A knee injury, a conference call and a press release leads to Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort in a 205 pound title fight
August 24, 2012
If the behind scenes world of the UFC was a daily soap opera August 23rd, 2012 will remembered as an all-time top five performance for parties involved. The ramped up Emmy winning routines of the unscripted reality that was UFC 151, Dana White, Jon Jones and the rabid online MMA community proved yet again that reality always trumps fictional dramas.
Dan Henderson's knee injury in preparation for his September 1st title fight with Jones set in motion a crazy 24 hours of award winning theatrics outside of the cage. The UFC scheduled an impromptu media conference call to officially announce Henderson's injury on Thursday at 2:00 PM EST. Full conference call audio below.
After the jump we examine the UFC's public relations staff UFC 151 press release that threw Jones under the bus and a list of possible of opponents that offered to step in against Jon Jones in hopes of saving UFC 151.
In a surprising turn of events the UFC sent out a press release to all major news outlets placing the blame for UFC 151's cancellation solely on the shoulders of Jones and in proxy his head trainer Greg Jackson. Prior to the events that lead to UFC 151, Jones was sponsored by the UFC and pegged as the promotion's next superstar as well as one of the company's main pay per view attractions.Key points are bolded by ULTMMA.com for emphasis.
Las Vegas, Nevada - For the first time in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship®, a UFC® champion has refused to face an alternative challenger after an injury to his original opponent, forcing the organization to cancel an event.
After challenger Dan Henderson suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones refused an alternative opponent, forcing UFC president Dana White to cancel the entire UFC 151 card at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas next Saturday.
On a conference call today, White said Jones refused to fight two-time middleweight title challenger Chael Sonnen, whom he proposed as a replacement for Henderson for the September 1 event.
"This is probably one of my all-time lows as being president of UFC," White said. "Dan Henderson tried to train, he continued to work out and saw a doctor, but there was nothing we could do to save that fight.
"But Chael Sonnen stepped up accepted the fight with Jon Jones last night. As of 8pm last night, we thought we had a fight fans would love to see. Then at about 9pm the one thing I never thought would happen in a million years happened. Jon Jones said, "I won't fight Chael Sonnen on eight days notice'. That has never happened in the history of the UFC, a guy who is a champion, and a guy who is supposed to be one of the best fighters in the world, pound-for-pound, refuses to fight.
"Chael is just coming up from 185pounds. He said that not only would he face Jones in eight days, he'd jump in a plane to Vegas and fight him that night if he was asked to. Jon Jones said 'I'm not fighting Chael Sonnen with eight days' notice. Jones's trainer, Greg Jackson, told Jon that taking the fight with Chael would be the biggest mistake of his life. That's what he told Jon Jones. Let me tell you, this guy (Greg Jackson) is a sport killer.
"When you are a champion, much less one of the guys who is supposed to be one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, you are supposed to step up. Jon Jones is a guy a lot of fans don't like, and I don't think this is going to make him any more popular. Lorenzo Fertitta (UFC chairman and CEO) and I are disgusted with Jon Jones and Greg Jackson."
Ticket refunds are available at the point of purchase. Jones will now rematch with karate expert Lyoto Machida in the new main event of UFC 152 in Toronto, Canada. UPDATE: Later in the day, the UFC announced that Machida had opted not to take the fight. Instead, the UFC 152 headlining title fight will be between Jon Jones and Vitor Belfort.
White explained: "UFC 151 will be remembered as the event Jon Jones and Greg Jackson murdered."
White said the fall-out for the UFC, its partners, fans and fighters was ‘huge'.
"It's major, major deal," said White. "We lose a lot of money, money that's already been spent. We're eight days out. We've spent tons of money on this fight. How long and how far it goes and how bad it hurts I don't know because it's the first time we've done it.
"One thing that you really have to think about are the fighters on the undercard. Sure, Jon Jones is rich what does he care if he cancels the fight? But 20 other fighters on the card added up to almost a half a million dollars in purse money that Jones and Greg Jackson's decision stole from them. No champion or headliner in UFC history has ever done that. As difficult as Tito Ortiz could be... even Tito never bailed on a fight."
"Many people, from fans to PPV distributors, TV networks, sponsors, and more importantly fighters who are working hard to support their families and build their careers are hurt badly by this selfish decision."
Henderson said: "This is the first time that the champion wouldn't step up and fight, and I was pretty shocked to hear that. It's not like he's injured. It's unbelievable to me that he wouldn't take that 'the show must go on' attitude. If there was any way I could have gone, and any way that I thought I could give myself a chance to compete, I would have done that."
Sonnen said: "I was shocked that he refused to fight me. I had already gone to the gym to train. He had a chance look prove himself a champion, an ultimate fighter, and he didn't take that chance."
The UFC public relations efforts did not end after the conference call and press release. Both Dana White and Chael Sonnen were booked on ESPN's Sportscenter to further explain the cancelation of UFC 151 and further push the brunt of the blame on Jones. Below is Sonnen's six minute interview with ESPN.
In attempts to save UFC 151 from being completely scrapped the UFC offered a wide array of opponents to Jones. In the end he declined them all in favor of a spot at the top of the UFC 152 card on Saturday September 22 in Canada.
-Lyoto Machida (18-3) was first offered Jones at UFC 151 but was traveling and declined the short notice fight. Machida would get rebooked for UFC 152 versus Jones on Thursday night but declined the fight on Friday August 24 after the UFC marketing team had already added him to the 152 event poster.
Machida's last five fights/path to a title shot-L vs. Rua, L vs. Jackson, W vs. Couture, L vs. Jones and W vs. Bader on August 4, 2012
-Chael Sonnen (27-12-1) was next on the UFC's list of potential opponents for Jones at UFC 151. Sonnen, 47 days removed from a loss to Anderson Silva at middleweight, jumped at the opportunity to fight Jones for the UFC 205 pound title on eight days notice. The 35 years old Sonnen accepted the fight but the bout was rejected by Jones camp.
Sonnen's last five fights/path to a title shot-W vs. Marquardt, L vs. Silva, W vs. Stann, W vs. Bisping and L vs. Silva on July 7, 2012
After a handful of fighters sought out a last minute fight versus Jones at UFC 151 including: middleweight Chris Weidman, welterweight Martin Kampmann, among others the UFC axed the event with no make-up date. In another layer to the drama middleweight champion Anderson Silva even offered to fight any 205 pound fighter other than Jones at UFC 151 in a last ditch effort to save the card.
-Vitor Belfort (21-9) got the call to face Jones and was pulled off his UFC 153 185 pound fight with Alan Belcher after Machida and Mauricio Rua both declined the fight at UFC 152. The 35 year old Belfort last competed at light heavyweight in September 2007 and last fought in the UFC's 205 pound division in February 2005.
Belfort's last five fights/path to a title shot-W vs. Lindland, W vs. Franklin, L vs. Silva, W vs. Akiyama, and W vs. Johnson January 2012