Friday, August 24, 2012

Jon Jones Gave Fans and Fellow Fighters the Shaft

After a confluence of events that began with the legend Dan Henderson injuring his MCL and ended with UFC 151 being cancelled – the first fully-marketed UFC event to ever face such drastic action – a UFC champ has gone from hero to zero in record time.  And why not?  For failing to agree to face replacement fighter Chael Sonnen on eight days’ notice, thereby salvaging UFC 151’s main event and giving fans at least some reason to tune into the pay-per-view broadcast, light-heavyweight king, prima ballerina and resident drunk driver Jon Jones gave fans – and especially his fellow fighters on the rest of the card – the epic shaft.  More than anyone else in this whole “death of a UFC” debacle, Jones deserves your scorn.

The facts as we know them are thus:
·    Since the departure of such heroes as Chuck Liddell and Brock Lesnar, and relegation to the injury list for Georges St. Pierre, Jones has become one of the few pay-per-view draws the UFC has left in its rotation.  As such, UFC 151 had his marquee bout against Henderson anchoring a card that was pretty much about as compelling as a TUF finale (read: the rest of the card sucked).
·    When Henderson bowed out due to injury, there were only eight days on the calendar before UFC 151 would grace our television screens.
·    Jones was offered a replacement opponent in Sonnen (a middleweight contender trying his hand at the next weight class up, and coming off a loss to Anderson Silva).  Under the advice of his trainer and Master Yoda, Greg Jackson, Jones said “no dice, homie.”  The UFC had no other viable options to offer Jones.
·    Because it lost its main event, UFC 151 was transformed into a collection of fights that wouldn’t have been worthy of a Bellator broadcast.  Therefore, the powers that be pulled the plug.

In tort law, which is one of the cornerstones of the American judicial system, there’s the tenet of “duty” – does Party A owe Party B a duty?  What was the duty?  Was that duty met?  In this instance, Jones did not officially owe a duty to anyone but himself and his future, and maybe from his perspective, not accepting a fight against a smaller, out-of-shape fighter carried with it more risks than rewards.  Maybe.
Regardless, there’s something called “taking one for the team”, and in this instance, the “team” was every UFC fan who’d planned out shelling out the dough for the pay-per-view, and any poor soul who’d booked a flight and hotel room in Las Vegas to watch the event live.  Also on that team: the fellow fighters on the rest of the card, many of whom were counting on their UFC 151 paychecks for things like rent, car payments, training costs, and meals that didn’t involve 33-cent packages of ramen noodles.

Yup, Jones screwed them all.

Here’s the UFC’s version, courtesy of their press release:

“Own 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 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 at Tito Ortiz could be… 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.”

Weep not for the hit the coffers of Dana White, Zuffa and TV networks took.  I certainly won’t shed a tear for them.  What does bother me, though, is the kick in the teeth fans and the other UFC 151 fighters had to absorb. 
Officially, in a court of law, Jones had no duty to look out for their interests.  But in the court of life… the fans are who’ve made it possible for Jones to get paid for fighting in a cage.  Without them, he’d be working in a car wash outside of Rochester, asking customers if they wanted to pay extra for the “wax and shine” treatment. 

As for the fighters, they’re Jones’ coworkers, and it’s very likely that, win or lose, they would not have hesitated in the slightest when it came to congratulating or consoling the champ at the end of the UFC 151 workday.  Was accepting a fight against Sonnen on eight days’ notice optimal?  No, but these fellow UFC 151 fighters are your bros – do you screw your bros out of their work opportunities?   
At the time of this writing, Jones has agreed to fight Vitor Belfort at UFC 152, which will likely change once Belfort puts his arm through a window in training or gets sick with a worm or something.  Regardless, we’ll still likely see the UFC’s light-heavyweight champ fight someone (the UFC needs his presence in the cage to drive pay-per-view numbers, after all).  But from now until eternity, UFC 151 will be remembered as the event that never was, cancelled because some guy didn’t want to take one for the team.  

And Jon Jones will be remembered as that guy, the guy that gave everyone the shaft.