UFC, Jon Jones And The 'Individual Fighter - Team Player' Paradox

There's no 'I' in 'Team' ... Photo: Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE

Almost everyone by now is aware of the chaos that has transpired over the last 24 hours. In summary, Dan Henderson is out of his Light Heavyweight title fight with Jon Jones due to a partial MCL tear, Lyoto Machida was unable to replace him due to being in air transit to Brazil, Chael Sonnen stepped up on 8 days notice, Jon Jones after counsel with his coach Greg Jackson declined the fight, and Dana White and the UFC felt forced to pull the plug and officially cancel the first UFC event in Zuffa's history.

Toronto's forthcoming UFC 152 event had been bolstered by the potential of Jon Jones vs Lyoto Machida topping a card that would feature the first ever UFC Flyweight title fight as well as stars Brian Stann and Michael Bisping, until Dana White had to announce Machida declined the fight, and Vitor Belfort would be stepping in.

The UFC hasn't just been snake bitten over the last 18 months with events suffering multiple misfortunes, they're in full anaphylactic shock.

Even more spectacular than this organisational turmoil has been the reaction to the news, from the average fan all the way up to the UFC President. To say Dana White was irate would be a gross understatement, and with the media as his captive audience painted Jones and his coach Greg Jackson as the sole villains in this story.

The reality surrounding this ugly blame-game is of course a variety of factors contributing to a perfect storm wreaking disaster. UFC 151 was a one fight card; the title fight between Jones and Henderson was the thin thread holding it all together. UFC having too many cards per year, stretching their roster thinly across these events leaving even less bodies in reserve as a contingency. Henderson getting badly injured this close to the fight again brings up questions of possible fighter over-training and carelessness.

Jones turning down what is essentially a very winnable fight due to Chael Sonnen coming up in weight, with no training camp behind him and with what's thought to be very little training generally since his loss to Anderson Silva in early July, was just the the tip of the iceberg that sank UFC 151.

If we also assume Jones has had a great camp going into his fight with Dan Henderson, with no significant injury himself, and we consider the aforementioned factors regarding Sonnen as well as Sonnen's history of mostly only being able to win fights by scoring a takedown and grinding for a decision win, posing little submission threat and even less of a KO threat, Jones and Jackson are without doubt guilty of an ultra-conservative risk assessment by declining the fight.

Essentially a Lion in his prime was offered up a Christian with a stick to maul in the arena, and the Lion said "No, thanks, it'd be the biggest mistake of my career".

Continue reading after the jump

SBN coverage of UFC 151: Jones vs. Henderson

SBN coverage of UFC 152: Jones vs. Belfort

What isn't a generally popular notion though, is they're well within their rights to do so. Despite a seemingly abhorrent aversion of risking anything for reward, Jones believes he's made the right decision for his personal career. Fighting is an individual sport, and in the case of prize fighting within a Pay per View industry, match ups are carefully considered and formulated for maximum gain. There is no tournament at the top of the sport, there is no league to determine an end of season winner from points scored and accumulated over all the previous games. It's Mano-a-Mano.

Even Dana White is quick to point out the individual nature of the sport, balking at the idea of teams becoming like close-knit families and thus creating this climate of friends refusing to fight friends. Some fighters then, not only make decisions based on their individual needs, but in some cases on the needs of their team, and it will be interesting to see how supportive Jon Jones' team is regarding his individual decision going forward.

The irony is Dana White and the UFC are its own team, and there's this expectation of the fighters to be a part of and play along in this team. Dana has on more than one occasion remarked how the UFC and the fighters have this working relationship, and growth and success comes from working together in harmony (as Luke Thomas pointed out in yesterday's Tete a Tete)

Because the UFC business model differs so wildly from that of Boxing -- which has taken the concept of the individual's need to the extreme and caused a lot of the long, drawn out hold outs when it comes to match making -- there is not only an expectation but a necessity for the fighters and the promoters to have a healthy synergy. It may not be the most ideal business model, but it's certainly shown to have benefits over that of Boxing's, especially considering it has a fairer distribution of wealth among the mid and low tier fighters without as great a purse disparity with the guys at the top like we see in Boxing.

Debate about fighter pay and their share in intellectual property royalties and revenues will be on going, but it's certainly easier to negotiate while working to remain on Team UFC's side then to make solely individual decisions and draw a line in the sand as a result. No one doubts Jones could and would have been reasonably compensated, be it instant rematch clauses, fairer language and terms in his current contract, bigger PPV cuts or immediate financial endorsement.

Jones wasn't obligated to save the UFC 151 card, just like he wasn't obligated to catch an unconscious Lyoto Machida at UFC 140. Making the gesture to do so, though, and to act like a Team Player in this instance, would probably have counted a lot towards his current standings both with the fans and with the company.


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