On August 23rd, 2012, the UFC made history by cancelling a pay-per-view event. UFC 151 was scheduled for September 1st in Las Vegas, headlined by a light heavyweight title fight between champion Jon Jones and Dan Henderson. That never materialized because Hendo pulled out with an injury. Chael Sonnen offered to fight Jones on a week’s notice, but Jones rejected that offer Dikembe Mutombo-style. This sparked unprecedented levels of outrage towards Jones, primarily led by Dana White, who ripped into him during the conference call.
This was by far one of the biggest moments in UFC history, and it just about irreparably damaged Jones’ already shaky reputation far before his recent hit-and-run incident. Normally, we reserve the “Winners and losers” bit for right after a UFC event, but we never did one for UFC 151 for obvious reasons. So on that note, it’s time now for the long overdue UFC 151 edition of W&L.
Dan Henderson. Under normal circumstances, injuring your knee and losing out on a lucrative title fight doesn’t make you a “winner”, but this obviously isn’t your normal W&L column is it? Henderson was almost guaranteed to lose to Jones and not look competitive for even 3 seconds, your H-Bomb fixations notwithstanding, so the injury was a blessing in disguise. Oh, and that injury he suffered? Well he suffered that three weeks before he officially pulled out. Of course, the anger was all directed towards Jon Jones by the time this news broke, and Dana White didn’t criticize him for waiting until the last minute to withdraw until two weeks after 151 was cancelled. Somehow I get the feeling that had Jon Jones done the same thing, fan reaction would’ve been a tad different. Henderson emerged from this mess with his reputation and popularity virtually unscathed, and he continues to regularly headline events despite a 2-5 record in his last 7. By the way, happy birthday to Hendo, who turns 45 today.
Chael Sonnen. Whether or not Chael Sonnen knew well in advance about Dan Henderson’s injury remains cloudy, mostly because taking Sonnen at face value is a naive thing to do, but his maneuvering towards an eventual title fight with Jones was a real masterclass. Jones’ decision not to fight Chael on a week’s notice worked in Sonnen’s favor to near-perfection. Remember this poster? He also called him “a petulant brat” and some other names after Jones turned him down. Sure enough, Sonnen parlayed his constant hounding of Jones into a coaching gig on TUF and an instant title shot despite zero fights or any meaningful success in that division. UFC 159 pulled in 550,000 buys, which stands to date as Jones’ third-highest selling show. Sonnen managed one last big payday through some serious hustle, all whilst elevating his profile as someone who will fight anyone at anytime on short notice, while painting Jon Jones as a scaredy cat.
PPV-buying Fans. UFC 151 had a horrific undercard with virtually no name value. The original co-main was between Josh Koscheck and Jake Ellenberger (both of whom were coming off losses), and then Koscheck was replaced by Jay Hieron, he of zero UFC wins. When the fights were rescheduled, none of the undercard bouts was moved to a future PPV main card, and some of the main card fights were on the prelims of cable TV shows. Jon Jones may not have “saved” 151, but he did save hundreds of thousands of viewers from impulsively spending $50 on this show.
UFC 152. Before Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort was named the new UFC 152 main event, this card was going to absolutely die at the box office. The original main event was the flyweight title fight between Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez, with a co-main of Michael Bisping versus Brian Stann. Rory MacDonald vs. B.J. Penn was already postponed before the 151 drama occurred, leaving the UFC with another low-power PPV. Jones vs. Belfort strengthened the card and produced 450,000 buys, which more than likely at least doubled what a Mighty Mouse vs. Benavidez main event would’ve done.
Jon Jones. Technically speaking, Jon Jones was well within his right, as champion, to not fight a completely different opponent on a few days notice. But the consequences of Jones’ decision still have major effects on his relationship with the fans to this day. Whether it was his perceived cockiness, arrogance, supposed ducking of Rashad Evans, his “fake” persona (especially months removed from his DUI), his repeated beatdowns of PRIDE heroes, a good chunk of the MMA fanbase didn’t like him. From a personal image standpoint, not fighting Chael was a multi-layered disaster. Other fighters on the undercard were livid, expectant fans who bought tickets and shelled out airfare and hotel money for a weekend Vegas trip were understandably pissed, former Bloody Elbow staffer Matt Roth had one of my favorite rants of all-time, and the almighty Dana White led the charge by verbally undressing and skinning Jones. The prevailing consensus was that Jones was more than just a headliner. He, not the UFC, had to bear the brunt of the responsibility to ensure that the undercard fighters got paid, and that the company wouldn’t get financially screwed over. So from that point on, Jones was public enemy #1, and he’s made it worse over the years.
Greg Jackson. 2012 was a pretty rough PR year for Greg Jackson. In February, Carlos Condit’s win over Nick Diaz came with the disappointment that it wasn’t the instant classic many had hoped it would be. A few months later, Clay Guida turned in a thoroughly bizarre performance vs. Gray Maynard (and almost got the decision), a gameplan which had Jackson’s prints all over it. UFC 151’s axing was just more ammunition for Dana White to attack Jackson, who was forever christened as the sport-killer.
Lyoto Machida. Remember that time Lyoto Machida, Ryan Bader, Mauricio Rua, and Brandon Vera had a competition at UFC on FOX 4 where “the most impressive winner” would get a title shot? Machida was declared the winner when he fist-sedated Ryan Bader, but he turned down the short-notice rematch with Jones at UFC 152. Dana White never expressed any public anger or ill-will towards him, but he did essentially make Machida forfeit his spot at the front of the line. After beating Dan Henderson, Machida controversially lost to Phil Davis, and hasn’t competed at LHW since then. Quietly, Machida got screwed out of (at least what I thought to be) a compelling rematch with Jones, which once again highlights the consequences of saying no in the UFC.
Eddie Yagin. Yagin had surprised many with his win over former featherweight title challenger Mark Hominick at UFC 145. The fight with Dennis Siver was moved to December, but Yagin never fought him and never competed for the promotion again. He suffered a subdural hematoma in training, which nearly ended his career. The UFC released him because of his medical condition, and he’s 0-2 since then.
UFC. A reported $40 million was lost for “all parties involved” due to the cancellation, which basically tells you all you need to know.
“Losing to Sonnen doesn’t hurt Jones at all” fans. This was by far the most outrageous thing to look back on. Maybe it was heat of the moment anger, but there were fans who genuinely believed that a fluke loss to a woefully overmatched opponent would’ve done no damage to Jones whatsoever. I present to you a couple of several comments from Bloody Elbow’s yesteryear:
See? No big deal. If Jones had suffered one of the biggest upsets in UFC history it really wouldn’t have damaged his status at all. We all know how GSP’s loss to Matt Serra was a footnote in his career and not something some detractors still use as evidence that he’s not better than Anderson Silva. Heck, I’m sure when T.J. Dillashaw fights Dominick Cruz, we won’t be using the Joe Soto fight as reason to doubt Dillashaw’s abilities. Considering how MMA fans have historically viewed Jon Jones, had he somehow lost to Sonnen at UFC 151, it would be held against him for an eternity. Any fans who bought in to the “Jones is ducking Chael” narrative were also sorely misguided and delusional.
Dana White. Burying his fighters and then tossing them under the bus and then lighting the bus on fire is nothing new for Dana White. “UFC 151 will be remembered as the event that Jon Jones and Greg Jackson murdered.” sent as clear a message as possible over how quickly fighter-promoter relationships can go straight into the shitter. If you play hardball with the UFC and don’t do what the company wants/tells you to do, your life under contract will be hell. White was unrelenting in his Jones criticisms and personal attacks, and then had the gall to actually say that Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson were “the exact same opponent”:
“Other than him (Sonnen) being a southpaw, they’re the exact same guy, they come out of the same camp and they’ve been training together their entire career. The difference between Chael Sonnen is Chael Sonnen is a wrestler, he doesn’t even hit as hard as Dan Henderson does. The only thing that is changing is his stance, he’s a southpaw. Other than that, he doesn’t even hit as hard as Dan Henderson. He’s 185-pounder. Dan Henderson has knocked out the who’s-who in mixed martial arts over his entire career. This guy is dangerous.”
Sonnen and Henderson are the exact same opponent in the same way that The Beatles and Lynyrd Skynyrd are “the exact same band.”
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