(Kevin Marshall's opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Spike.)
On Thursday, just eight days removed from UFC 151, it was announced that not only was the main event championship bout between Jon Jones and Dan Henderson off the card, the event as a whole was cancelled
due to the inability to find a suitable replacement for the headliner.
Dana White immediately laid the entirety of the blame at the feet of Jon Jones and his coach, legendary trainer Greg Jackson, for refusing to take a fight on eight days notice against Chael Sonnen. Sonnen was and presumably still is scheduled to fight Forrest Griffin on December 29th, marking his return to light heavyweight after fighting at middleweight for the last seven years.
The idea of Chael Sonnen getting a title shot at Light Heavyweight is ludicrous. He's already had two losses to middleweight champion Anderson Silva and hasn't even fought at 205 in the UFC since he lost to Renato Sobral in 2005. But let's look past that for a minute. Even if there were some legitimacy to giving Sonnen an immediate title shot, the idea that an athlete is somehow obligated to take a different challenge on eight days notice after training for opponent for three months is baffling and unprecedented with the stakes as high as this. It's one thing to take a fight with no notice when you're fighting to get noticed or considered for the main card, it's another thing entirely to risk that when you have millions in endorsements and there's a gold belt on the line.
Another major component of this decision that Dana White and other critics have blithely ignored is that Jon Jones actually would NOT have eight days to prepare for Sonnen. Saying he has eight days to prepare completely discounts all the media, travel, and time spent cutting weight in the week leading up to a fight. In reality, it wouldn't be over a week of preparation for Chael Sonnen, it'd be more like three or four days at most followed by promotional and other obligations that would make it impossible to properly prepare for a guy like Sonnen.
Personally, looking at their fight histories and resumes, I think that Jones would beat Sonnen handily. While I think Sonnen is potentially a top ten fighter at Light Heavyweight, there's no way he'd defeat a properly prepared Jones. As much of a disparity as there is between Anderson Silva and Sonnen, there's an even bigger gap between Sonnen and Jones because of the size and reach advantage held by the champion. If they were to have a fight scheduled in advance, it would do well on pay-per-view due to the star power and Sonnen's fantastic self-promotional abilities. But like his last bout with Anderson Silva, the interest in the fight would be inversely proportional to how competitive it would actually be.
On eight days notice, it's all risk and no reward for Jon Jones. If he wins the fight, he'll have contributed to Sonnen's losing streak . The perception will have been that Jones did what he was supposed to do. Yet this is MMA we're talking about, and we know that on any given night even the best can falter -- see the almost-upset of Sonnen over Anderson Silva in their first fight -- the only reason we're even having this discussion.
It's obvious that White was at least hoping in the long term that Sonnen would eventually challenge Jones for the title. If Jones had agreed to the fight, it probably wouldn't do that much better on pay-per-view than the scheduled fight between Jones and Henderson. If things had gone as planned, and Sonnen beat Griffin and another Light Heavyweight he could have earned his title shot against Jon Jones. That main event, with three months of build-up, would be one of the bigger shows of 2013. Is that a main event you want to waste on an emergency placeholder spot?
It's a shame that the UFC had to cancel the entire event because of a last-minute injury to Dan Henderson and the inability to find a suitable replacement as a main event. However, none of that is the fault of Jon Jones. The fault lies with the UFC scheduling too many events in spite of an epidemic of injuries the last several months that have decimated cards that were weak to begin with. Jones has become a convenient scapegoat for Dana White, who knows he's playing to a base of fans who will readily crucify a fighter and label him a "coward" for not taking a fight. Yet this is Jon Jones, the same fighter who has fought with more frequency than anyone else in recent memory, and as a champion. He went from being praised as the MVP of the promotion to the pariah, a stark contrast in positions that betrays a certain degree of exploitation.
The problem isn't that Jon Jones wouldn't take a fight against Chael Sonnen. The problem is that the UFC doesn't have enough fights to make a card sell, and they don't have enough fighters
with pull at the box office to justify doing as many events as they do.Image: Michael Cohen/ Zuffa LLC/ Getty Images