Viewers' guide to (lack of) UFC 151
It's fight week, or at least it was supposed to be. And if the entire mixed martial arts world had not come crashing down to an earthly wasteland last Thursday somewhere along the expanse of rugged terrain between Zuffa headquarters in Las Vegas and Greg Jackson's gym in Albuquerque, this would be the space devoted to "A Viewers' Guide to UFC 151."
But there will be no UFC 151. The whole shebang -- the fights and the pay-per-view proceeds that go with them -- has vanished into the black hole of Dana White's bitterly brooding psyche. So at this point the best guidance we can offer habitual MMA viewers is to find something else to watch on Saturday night.
In lieu of its scheduled 8 p.m. ET telecast of UFC 151 prelims, FX instead will offer
Prefer to stick with sports? Well, there's college football on ESPN. (I didn't check the TV listings for that, but once September begins it's always a safe guess for the 24/7 BCS network.)
Or, if nothing but a fight will do, you can tune to HBO at 10 ET for a middleweight bout between a couple of European boxers you might never have heard of, even though one is a world champion. Gennady Golovkin, the 23-0 WBA belt holder with 20 knockouts and a 2004 Olympic silver medal, and Grzegorz Proksa, he of the 28-1 record and 21 KOs, might even provide enough rock-'em-sock-'em entertainment to make you forget all about what isn't taking place that night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Vegas.
Nah, no one is going to forget. Or forgive, either, it appears. In the days since a torn knee ligament scuttled Dan Henderson's challenge for Jones' UFC light heavyweight championship, since "Bones" then declined to accept a replacement title bout against middleweight Chael Sonnen and since White then had a temper tantrum while calling off 151 in its entirety, the MMA community has for the most part turned against Jones with a relentless ferocity usually seen only inside the octagon.
In fact, there's been so much electricity in the air that it's feeling like a fight week. So let's go ahead and treat it like one.
From those rough-and-tumble Wild West beginnings, the sport has transformed to the point where an athlete -- it's not sufficient to simply call a guy at the top "fighter" anymore -- now turns down a bout because nine days' notice might jeopardize his Nike endorsement deal. Jones' decision was scornfully derided as selfish. The scorn is misplaced, I'd suggest, but the assessment correct. This is a sport whose very structure calls on everyone to look out for No. 1. Jon Jones did it. Dan Henderson did it. Chael Sonnen did it. Dana White did it.
If White wants to protect his company from a repeat of last week's fiasco, he's going to have to build safeguards into the structure of a fight card. Account for the possibility of last-minute opponent changes in fighter contracts. Maybe arrange for contingency bouts, with fighters contracted to be available on a standby basis, if needed. The sport is changing, at least for the athletes at the top of the food chain, and the fight promotion must change its ways, too.
Another change we should expect from White: a change of heart. Dana is known to hold a grudge, as everyone from Tito Ortiz and Tim Sylvia to my SI.com predecessor Josh Gross and current colleague Loretta Hunt knows. But he's a businessman at heart, and he no doubt recognizes that Jon Jones is a cash cow he can and must continue to milk. Even if he can't stand the sight of his light heavyweight champ, he surely revels in the vista of the sea of green a Jones fight brings in. So if, as oddsmakers are expecting to happen at a 13-1 clip, Jones successfully defends his championship next month in Toronto, expect White to be smiling as he wraps the belt around the champ's waist.
It's easy for fans and media members to get in a huff about Jones declining a fight on nine days' notice, because most of us haven't declined or accepted a fight since we were in grade school. And that decision of ours revolved around some doofus from history class, not a trained fighter.
Condemnation of the champ also seems to have come easily for some undercard fighters, who may very well have taken fights on even shorter notice than Jones was confronted with. But none of them had the leverage "Bones" does -- when Dana White tells undercard to jump, they unquestioningly say "how high?" And none have had so much at stake ... unless I'm mistaken and there was a world champion moonlighting somewhere in the 151 prelims.
My point: The only people in MMA who truly can grasp what Jones went through in making last week's consequential judgment call are the UFC's six other champions and perhaps those who've held one of the belts (if their reign came recently enough to be part of today's big-money, big-stakes landscape). Now, those champions tend to be careful in choosing their battles, so most have wisely steered clear of this controversy. But a few have commented.
"You have a whole camp preparing to fight a specific athlete," Anderson Silva, the middleweight champion, pound-for-pound king and a friend of Jones', said on the Brazilian TV show
Recently dethroned lightweight champ Frankie Edgar expressed much the same sentiment. "I'd like to say I would [take the fight]," he said on
The man who took the 155-pound belt from Edgar, Benson Henderson, has been the fighter most faithfully in Jones' corner. "So please quit disparaging my boy
Later, after the opponent for Jones' defense at UFC 152 was switched from Machida to Belfort, Henderson wrote, "I think Machida turning down fight that's couple months away should show you guys how much prep really matters."
As you might expect in this media feeding frenzy of a world we live in, the non-fighter Jon Jones (some would bitterly argue they're both non-fighters, but you know what I mean) has since done radio shows and been written about in media ranging from TMZ.com to, um, SI.com.