preaches love and the word of God, we chalk his actions to “Bones being fake and clueless.”

Samer Kadi: As a young and extremely talented fighter who has already accomplished so much, you would expect Jones to be a bigger fan favorite. However, poor PR and questionable decision-making have certainly rendered the light heavyweight champion unnecessarily unpopular. Despite wanting to come across as a level-headed person who is thriving to become a role model (Jones’ own words), Jones often deviates from that path. And while it is only natural that success at a young age is going to get to an athlete, Jones needs a bit of guidance.

The UFC should have been wise enough to realize that and tone down their anti-Jones propaganda. Ultimately, Zuffa need Jon Jones and they know it. They need him to be a star, and they need him to draw well. Making him look as bad as they did is ultimately counter-productive. Moreover, while Zuffa love to have near total control over their fighters’ business decisions (sponsorship being a major example), they have to accept that fighters like Jon Jones, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre have major name value that goes beyond the UFC brand. In their respective countries, St. Pierre and Silva have turned into huge stars, and Jones’ recent deal with Nike is a major step forward for him. It is only natural that these guys are not 100% company men the way say, Rich Franklin and Matt Hughes are.

Naturally, they are going to butt heads with the UFC on occasions, and Dana White along with the Fertitta brothers need to deal with these situations with better judgment. The bigger an athlete’s name is going to become, the more he is going to be looking out for himself. If the UFC really wants to fully reach that mainstream level, and wants its athletes to be as well-known as those in other sports, they have to learn how to deal with these situations. Dana White’s dig at fighters being “businessmen” is short-sighted and frankly laughable. Top fighters are businessmen, as evidenced by sponsors, endorsements, owning gyms, etc. White wanting to reduce them to fighters and nothing beyond shows a lack of understanding that could lead to more clashes in the future.

Jeremy Lambert: A clash between White and more fighters can only happen if more fighters start thinking like businessmen though, which is clearly not the way most of them are wired if we’re to believe fighter outrage after UFC 151 was canceled. Almost every single fighter fell in line with White and blamed Jones for the loss of the event. Very few put the onus the company, and those that did, did so very quietly.

It’s quite sad that UFC fighters know that they better ask, “how high?” when Dana tells them to jump or else risk unemployment. Then again, when they’re getting paid as little as reported, it makes sense that they would want to stay in the good graces of the man with the most control in the sport. It’s no secret that 95% of UFC fighters are underpaid, but things like that really come to light when an event is scrapped and fighters are worried about not being able to pay rent on time. Of course they can’t direct their anger at White though, because he signs their paychecks, and even though it’s tough to pay rent when your fight gets rescheduled, it’s even tougher to pay rent when you don’t have a fight at all. So instead fighters took to blaming Jones, who is financially set and had a rescheduled date already set. It’s amazing that the fighters, who found out about the event cancellation at the same time as media and fans, didn’t blame Jones for that as well.

The fighter backlash towards Jones just goes to show how loose that “fighter bond” really is. In other sports, thanks in large part to a players unions, the players always look out for each other and protect one another when it comes to business dealings. In MMA, because most fighters don’t understand business, everyone turns against the ones who do. There’s a reason why so many fighters say, “I’m just a fighter.” If you fight first, fight second, fight third, and ask questions never, Dana White loves you. And who doesn’t want to be loved by their boss?

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