Dan Henderson has been forced to withdraw from his scheduled UFC light heavyweight title fight with Jon Jones after suffering a knee injury during training, prompting an unprecedented cancellation of the entire card.
"For the first time in 11 years we're going to cancel an event," UFC president Dana White said during a conference call Thursday. "This is probably one of my all-time lows."
The 41-year-old challenger suffered a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee, ruling him out for the Sept. 1 fight at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. It marks the first time the UFC has cancelled a major card in White's tenure, a costly outcome he'd worked frantically to avoid over the past few days.
The outspoken president of the leading mixed martial arts promotion said he attempted to salvage the event by offering the title fight to Chael Sonnen, a middleweight contender willing to climb a division for the opportunity, and that Sonnen had accepted. But Jones, the youngest champion in UFC history, declined to fight Sonnen on eight days' notice.
White said he was "disgusted" by Jones' response.
"We've never, ever had a fighter refuse to fight someone," White said. "As much as [Jones has] won and with all the things he's accomplished in a short amount of time, he's been a champion that hasn't been very popular. I don't think this is going to do wonders for his popularity."
The 25-year-old Jones will fight Vitor Belfort in the main event of the Sept. 22 card at Toronto's Air Canada Centre, according to MMAFighting.com. Lyoto Machida turned down a shot at the title earlier Thursday.
(While White initially said the Sept. 22 card would be rebranded UFC 151 due to the cancellation, the UFC announced shortly after Thursday's call that it would remain UFC 152.)
White was unclear about when Henderson's injury occurred, but said everything had appeared to be fine when the two crossed paths Saturday at the Strikeforce card in San Diego.
Henderson attempted to get in touch with the UFC regarding the injury starting on Sunday, but didn't have White's new phone number and couldn't reach him until "Monday or Tuesday," according to White. Henderson was then flown to Las Vegas to see Dr. Steven Sanders, the UFC's orthopedic surgeon, who diagnosed the MCL tear.
"Can he fight with it? Yes, I guess if he really wanted to go out there," said White, who was uncertain regarding a timetable for Henderson's return. "But he wouldn't be 100 percent. He'd have limited lateral movement. Even in the top position in wrestling, his knee hurt him really bad."
Rumblings about the injury had spread over Twitter on Wednesday night, with dozens of industry insiders posting cryptic messages suggesting the highly anticipated title fight was in jeopardy. Those rumors proved founded with Thursday's midday bombshell.
White called Jones' trainer, Greg Jackson, a "sport killer" for advising his fighter that accepting the Sonnen fight on short notice would be the biggest mistake of his entire career.
Jackson told SI.com's Loretta Hunt that he stood by the advice he'd given Jones and was "confused" by White's reaction.
"I didn't think [taking the fight] was the best thing to do on three days' notice -- we know that fight week doesn't count [as training time]," Jackson said. "If Chael is the No. 1 contender, if he's earned that status, we'd be happy to fight him, and not Machida, in Toronto. It wasn't the opponent. It was the notice."