Bone Storm: Ethics and the Public Shaming of Jon Jones

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from The MMA Files

UFC 151 has been cancelled. Dana White made the announcement on August 23rd after reports that Dan Henderson had injured his knee training for his match against light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones. The cancellation means 20 sub-main event fighters would not be earning a paycheck on September first. It means that long, arduous, and expensive training camps wouldn't be rewarded. It means bills would not be paid.

White went on to say that he had attempted to salvage the card by replacing Henderson, first with the number two contender, Lyoto Machida, and then, when "The Dragon" baulked, with Chael Sonnen, who had called to offer his services. Jones declined the fight, and White cancelled UFC 151. White declared Jones' decision to be "disgusting" and "selfish." The majority sentiment from MMA pundits and fans has been almost unanimously condemnatory. The condemnation has many stripes. There are those who feel Jones is being cowardly; that he is not looking out for his fellow fighters; that he is overlooking an easy pay-day; that he is being a prima donna; that he is not acting like a champion should; that he is under Greg Jackson's Svengali-like sway.

Simply put, the unprecedented cancellation of a major UFC event is entirely the fault of Jon Jones.

This, of course, is complete rubbish.

Killing UFC 151 is entirely the fault (or responsibility, if you wish to be judicious) of Dana White. White saw the card for what it was: a score of preliminary fights of little general interest with one big golden scrap on top. There was no promoting Jake Ellenberger versus Jay Hieron to main event status on a numbered pay-per view event. UFC 151 without Jon Jones was not an event anyone would pay for. In short, White killed the card because it would have been a net loss for the company.

He made a business decision. He did not want to take a bath.

But talk of cold, calculating business decisions don't make for good press conference fodder. After all, he'd be in effect saying "these other 20 fighters can't sell a card. A card that I helped put together. They aren't worth the money." Instead, it was much easier to make Jon Jones the goat. It allowed White to shift the burden of rationalizing the decision to cancel the event away from grubby profit motive and towards a disingenuous and cynical stance of moral outrage.

There has been a lot said and written on the topic of Jones' decision and the cancellation of UFC 151. While verbose meanderings are easy to come by, I myself would greatly appreciate a straightforward breakdown of the ethical issues involved here (followed by a mild Marxist spin). Here is my attempt:

  • Jon Jones is under no ethical, moral, legal, or financial obligation to accept a fight with an opponent he is not contracted to meet.
  • Jones' wiliness to accept a new fight would obviously reap benefits for him personally in terms of good will (at least in some quarters). Such actions would be a kind of "ethical multiplier," an above-and-beyond gesture. But Jones' ethical responsibility for helping to salvage the main event diminishes exponentially as the event itself approaches. Therefore, Jones can reasonably be expected to accept a substitute fight anywhere from twelve to four weeks out from the event. Beyond that point, it is not reasonable to expect a fighter to accept a new opponent on short notice. In this case, eight days. (Or, as Greg Jackson has rightly pointed out, more like three days if you take travel time and promotion into account.)
  • Jones is not in a position to cancel a UFC event. He is a fighter. Only Zuffa, with Dana White as its president can make that executive decision. Jon Jones did not make this choice for White. White felt compelled by Jones' decision to move forward with cancellation, but Jones himself is not the trigger man here.
  • White is not in an ethically advantageous position to take the high ground with Jones. If the concern was for the fighters and their pay, White could have agreed to run with UFC 151, taken the loss, and paid his fighters. Because he decided to make a pragmatic business decision, rather than an ethical choice he is not entitled to deride Jones. (Ultimately, the UFC has found fight cards in the next two months for the majority of the fights on the card. Thus, financial losses for the fighters will be moderated. Therefore, any criticism from Jones critics predicated on sympathy for fighter's losing their pay is rendered moot. Presumably, the worst one could say regarding Jones' decision is that it resulted in the promotion and travelers being inconvenienced. Neither outcome, however, was necessitated by Jones' actions.)
  • Jones is not responsible for matchmaking and organizing fight cards. He is a fighter. Joe Silva and others make decisions regarding who fights on a given card. Cancellation of UFC 151 resulted from the belief that the card without Jones/Henderson would not be profitable. White and company made that estimation. Therefore, the matchmaking wasn't strong enough to withstand the loss of a main event. The blame for this cannot be placed with Jones.
  • While Jones is not obligated to take any un-contracted fight, taking the Chael Sonnen match could be seen as unethical. Sonnen has not trained, he is coming off a bad loss in June, and he does not fight at light heavyweight. Sonnen would be woefully underprepared and overmatched against a trained and primed Jones, a fighter many experts consider among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. It is a distinct possibility that Sonnen could be seriously injured if the fight were made.
  • Dan Henderson made choices during his training which led to his injury, which in turn led to his being pulled from the main event at UFC 151, and, ultimately, to its cancellation. A degree of responsibility lies with Henderson. He himself has stated that he has never missed a fight for reasons of injury. If this is true, then it stands to reason that he was careless during this season of training. In general, fans, promoters, and pundits are unwilling to criticize a fighter for a training-related injury. However, it is ethically viable to apportion responsibility with Henderson. At present, the lion's share of blame has been placed exclusively on Jones' shoulders.
  • Henderson's trainers and coaches knew of the fighter's injuries three weeks prior to the announcement, and that he might need to pull out of the fight. The Henderson camp's failure to alert the UFC of this injury increase's Henderson's culpability in the matter.

    NOTE: The following is a continuation of the reasoning outlined above, however, I wish to stress that what I am proposing here is COMPLETELY SPECULATIVE. - Furthermore, it is a matter of public record that Chael Sonnen and Henderson are long-time friends and training partners under the Team Quest banner. The Team Quest gym is located in Portland, Oregon, Sonnen's home. It is not beyond the realm of possibility, and in fact it is a singular probability that Sonnen has been in contact with Henderson during this time. It may be a simple matter of coincidence, but it is worth mentioning that Sonnen began his "Twitter war" with Jon Jones on August 15th. Prior to this entry, Sonnen had not Tweeted about Jones (unless those Tweets have been deleted, which is entirely possible). Sonnen evidently got interested in Jones the week of the 12th of August, approximately two weeks after Henderson's injury, and during a period when Henderson had stopped training due to this injury. IF Sonnen knew of his friend's injury he may have felt it his obligation (to his team, to his employer, to himself) to begin hyping an eventual substitution fight with Jones by taking to social media. IF these series of events occurred as laid out here, then Sonnen has acted unethically towards his employer by not disclosing his friend's injury. Sonnen may have needed a short-notice ultimatum to be in place to secure his position, lest a more logical opponent be used in his place.

What makes this issue murky, aside from the pre-existing antipathy many fans seem to have for Jones, is the blurring of the professional and personal in the business world. Managers, bosses, and executives of all kinds know what is meant by the phrase "it's just business." At the same time, many mangers, bosses, and executives will expect their workers to behave in familial ways. Discussions of compensation are "not for the dinner table," or they are considered "rude." These expectations are purely mono-directional. The managers, bosses, and executives are under no moral or ethical obligation to treat their employees in a familial way. Issues concerning fair pair, workload control, workplace safety, and worker dignity have traditionally required third party arbitration, such as a union or a personal representative (such as a personal agent).

In this instance, White is at least partially guilty of disingenuousness. He expected Jones to "do the right thing" by the company and the other fighters on the card. White wanted Jones to act unselfishly in accord with the warped, cynical ethical system of the management/labor model. The fact that many fighters have come out and attacked Jones publically for his decision underscores the prevalence of the false consciousness inculcated by this model. Fighter's identify more with White than they do Jones, which further suggests profound alienation. White is not a fighter. He is a promoter who pays fighters to produce wealth for his company.

Jones is being criticized for taking control over his labor. White escapes criticism because he is viewed as a sympathetic figure; an innocent victim of circumstance. Also, as a man who symbolizes power and money, he may be be viewed with admiration by fighters (rather than with resentment, which would be a Marxist class conscious view of White's place).

One may also speculate, with some justification, that the scorn heaped on Jones may be sourced in petty racial bias. Although this is the not the space to discuss this in detail, it has been interesting to observe how black fighters are "taken in" by fans. An obnoxious cartoon character like Quinton Jackson is seemingly preferred to well-spoken, thoughtful fighters like Rashad Evans. Why? Again, this is open to speculation, but I would argue that Jackson presents a very simplistic, one-dimensional, "character" not unlike those developed in the world of professional wrestling, a rich "feeder" audience for the rank-and-file MMA fan base, whereas Rashad Evans seems like what he is: a highly successful athlete who can articulate his thoughts and (tellingly) make up his own mind about career choices. To my mind, Jon Jones is receiving similar treatment.

It's almost as if he doesn't know his place.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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