Fight fans received stunning news Thursday: UFC 151 event cancelled.
Main event challenger Dan Henderson suffered a knee injury which forced him to withdraw from his title fight with champion Jon Jones. With that fight gone, UFC management made the decision to pull the plug on the entire event.
But here's where the story gets complicated. No one wanted this on their hands. UFC President Dana White didn't just announce the cancellation on Thursday, he told the story from his perspective. White claims he offered the Jones fight to "several" contenders in the 205 weight class. The only one to step up was Chael Sonnen.
"Chael Sonnen accepted the fight with Jon Jones, wanted the fight bad. So as of eight, nine o'clock (Wednesday) night, we had a fight," White stated Thursday. However, "the one thing that I never thought in a million years would happen, happened. Jon Jones said, 'I'm not fighting Chael Sonnen with eight days notice.'"
Clearly the UFC's blame falls to Jones for not accepting the fight. Fans have followed suit, declaring they have been betrayed by Jones. Even other fighters on the card, notably Charlie Brenneman and Danny Castillo, took to twitter to lay the blame on Jones.
The whole situation brings back memories of the dark days in the 1990's, when venues were changed at the last minute, and competitors were still learning the rules as the referees explained them. But even then, events weren't canceled.
At today's UFC events the gate is bigger, the Pay-Per-View is bigger, the overall investment is bigger. Fighters pay to train for that specific night, counting on their paycheck from that fight. Fans book travel and lodging months in advance.
Will the UFC survive this publicity disaster? Of course. Will Jon Jones continue his stunning career? He's already scheduled to fight Lyoto Machida September 22 at UFC 152. Will Jones, White, and the UFC sour some fans for a while? Yes, but fans are always fickle. Even the most disappointed hardcore fans will be back, because that's what they are, hardcore MMA fans.
This year has been another hard year for the UFC due to injuries. Several main and co-main events had to be modified, some with poor results. Some say this is due to the increased number of events spreading the fighters too thin.
The key to avoiding these situations in the future is not conserving your fighters, it's using them more conscientiously. Not every fight card needs a hall of fame headliner. Most fans will agree, it's often the lesser-known fighters on the smaller cards who put on the best shows. That's what got the little guys in the WEC finally folded into the UFC, good fights. Some of these smaller names could fill in better if they received a little more build-up.
Simply put, Jon Jones fighting four times a year may be what MMA fans think they want, but it's not what they need. What they need are exciting fights by exciting fighters. That's the heart of the UFC brand they love.