With all the finger-pointing going on in the wake of the UFC 151's cancellation, most of which is aimed squarely, and rightly, at Jon Jones, it's easy to lose sight of the obvious -- UFC 152 just became an excellent card.
It's hard to deny that Jones dropped the ball. Of course, he has his defenders, who will ask why Chael Sonnen was offered a title shot in the first place (after Dan Henderson dropped out of the bout due to injury, making him the Roadrunner to Jones's Wile E. Coyote in this ACME-level catastrophe), and why Jones should be expected to fight such a dangerous opponent on just eight days notice, and why Jones is being singled out for refusing a fight when at least two other fighters refused to fight him. And all of those are valid points. But the fact remains: Jon Jones is the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion of the World.
And with that title comes added responsibility. It is up to Jones to prove to us, time and time again, that he is the best Light Heavyweight in the World. And that means he has to prove that he can defeat any UFC-chosen man that manages to step on a scale and not exceed 206 pounds, not simply that he can defeat an agreed upon number one contender. Of course Chael Sonnen was not the ideal opponent, and no one is arguing that he even deserved a title shot, but it was an emergency situation, and the UFC decided Sonnen was their man. And, yes, it was Jones's responsibility to prove he was better than that man, whomever he was, even on eight days notice. Perhaps that's an idealistic view of a champion, but if there's anything left in sports to be idealistic about, it should probably be the idea of a champion.
Of course, Jones is not the only one to blame. There's plenty to go around. The UFC itself needs to share some of the responsibility for creating a card so contingent on its main event. And Dana White has done nothing to make himself look more rational or less absurd than usual during this whole fiasco.
There's also Jones's trainer, Greg Jackson, who offered Jones the much-quoted and mind-bogglingly terrible advice, that it would be the "worst decision of his career" to fight Sonnen on eight days notice. And this while it seems so obvious that even had Jones gone on to lose his championship to Sonnen at UFC 151, it would have been much a much easier career-hiccup to recover from than the current PR disaster he finds himself in the middle of.
Lets not forget that Jones is only months removed from an embarrassing DUI, and that the UFC showed nothing but support for their champion in that situation, and were at the forefront of the damage control efforts. It's easy to argue that, of course the UFC tried to protect Jones's image, it was smart business, considering he was their champion -- a complete and total money decision. And while that's true, it's not the point. The point is that Jones, and Jackson, should be well aware that Jones's grip on fans is tenuous at best right now, and a little goodwill between himself and the UFC outweighs any career-risk involved in fighting Sonnen.
But I digress.
In the midst of all the finger-pointing, with Jones-haters and Dana White-is-the-devil advocates catapulting blame at each other (is it just me or did Jones just become Dana's new Tito Ortiz?), we're left with what promises to be a great night of fights on September 22, at UFC 152.
Have a look down the card and you'll see it's loaded with prospects and contenders, in fights that have both near and far-term title implications. And in the fights where no contender or prospect can be found, like the one between Matt Hammil and Vladimir Matyushenko, you'll find known commodities where it will be easy to take a vested interest.
The biggest beneficiary in all this hoopla is UFC 152's co-main event, a bout between Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson that will crown the UFC's inaugural Flyweight Champion. Although they were scheduled to headline the event, playing second-fiddle to Jones will undoubtedly land a few more eyes on their fight, which promises to be an exciting one. The Flyweight Division as a whole should benefit from the extra attention.
The night also features a much-at-stake clash between two of the middleweight divisions best candidates for a future bout with Anderson Silva. Michael Bisping and Brian Stann have each put together a nice run toward title contention, with identical hiccups along the way versus Sonnen. Stann has since gotten back on the winning track, by way of a first round KO over Alessio Sakara. Bisping, you might argue, deserved to win his bout against Sonnen, and a win over Stann will undoubtedly put him at the forefront of the middleweight title picture.
Former can't-miss Lightweight prospect Evan Dunham will be making an appearance, and he'll be attempting to continue his career ship-righting in a match against TJ Grant. But Grant, a former Welterweight, is beginning to turn heads in his own right, and he's gotten off to a 2-0 start in his run at Lightweight. Adding Evan Dunham to his resume should be enough to earn him a big money fight against one of the abundantly talented division's big boys.
Moving down the card you see highly touted prospects like Charles Oliveira, who'll be fighting the ever-dangerous Cub Swanson, and 10-0 submission dynamo Jim Hettes, who will have his hands full with Marcus Brimage. Brimage is coming off a recent upset win over Maximo Blanco.
Topping it all off will be the Light Heavyweight showdown between Champion Jones and the newest insertion into this merry-go-round of challengers, Vitor Belfort. Belfort, a current mainstay at the top of the UFC's Middleweight Division, is a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, and his most recent win over Anthony Johnson was almost an accidental Light Heavyweight fight in itself (Johnson missed weight, and the fight was contested at 197 lbs).
While there is no hiding the fact that this is a patch-job of a title fight, and Belfort is nothing more than the best contender the UFC could come up with on short notice (after Lyoto Machida, and, if rumors are true, Shogun Rua, refused the fight), he does bring some interesting weapons to the table. Belfort combines Lightweight-like hand-speed, arguably the best in MMA, with Heavyweight power, and he's proven a number of times that he can KO much larger men. And on the business side of the ball, Belfort's life story is one so intriguing that, should he ever become a UFC Champion again, there will no doubt be a number of people vying for the movie rights to it.
But Jon Jones is Jon Jones. And that alone renders all of Belfort's prospects, especially with all his fancy offensive weapons, nothing more than the very definition of the proverbial "puncher's chance."
Perhaps the most interesting spectacle of all will be the UFC 152 weigh-ins, where UFC fans will have a chance to voice their displeasure with Jones's recent career choice. And perhaps it will be in this moment that Jones will realize how wins and losses aren't the only thing to consider when contemplating career moves.
And somewhere in that room will be Chael Sonnen, no doubt smiling to himself, because he has somehow, yet again, managed to squirm his way to the center of a major MMA controversy. And somehow, yet again, kept himself at the forefront of our collective MMA consciousness. Sonnen is likely the best company man in the UFC's history, managing over and over to keep himself among their best assets win, lose, or draw -- a man that has taken wins over Nate Marquardt and Michael Bisping and turned them into a legacy.
So maybe, just maybe, the next time Greg Jackson is giving Jon Jones career advice, he should take a look at someone like Sonnen, and reassess his ideas about risk-reward.