This past week was a historic week in the mixed martial arts world as Dana White announced that an entire fight card, UFC 151, was canceled just eight days out. The reasoning was that Dan Henderson was forced out due to injury and the light heavyweight champion Jon Jones declined a fight with Chael Sonnen on the short notice.
Before we dive into the why challengers and champs should be ready at any time, let’s first take a look at the other side of the argument. Fighters train hard for their opponent and when an injury changes that opponent, details tend to change as well. Even if fighter A was supposed to fight a wrestler and the replacement is another wrestler, there are still differences. Spending nearly three months preparing for a single fighter, only to have that change, could be difficult. This isn’t just a physical thing, but also a mental thing as well. We have seen it before where a late notice fighter upsets the other fighter, and most of the time it is because of a mental lapse.
Now regardless of the reasons behind canceling an entire event, the one thing that was hammered over and over was that fighters should be willing to fight any time against any other fighter. After all it is their job right?
The time-line of events is something along the lines of the follow (please note this may or may not be 100% accurate and should not be considered as such):
- Dan Henderson gets injured and let’s Dana White and the UFC know about it
- UFC informs Jones about the injury and a replacement fight is being looked at
- UFC asks Machida and Shogun to step in on short notice, both decline
- Chael Sonnen is asked and immediately accepts
- Jones is given the fight and declines to fight Sonnen
- Machida initially agreed to fight Jones on a month’s notice and it was announced Jones vs Machida would headline the next card (UFC 152)
- Machida then declines the fight as it only gives him a month to prepare instead of six weeks
- Vitor Belfort jumps up in weight and accepts a fight with Jon Jones on a month’s notice
The biggest problem I have with this is how many people declined to fight. Let me restate that, the biggest problem wasn’t that the UFC canceled an event, but that SEVERAL fighters declined fights for one reason or another.
For all the talk about how mma isn’t main stream yet, this is the single biggest reason why in my opinion. Here’s a better way to look at this. Imagine if during Super Bowl XLVI between the Giants and the Patriots if Tom Brady got injured. Now imagine if the Giants declined to continue to play because Brady was out of the game and the number two quarterback was in. Can you see that happening? Now imagine it was even crazier and the backup quarterback went out with an injury on his first play; unlikely, but plausible. Now with the only two quarterbacks that were allowed to play that day, the Patriots resort to their kicker who happened to play quarterback a semester in college before choosing to be a kicker. With all of that happening, the Giants would still play the Patriots and that is essentially what happened with Jones and Sonnen (no offense to Sonnen).
Jones, the champ, declined to fight a fighter who was coming off a loss, and was moving up in weight all because it was only on three days notice. While that’s an injustice, the fact still remains that Machida and Shogun also both turned the fight down.
Why? Because they wanted to be the best that they could be against Jones. While Shogun is understandable, Machida, shouldn’t have this excuse. After both of them came off their UFC on Fox 4 victories, it was Machida who was told he would be fighting Jones next. Machida should have been in the gym training and preparing almost immediately. Title shots in the light heavyweight division don’t seem to come when planned, and getting another one might take more than a year (just ask Rashad Evans).
While it is completely disappointing that the entire card got cancelled, and yes it was ultimate a decision by the UFC to cancel it, the fact of the matter remains that none of the fighters should have not been ready to fight.
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