It’s amazing what a minute can do. In this case that minute was approximately 2 p.m. ET. Dana White announced that for the first time in 11 years an event would be cancelled. Not because of Dan Henderson’s injury, but because the light heavyweight champion refused to fight a middleweight.
Yes, you read that correctly. Jon Jones refused to fight Chael Sonnen.
The sound echoing through my head right now is the voice of Greg Jackson yelling to Jones to “go get some fans” after Jones dropped an unconscious Lyoto Machida after choking him out at UFC 140. Jackson also told Jones that making the choice to fight Sonnen on eight days notice would be the biggest mistake of his career.
Again, it’s amazing what a minute can do. The same guy that instructed his fighter to go get some fans after a win, is the same guy that potentially cost the champ a massive amount of fans.
Just a year ago, Jones was the future of the sport. The man that may very well have been responsible for taking mixed martial arts mainstream. He is the youngest champion in UFC history, steamrolling his way through his competition. He has a mega-watt smile, he’s articulate, he was drawing attention from late-night TV shows, ESPN and ultimately Nike. It may be safe to say that the 25-year-old had the weight of the MMA world on his shoulders.
Then came his run-in with a telephone pole. In the now infamous decision to drive while intoxicated was the first derailment in the golden boy’s career. He got off easy that time, almost to the point you had to question the UFC’s lack of concern over the fact that their star could’ve killed someone in the wake of his reckless decision.
After signing a global endorsement deal with apparel giant Nike, it seemed like the negative attention was finally dispersing. The future of MMA was back on the right track and the only thing standing in his way was a 40-year-old legend with a helluva right hand.
Wednesday night the Twitter world went crazy. Rumors ran rampant that Henderson hurt his knee and would be out of his UFC 151 match-up with Jones. No one knew for sure, but the writing was on the wall. Kenny Florian’s cryptic tweet started the ball rolling. Henderson’s tweet about a great training session seemed to slow the speculation. Then, Tarec Saffeidine unknowingly poured fuel on the fire when he contradicted Henderson’s tweet by saying he hadn’t seen his training partner in almost a week—a big deal because Saffeidine was supposed to have been at this great training session that Henderson had just taken part in.
Where there is smoke, there is fire. In this case, it was a fire UFC President Dana White was unable to put out. The only man willing to step up to fight the unbeatable Jones was a (former) middleweight. A middleweight coming off of a loss. A middleweight that was once a training partner of Henderson’s. One with less skill on his feet than Henderson and a similar, yet not quite as impressive wrestling pedigree. It wouldn’t have taken an overhaul of Jones’ game plan to prepare for Sonnen, and with the way the injury bug has bitten main event fighters in 2012, eight days notice feels like common place.
A fighter’s job is to fight. A champion’s job is to be the best and to prove you’re the best by beating all of the rest. Jones failed at both of his jobs. He’s not fighting, and he’s not defending his belt. Fans spent their hard-earned money on plane tickets, hotel reservations and fight tickets. The UFC spent millions on promotion. Undercard fighters counting on a payday will now have to figure out another way to pay September’s bills. The domino of Jones’ decision is so much larger than even he can imagine, but I guess as long as he has his cushy Nike payday to fall back on, what does he care?
Immaturity is shining bright on the champion’s part. I guess his coach didn’t think about how this choice would affect him in the eyes of his fans, because this time he didn’t just drop Machida on his head, he dropped the entire MMA world.
Photo: Jon Jones (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)