On the eve of UFC 159, I took some time to reflect on the most infamous event in UFC history: the cancellation of UFC 151. For those of you who don't know what happened, Jon Jones was scheduled to defend his title against Dan Henderson at UFC 151. Dan Henderson got injured and, after many light heavyweight contenders turned the fight down, Dana White called Chael Sonnen, who stepped up and agreed to take the fight. In an ironic twist, Jon Jones backed out, claiming that eight days wasn't enough to prepare for a new opponent. Long story short, the event was cancelled, we witnessed the craziest public meltdown by a corporate president in recent history, and the internet jumped on the "Chicken Bones Jones" hate train. You know you've screwed up big when Sonnen, the biggest heel in MMA, comes out looking like the good guy.
Now, I'll admit, I was on the hater wagon with everyone else. Like Joe Rogan, I couldn't understand why the most phenomenal young MMA fighter around would be afraid to fight a 35-year-old 185-pounder. However, now that I think about it, I don't think that fear was the motivation. After all, Jones did say he was willing to face Sonnen at UFC 152. Looking back, it seems like a decision motivated more by selfishness and immaturity than anything else. I don't buy the whole "but it's a completely different guy argument" because so many factors were in Jones favor (his youth, his dominance in a higher weight class, a two month lead in training, the psychological boost from overcoming his rival and former big brother figure Rashad Evans vs. Sonnen's psychological thrashing from blowing his final chance to dethrone Anderson Silva) that they would have negated the inconvenience of changing his strategy.
Nonetheless, although I still think that Jones made a poor decision, I do not believe that he is responsible for the event being cancelled. I don't believe that Greg Jackson is responsible for the event being cancelled, nor do I believe he deserved all the hate that he received for simply voicing his opinion when asked. I don't even believe that Dan Henderson is responsible for the event being cancelled, although I do believe that his decision to hide his injury was just as selfish and damaging as Jones' decision to turn down Sonnen. I believe that the event being cancelled has more to do with Dana White letting his emotions get the better of him than anything else.
In all honesty, if I was in his position, I would have probably flipped out, too. In my personal opinion, a champion backing out of a fight when he is in shape and ready to go is completely inexcusable. However, I would not have cancelled the event. I would have offered to make the bout a non-title match and, if Jones had still refused, I would have stripped him of the belt. That would have been better than throwing a temper tantrum and punishing the rest of the MMA community for one young man's lack of maturity.
Nonetheless, both White and Jones have tried to make amends with this season of "The Ultimate Fighter" and tomorrow's event. In doing so, they have taken steps to regain the respect of the MMA community. Will people still remember UFC 151? Yes. However, they will also remember how White and Jones, like Chael, stepped up for "The Ultimate Fighter" and UFC 159.