Jon Jones (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)The Event That Never Was: A Look Back at the Canceled UFC 151 Rob Young July 9, 2014 Spotlight “I’ll go on the record saying this guy is a fucking sport-killer.” During a media conference call on Aug. 23, 2012, that was what UFC President Dana White used to describe coach Greg Jackson, who advised UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones against accepting a fight with short-notice replacement Chael Sonnen in place of his original opponent, Dan Henderson, who had to pull out of UFC 151’s main event due to a knee injury. As a result of Jones declining to take the fight with Sonnen, the UFC decided to cancel the pay-per-view event, which was a first for the Zuffa-era UFC since purchasing the company back in 2001. White said it was “probably one of my all-time lows as being president of the UFC over the last 11 years.” By that point, the company had been no stranger to shuffling card lineups due to planned main events falling through as a result of fighter injuries. During the conference call, White boasted about how in every prior situation, no matter how dire, the UFC never had to cancel an event and could “always find a replacement.” Sure, this approach gave us main events like UFC 109’s Randy Couture vs. Mark Coleman, UFC 130’s Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Matt Hamill and UFC 133’s Tito Ortiz vs. Rashad Evans, among many other stinkers over the years, but those were at least marketable names that the UFC could pass off as being pay-per-view worthy. Many of these main events were possible due to these fighters having pre-existing slots on the same card, or by having fighters like Ortiz make a quick turnaround after a previous fight where they emerged relatively unscathed. Taking a look at the planned fight card for UFC 151, however, showed that it had no such flexibility since the co-main event featured Jake Ellenberger vs. Jay Hieron, and the third fight on the main card was Dennis Siver vs. Eddie Yagin. This card was paper thin and had no one else on it that could remotely be sold as pay-per-view caliber. The only viable option available to the UFC would have been a fight between Jones and Sonnen, whose last light heavyweight bout at that point had been one of his myriad losses via triangle choke to Renato “Babalu” Sobral back in 2005. With Jones’ refusal to accept a fight against the only willing replacement opponent, the UFC had no choice but to cancel the event, and White laid all of the blame for the cancellation squarely on the champion and his coach, famously saying that “UFC 151 will be remembered as the event Jon Jones and Greg Jackson murdered.” Tickets were refunded to fans who had purchased them, but nothing was done for fans who purchased non-refundable airfare and hotel accommodations. It has gone down as a low point in the history of the promotion. The UFC 151 cancellation saga can be partly credited to the UFC’s deal with Fox being still in its infancy at that point. The promotion was still adjusting to an expanding schedule with a substantial increase in the number of free shows it was obligated to put on to serve three of Fox’s networks at the time. Subsequently, the depth of its premium pay-per-view cards had begun to suffer. In 2014, the UFC has already hosted a staggering 24 events to date and, on a couple of occasions, even hosted two events on the same day. This has caused the promotion to stretch its talent pool even thinner than it did in 2012. Even when its pay-per-view cards remain relatively intact, as was the case with the Demetrious Johnson-headlined UFC 174, the results have proven unsatisfactory both with the card’s entertainment value and with pay-per-view buys reportedly hitting a new low. The marquee match-ups, such as Matt Brown vs. Erick Silva, Fabricio Werdum vs. Travis Browne and Cub Swanson vs. Jeremy Stephens, that fans have become accustomed to seeing on pay-per-view cards are now being used to headline the countless free events the UFC is putting on. Also not helping matters in this regard is the UFC’s new 2014 strategy termed “World Fucking Domination,” where the promotion is making a large international push and putting on far more events around the globe in an attempt to cultivate fan bases outside of its usual stomping grounds of North America, the United Kingdom and Brazil. It’s fair to ask why the UFC thinks that putting on these drastically watered-down events will result in legions of new fans, but it appears to be staying the course with the strategy in the face of this unending criticism. On May 5, nearly two years removed from the UFC 151 debacle, UFC 176 was announced, with Jose Aldo defending his featherweight championship title against top contender Chad Mendes on Aug. 2 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. By the time tickets went on sale for this event, not much was known about the rest of the card. A co-main event of Gegard Mousasi in a rematch against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza was announced shortly after and was well received by fans, but the promotion went on to fill out the card with match-ups that were arguably not worthy of a spot on a pay-per-view main card. Aldo has been known to pull out of fights due to injury quite often these days, having done so in roughly the same amount of events that he has actually made it to, and he has often left the UFC with an underperforming pay-per-view event as a result. On July 2, one month out from the event, it was reported that Aldo was once again injured and forced to pull out of his title defense in Los Angeles, leaving the UFC with a pay-per-view card without a sufficient main event. On Wednesday, July 8, the UFC officially announced that the UFC 176 pay-per-view event is officially “postponed” and all tickets will be refunded at the point of sale. The use of the term “postponed” rather than “canceled” is puzzling, as there will not be an event held in the same venue at a later date with the previously proposed card. White’s aforementioned UFC 151 tirade mentioned that “many people, from fans to pay-per-view distributors, TV networks, sponsors, and more importantly fighters who are working hard to support their families and build their careers are hurt badly” by the cancellation. He seemed genuinely angry about canceling an event, because it was unprecedented at that point. White didn’t own up to the fact that unlike past events, this one could barely pass muster as a free show without its headliner. UFC 151 was canceled with a loud, profanity-laced bang, with White externalizing all of the blame. UFC 176, however, has been “postponed” with something of a whimper. No media conference call, just a simple press release on the UFC’s website. Again, the obvious reason for the cancellation is that without the Aldo vs. Mendes headliner, the remaining card is nowhere near worthy of being on pay-per-view. History appears to have repeated itself and the UFC does not seem to have learned its lesson from two years ago. This time, though, there isn’t any cowardly fighter or coach to pin the blame on. I wonder who White thinks the “sport-killer” is this time.