Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Jon Jones apologizes to fighters and fans for UFC 151 cancellation, stands by refusal of Chael Sonnen bout

By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief

UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones received tons of backlash on Thursday following the UFC's decision to cancel UFC 151 next week. With Dan Henderson forced out of their Championship bout on the card, the UFC went into desperation mode in trying to get first Lyoto Machida and then Chael Sonnen into the fight against Jones on nine day's notice, but Machida wasn't prepared for the fight and Jones turned down a bout with Sonnen.

It's that move by Jones that has gotten the brunt of the blame in this situation, despite the fact that he would have had a very different opponent to prepare for in very little time. But it was White who got to make the first statement on the matter, with Jones staying quiet through most of the day. That led to one side being pushed very heavily, backed by vitriolic responses such as the following:

"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... UFC 151 will be remembered as the event Jon Jones and Greg Jackson murdered."

Jones has finally opened up about his decision in an interview with, and he made it clear that there simply wasn't enough time to prepare for the change in opponent.

"Dan Henderson got hurt, and the fight was canceled," Jones said. "I signed a contract a long time ago to fight Dan Henderson. That's what I studied for, and that's what I prepared myself for. To take a fight with a different opponent in which I would basically have three days of training before traveling and then starting to cut weight I just thought would be the dumbest idea ever. I wouldn't have been properly prepared."

One of the other heavy criticisms revolved around the fact that the rest of the fighters on the event now don't have a payday on Sept. 1. Indeed, that's another issue White laid at Jones' feet.

"One thing that you really have to think about are the fighters on the undercard," White said. "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."

While Jones certainly feels for his fellow fighters, and is disappointed in the way he's been portrayed throughout the day, he also wanted to make the point that it wasn't him that made the decision to cancel the entire card.

"I definitely apologize to the other fighters on the card," Jones said. "I feel terrible, but it also wasn't my decision to cancel the whole card. I don't make those decisions. I take a lot of pride in the way I perform, and I want to put on the best performance possible every time I fight. I don't want to go out there just to win the fight. I want to go out there to dominate. I want to make it look effortless. I want it to be a beautiful thing."

That desire to be fully prepared didn't translate well with the time period he had standing in front of him for the fight, and though he does remain remorseful, he felt it was a decision that had to be made.

"Chael is completely different fighter [than Henderson]," Jones said. "This is war. This is strategy. You have to go in there prepared and know that you did your homework. I wouldn't be the same warrior if I just jumped in there blindly and was cutting weight while I was trying to prepare for the fight. Greg Jackson wasn't going to show up until Friday. Coach [Mike] Winkeljohn wasn't going to be there until Wednesday or Thursday. I would have been pretty much on my own trying to prepare for a new opponent. That's just not the best way to prepare."

"If this was my first fight in the UFC and I really didn't have a choice and they needed somebody to step in last-minute, if it was that type of scenario, then I'd probably more open to it," Jones continued. "But I'm a UFC champion, and I need to perform that way. If I would have taken this fight, that would have been letting my ego get in the way and not using my intellect. This is war, and you have to go in there prepared."

"The criticism does bother me, but I have to stand by my decision. I have to be the man that I am. With such large audiences comes great criticism. There will be a lot of scrutiny, but I've got to do what makes me happy and feels right to me. At the end of the day, I have to make the best choice for me and my family."

The last group affected by this entire situation are the fans, writers, and more who had booked travel, hotel rooms, and had bought tickets to an event that will now not take place. Jones again is sorry for that, but there wasn't a realistic reason in his mind to take a switch in opponents like that on as short of notice as he had.

"I apologize to the people that lost money on tickets and travel and things like that," Jones said. "I don't apologize for my decision, but I do apologize for the way it affected people. I hope people can understand I was just trying to do the best thing for my career."

"Dan Henderson got hurt, and our fight was canceled. As difficult as it is to deal with everything that's happened, I just didn't feel like I had enough time to prepare both physically and mentally for a fight with a new opponent. I just didn't feel I had enough to prepare properly and perform at my best. Whether Chael Sonnen actually deserves a title shot really isn't my place to say. But if he wants to fight on Sept. 22, then I'm fine with that."

Penick's Analysis: Jones could have taken the fight. He could have hopped in the cage with zero preparation against Chael Sonnen, and he may win in that scenario nine times out of ten. But Sonnen is a very different style of fighter than Dan Henderson, making it a completely different fight for Jones to prepare for, and leaving the possibility that a Matt Serra vs. GSP type result happens. That's a disastrous, hard to rebound from situation that didn't make sense to risk for Jones, and that's ok. It's disappointing, but it's ok. Jones didn't make the decision to cancel the event next week, and it's not fair to hold it all against him. The UFC was faced with that choice because they didn't have any other viable options than trying to strong-arm Jones into a bout he wasn't comfortable with on a week's notice. It's not his responsibility to make sure the rest of the card is getting their paycheck. Would he have been getting this same type of vitriol sent his way if he would have gotten injured? Of course not. This was an impossible spot he was put in, and the UFC throwing him under the bus hasn't helped anything. Does he have his share of the blame? Absolutely. But it's not all on him, and it's not fair to hold it against him with as much vitriol as has been thrown on Thursday. One more note, it's been pointed out on Twitter that this isn't even the first time this situation has happened this year, just the first time it's happened this close to an event. The UFC was supposed to head to Montreal in March, but in an ironic twist, it was reportedly Dan Henderson refusing to step into a fight in that main event that caused the UFC to scrap it and move the fights for that card to Atlanta. Regardless, there is plenty of blame to spread around, and it doesn't all need to be aimed at a Champion making a decision that makes sense for himself.

[Jon Jones art by Grant Gould (c)]


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