Lyoto Machida wasn't only the best option to face Jones, he was the only option. Photo from Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
The UFC dropped word on Thursday afternoon that UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones would face former champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 140 in Toronto, Canada on December 10th. The news contradicted an earlier report by MMAFighting.com's Mike Chiappetta that Jones could face Evans on the same card. The long-awaited showdown between the squabbling former teammates hinged on whether Evans' hand injury would be cleared by doctors. Unfortunately, Evans stated that he needed three weeks rest following a procedure to remove pins from his hand on Wednesday before he could begin training again.
Naturally, shelved former champion Lyoto Machida, whom White stated in multiple interviews this past week had nobody to fight, moved into the role of contention due to the UFC's lack of a main event for UFC 140. The move bred mixed emotions from fans, many citing that Evans has once again been wronged by the UFC. Others loved the intrigue behind a showdown with Machida, a fighter who has an elusive style that could challenge Jones. Jones himself focused Evans, telling Ariel Helwani that Evans is "ducking the fight".
Understandably, some fans agree. Evans has been a thorn in Jones' back for months. Jones stepped up to the plate with nine weeks to train, and Rashad was unable to fulfill his end of the bargain. Evans had already previously stated that Jones would find a way to get hurt or say no to a proposed match-up. Jones proved him wrong.
Evans may have failed to put his money where his mouth is, but it isn't exactly his call. The implication that he had a choice was the furthest from the truth in this case. He had to be cleared to fight, and having pins removed from your hand the day of the proposed announcement isn't a good sign. Evans could have waited the three weeks to get back in the gym, putting himself and the UFC at a disadvantage. We want to see the best possible version of both fighters, correct? Rushing that fight as a UFC 140 main event showdown shouldn't happen then.
Even more perplexing in the aftermath of the change is the disgust among fans in White's choice of Lyoto Machida. It isn't a consensus opinion by any means, but it seems ludicrous to suggest Machida isn't an intriguing match-up. His 1-2 record in his last 3 appearances doesn't scream title contention and kicking the consciousness out of UFC legend Randy Couture is far a win that puts him into that role. Stylistically however, there is value in that fight.
Why didn't the UFC move Jones vs. Evans back to UFC 141 on December 30th? It gives Evans the three weeks he needs to recover and makes this inevitable showdown the headliner for the last event of the year. Historically, the last event garners high revenue, hitting 800,000 buys last year at UFC 124: St. Pierre vs. Koscheck II, a respectable 620,000 buys at UFC 107: Penn vs. Sanchez in '09, and over 1 million buys at UFC 92 in '08. Surely, pushing that fight back would guarantee a spectacular end of the year event.
Brock Lesnar, who will headline UFC 141 against Alistair Overeem, is going to bring in buys despite going up against a relatively unknown fighter to casual fans. The supporting cast doesn't need to compensate for anything, and we're still a long ways out from the event. Marquee match-ups can still be made for the event that aren't on the level of a Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans showdown. Why waste a perfectly good main event match-up that can produce serious heat on a card that already has enough drawing power?
UFC 140, on the other hand, needs help. With most of the star power locked up or hurt, there aren't any other options. Jones vs. Evans would have been fantastic, but it isn't possible at this point. Save it for an early event next year or a UFC on Fox card.
Complain all you want about the flawed logic in the progression of your new title challenger, it doesn't change anything. Machida offers an interesting style match-up, only lost to top five opponents, and is the only legitimate test available at this moment. Name another legitimate option. There aren't any.