It's been a wild 24 hours for the UFC. From the injury to Dan Henderson, to Jon Jones turning down the Chael Sonnen fight, to the cancellation of UFC 151, to Jon Jones vs. Lyoto Machida, to Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort... that's a lot going on, and it has become a highly emotional issue. Dana White has been very clear that, in his eyes, all the blame for these problems lies squarely on the shoulders of two men - UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones and his trainer Greg Jackson. But there's a big problem with Dana's blame game.
Jon Jones was right to turn down the Sonnen fight.
After yesterday's vitriolic attack on Jones and Jackson by Dana White, Jackson took to The MMA Show, explaining that, in his opinion, to fight Sonnen, Jones would need a full training camp, which is why he advised the champion to turn down the fight. Despite Dana's arguments to the contrary, Jackson is absolutely correct here.
Chael Sonnen may be coming up in weight, and he may be coming off a loss to Anderson Silva, but he remains a very dangerous opponent. More importantly, he presents a completely different stylistic challenge than Dan Henderson. Against Hendo, Jones's primary concern was avoiding the H Bomb KO punch; against Sonnen, it would be a complete change in training with a focus on takedown defense. That's a significant change, and 8 days is not much time to make it. That shortened time frame becomes an even bigger factor when you consider the amount of press Jones, as champion, would be expected to do fight week, leaving him less than 8 full days to adjust.
For his part, Sonnen is a specialist, so while he would also have only 8 days, he's going to play his game no matter what. He also obviously has a lot more to gain in a short notice fight with Jones, who has everything to lose.
One of the big complaints seems to be that it was Jones and Jackson who cancelled the show, thereby hurting the UFC and all the other fighters scheduled. That mentality is flawed. Jon Jones did not cancel UFC 151 - Zuffa cancelled UFC 151. Jon Jones turned down a fight when his originally scheduled opponent was injured. Could he have been more of a "team player" and fought for the greater good of the company? Sure. But why is he required to? He is not an owner in the company. At the end of the day, Jones and his team have to make the best decision for Jon Jones, not for the UFC, and they made a perfectly justifiable decision. It's up to the owners of the company to figure out how to deal with that decision.
All that said, there is a negative to Jones's decision, and that's in his marketability. UFC fans are fiercely loyal to Dana and buy into his side, so when he says Jon Jones screwed the fans, they buy it, which can ultimately hurt his drawing power. And that is a factor to consider.
But before you say that Jones has forever screwed himself here, I remind you of the case of Anderson Silva. A few years ago, after his odd performances against Thales Leites and Demian Maia, Silva found himself in much the same position as Jones today. He was a dominant fighter, yet both fans and Dana White were sick of his uninspired performances, to the point that some wanted his next title defense to be on a prelim. Then, with a classic rivalry with Chael Sonnen and a spectacular KO of Vitor Belfort, Silva turned it all around. He's now one of the company's big draws, and his fight with Sonnen was one of the biggest of 2012. Jones may be down in public perception right now, but with the right 2 or 3 fights, he'll bounce back, both for fans, and for Dana White - the man who once rallied passionately against Silva, and now calls him the greatest fighter in the sport today.
I understand why Dana White is angry. But after listening to his side, consider the side of Jones and Jackson as well. Ask why it is their responsibility to take a tough fight on short notice. Ask why it is their responsibility to save UFC 151. Ask if it really was the terrible decision Dana claims it is. Ask those questions, and I think, in the end, the answers are clear - Jon Jones made the right call for Jon Jones. Sorry Dana.