The UFC canceled its Sept. 1 pay-per-view show Thursday after light heavyweight contender Dan Henderson injured his knee and champion Jon Jones declined a replacement fight with Chael Sonnen.
UFC President Dana White was left furious with Jones and his trainer, Greg Jackson, after the UFC was forced to scrap a major card for the first time in his 11 years in charge of mixed martial arts’ dominant promotion.
“This is probably one of my all-time lows,” White said. “The one thing that I never thought in a million years would ever happen — it happened.”
White said Jones is the first UFC champion ever to turn down a match even on such short notice, calling the decision “selfish” and “disgusting.”
UFC 151 was scheduled for Sept. 1 at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Jones agreed to defend his title against former champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 152 in Toronto on Sept. 22 in a rematch of their bout last December in the same city.
But that did nothing to curb White’s anger at one of his promotion’s biggest stars — and an athlete personally sponsored by the UFC. Last-minute matchup changes occur frequently in MMA shows due to injuries, and White rarely has a problem getting his tough-guy fighters to take risks.
“We’ve never, ever had a fighter refuse to fight somebody, especially a fighter who is a world champion as well as one of the top pound-for-pound guys in the world,” White said. “It’s baffling to me, and I’ve never seen it before.”
Jones and Jackson didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The 41-year-old Henderson was forced to drop out of his title shot against Jones after partially tearing a ligament in his knee during training, according to White.
Sonnen immediately agreed to take the assignment on eight days’ notice, even moving up from 185 pounds to 205 to do it. The trash-talking, attention-loving Sonnen was stopped by middleweight champion Anderson Silva on July 7 in their entertaining rematch at UFC 148, the UFC’s biggest show of the summer.
“Chael Sonnen says, ‘I’ll fight him tonight,’” White said. “He’s that kind of a person. He puts his money where his mouth is. He goes out and delivers. He’s willing to step out and fight.”
But White said Jones and Jackson decided the champion couldn’t be ready to fight the dangerous Sonnen. White was particularly enraged by Jackson, the respected Albuquerque-based trainer of several elite MMA fighters, calling him “a sport-killer” and “a weirdo” before saying: “Greg Jackson should never be interviewed by anybody ever again, except a psychiatrist.”
Jones is among the sport’s top handful of pound-for-pound fighters after his meteoric rise to the title in March 2011 in just his eighth UFC fight, yet his previously squeaky-clean image has taken enormous hits this year after his arrest on a drunken-driving charge in May, followed by his decision to decline this fight.
The 25-year-old Jones, a former college wrestler and the brother of two NFL players, has been open about his financial motivations for fighting in recent months, saying he hopes to retire young to pursue other interests.
“Jon Jones has been one of these guys who, as much as he’s won and all the things that he’s accomplished, he’s been a champion that hasn’t been very popular, and I don’t think this is going to do wonders for his popularity,” White said.
The UFC 151 undercard featured fights for Jake Ellenberger and Germany’s Dennis Siver, yet it lacked a headline-quality bout, leading the UFC to scrap the entire show. The UFC has put on a huge slate of promotions during the first year of its new television deal with Fox, leading to criticism from fans who claim they’re getting watered-down shows.
The UFC will give refunds on all tickets, costing the promotion an enormous amount of “money that’s already been spent,” according to White, on everything from Times Square billboards to extensive television advertising. But thousands of fans who converge on the UFC’s hometown for its big events already have booked plane tickets and hotel rooms.
White is also apoplectic that the cancellation forced the cancellation or rescheduling of UFC 151’s 10 preliminary bouts, lamenting the wasted money and training time spent by the undercard fighters with a fraction of Jones’ wealth.
Charlie Brenneman, a journeyman welterweight scheduled to fight Australia’s Kyle Noke in a preliminary card bout to be aired on Facebook, tweeted at Jones: “U can send my check to PO box 198. EH NJ. Rent is due the first, so preferably by then. Thanks.”