For the first time ever in the history of the UFC, a planned event succumbed to cancellation.

When former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson had to pull out of a scheduled UFC light heavyweight title bout with defending champion Jon “Bones” Jones earlier this week, Jones was offered former UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen as a replacement. However, when Jones cited a lack of preparation time—on the advice of trainer Greg Jackson—in turning down Sonnen, UFC President Dana White took to a media conference call on Thursday in announcing the cancellation of UFC 151.

Some justify pinning the blame on Jones, quite bluntly. After all, champions are not supposed to turn down fights at all. And anytime a champion does suggest anything relevant in turning down a fight, he gets accused of handpicking his competition in lieu of facing what deserves to contend with him for his title. Besides that, UFC 151 needed saving, and Jones needed to be the hero. The fact that he did not take that chance proved to some that Jones was nothing relevant to the person they thought he claimed to be.

Whether or not Jones ever claimed humility in any context is up in the air, but if the UFC’s chief gripe is that its show could not go on without Jones, the promotion has a right to be. It lost its headliner with a little over a week before the card, and its champ turned down his shot at saving the card. With only eight days to sell the co-main event as a main event, the UFC had no choice but to simply shut the card down.

Justified as the UFC is in its frustration, the cancellation of the card is something the UFC brass should’ve seen coming before this card was finalized, because in hyping up this monumental main event of Jones vs. Henderson, the entire undercard—the co-main event, the televised main card, and all of the preliminaries—got lost in the shuffle and nearly forgotten in the minds of fans.

Little hype came from the originally planned co-headliner of Jake Ellenberger vs. Josh Koscheck, and when Koscheck bowed out to injury, the return of “The Thoroughbred” Jay Hieron was met with seemingly little fanfare. Should it have received any love at all? Absolutely, it should have, as Hieron handed Ellenberger his first pro loss, making this rematch a bit personal for Ellenberger.

However, the bout just did not seem to get noticed by some fans, aside from those who were happy to see Ellenberger get an opponent, as well as those who were happy for Hieron’s UFC return. Yes, the fight had its potential to deliver, but what’s the potential worth when nobody takes much note of it until the extended preview of UFC 151 surfaces on YouTube?

Did the UFC forget what Ellenberger has done in previous big fight situations when the promotion moved his fight to UFC on FX 5 as the co-main event of that card instead of promoting it to the main event status of UFC 151 and risking another low-rated pay-per-view? Clearly, the UFC did not, as Ellenberger-Hieron now holds co-main status on another loaded card that could provide a spectacular night of fights, regardless of what the final ratings say. But what stopped the UFC from trying to promote the fight to main-event status for the now-scrapped UFC 151 card?

The answer, which also adds on to why the card could not go on without Jones, lies in Dennis Siver vs. Eddie Yagin, a bout with definite potential for excitement. With Siver’s power as well as Yagin’s toughness, it also could have held the potential for another bonus winner for UFC 151. However, while Siver could have been hyped as a man who had what it took to provide an outstanding co-main event, Yagin could not, or so it seemed. Not to take anything away from his UFC 145 win over Mark Hominick, in which he proved plenty of critics wrong and bloodied Hominick en route to a justified split decision victory, but at 1-1 in his UFC run and with Hominick being the only name besides Joe Soto that stands out in his win column, Yagin just could not be sold to fans as a man who deserved to co-headline a pay-per-view of this caliber opposite Siver.

Dennis Hallman would’ve come off a win over John Makdessi to face Thiago Tavares as well on this card, and Yasuhiro Urushitani could’ve provided a “Fight of The Night” candidate against John Lineker. While Hallman vs. Tavares wasn’t anyone’s favorite bout, nobody would’ve complained about Lineker vs. Urushitani, after getting a taste of what the 125-pound division can do thus far. The problem with these is that the lightweight-and-under divisions do not cause high pay-per-view sales, which is sad, given the action that takes place in these divisions. But the UFC could’ve at least made people wish for one of these two fights to lead into the would-have-been co-main of Siver vs. Yagin. Michael Johnson vs. Danny Castillo—formerly an FX preliminary bout—likely would have taken main-card-opener status and could have provided fans with a tough showing of heart and determination from two solid and accomplished wrestlers.

Again, though, lightweights don’t sell. What did sell, however, was one light heavyweight fighter, and that one fighter was Jones. Jones was (and still is) the rising star who some fans love and other fans love to hate—the kid who held the UFC light heavyweight title, beat four former UFC light heavyweight champions, got a DUI, and still managed to hook up a Nike deal. To a handful of fans, it felt like a boxing-esque card from the onset, with only a few hardcore fans caring about “that dude who isn’t Jon Jones.” Not only that, but it was Jones vs. Henderson, the latter of whom many felt could earn the honor of becoming the first to knock Jones out, but others felt Jones had what it takes to become the first to knock Henderson out. With that possible outcome in mind, did anyone care about what else was on the card?

They should have, but they did not because Jones was there. Nothing else mattered, and the UFC paid the price for banking on Jones. Plain and simple, they went in with the plan of Jones vs. Henderson, and when Henderson pulled out of the fight due to injury, they assumed Jones would have no problem with accepting Sonnen as a replacement, given the Twitter war between the two as of late. Jones had the perfect chance to silence Sonnen without even having to plan out the way to beat him. When Jones did what he thought was right and declined due to a lack of preparation time, it became the card’s undoing.

Of course, we all know what came afterwards.

At this time, others may question what it could have meant for UFC 151’s former headliner if saving the card meant accepting big middleweights like Sonnen or Chris Weidman as foes for Jones. Likewise, another bunch may question what numbers UFC 151 held potential in attracting with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva officially in as a light heavyweight in the headliner, despite looking out of fighting form and also reported as out of action until 2013. No doubt Silva could have pulled big numbers in a light heavyweight bout against someone in the division, and having returned to the point of simply needing a challenge in his own division, who’s blaming him?

A few can always question if this is Affliction: Trilogy or Shine Fights all over again, but Affliction’s headliner of Fedor Emelianenko vs. Josh Barnett got cancelled after Barnett got pulled from the card and the promotion had little time to find a suitable replacement. In the same cloth of cancellation, Shine Fights was scrapped before it was set to take place. Thus, the cancellation of UFC 151 obviously carries differences from these two events, since the UFC never fails to meet regulatory requirements and since Jones never tested positive for any banned substances.

However, the UFC also has its ways of making fights seem main-event-worthy even when they are not even close to that level, and so fans will always question why they opted to not do Ellenberger vs. Hieron as headliner when Hector Lombard almost headlined UFC on Fox 4 against Brian Stann. Even more baffling is how many can say it’s Jones’ fault that the event got cancelled simply because he chose to not risk his belt against a Sonnen who likely trained harder for Jones than Sonnen himself wants us to believe, but that in itself is a discussion for a different day.

What stands out most in regards to the UFC 151 cancellation is the irony of it all. See, White always tried to ensure that MMA becomes its own successful sport, and with things such as the Fox deal and the inclusion of the flyweights, there’s no question he has succeeded. Not only that, but he and Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta helped the UFC escape a dark time and expand to a worldwide audience. Above all else, White has openly tried to ensure that in becoming its own successful sport, MMA also did not face the same problems mostly associated with boxing, one of which is the number of cards that seem to ride on the strength of their main event only.

The UFC deserves credit for aiming to avoid facing the same issues boxing contains, but then why watch as it puts on a card like what UFC 151 presented before it lost Jones vs. Henderson, knowing that Jones and Henderson were the main card? Truthfully, that question only represents one of the many asked in the aftermath of the cancellation. However, to answer this question directly, this one would have gone on had it not lost Jones-Henderson or at least gotten Jones vs. someone else, because, again, it at least kept Jones on the card.

There lies the irony of it all. White and most MMA fans don’t want MMA to go the way of boxing, yet UFC 151 delivered a boxing-style card where the main event was the main card. As many have pointed out in the wake of the cancellation, the card could continue on as is had they provided either a stronger undercard or at least hyped up the undercard they tried presenting before Henderson’s injury.

The bottom line is that while fans did want Jones to prove his championship worth and take on all comers—or lied and said they did when they really just wanted Jones vs. Sonnen—Jones is not the man who hyped the main event up to where fans forgot that there was an actual night of fights going on, and his is not the body to blame for this event’s cancellation. The UFC truly did promise a blockbuster night of fights, but it put all its eggs in one basket in trying to deliver a memorable Sept. 1 fight card. Then, the promotion wound up scrapping it altogether because it had no backup plan when it lost its marquee match-up.

As for Jones, we know he has Vitor Belfort ahead of him. We know Belfort’s been a middleweight for the past few years. And most importantly, we know that if the UFC loses this main event bout, it still has its originally-planned headliner, the now co-headliner of Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson in a dream fight for the inaugural UFC flyweight title, as a “Plan B,” with a bout featuring Stann and Michael Bisping as a “Plan C.”

Here’s hoping the UFC will learn its lesson and put some more faith in its undercards as UFC 152 approaches, or at least keep a Plan B and a Plan C handy in case this does ever happen again.

Photo: UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.