Champs Turning Down Fights: A Dangerous Trend in the UFC
With the recent news of Dan Henderson being forced to withdraw from his title fight with champion Jon “Bones” Jones, the UFC put forth a valiant effort to adjust and salvage a UFC 151 event in Las Vegas. Almost immediately after the news broke, recent light heavyweight convert Chael Sonnen and top middleweight contender Chris Weidman both jumped into the mix and asked to replace the injured Hendo.
Sonnen perked Dana White’s interest in particular as a viable opponent for Jones. However, Jones declined not only Sonnen but any possible dance partner for the 151 main event forcing the UFC to cancel the show. Once again the UFC fans have been treated to a healthy champion refusing to defend their title due to things not working out exactly how they want. Obviously this is not a decision made solely by Jones, as every member of the Greg Jackson camp takes their marching orders from the man with the towel himself, and Jackson is a master at making sure his fighters keep a belt around their waist by any means necessary.
This is not the first Team Jackson member to refuse to defend his title. Carlos Condit upon defeating Nick Diaz for the interim welterweight title in February, decided to sit and wait for injured champion Georges St. Pierre to return to action in November. Condit could have certainly defended his title in that span as he was healthy and the welterweight division is stacked with contenders. But Condit, no doubt under the tutelage of Jackson, declined all comers. In my opinion, that sort of defeats the purpose of an interim title as there really isn’t a point in creating a title which is guaranteed to never be defended.
It isn’t entirely a Greg Jackson strategy to pick opponents and decline worthy title contenders. We have seen this behaviour from other champions as well. The pound-for-pound greatest fighter in the world, Anderson Silva, has a bit of a reputation for setting his own itinerary. Nate Marquardt and the previously mentioned Hendo, were both refused by the middleweight champion because he had already beaten them both and apparently fighters never change or evolve. This lead to one of the worst fights in UFC history between Silva and the grossly outmatched Damian Maia, where Dana refused to even put the belt on the victorious Silva, breaking a long-standing tradition. Even Silva’s most recent title defense against Chael Sonnen almost didn’t happen. Sonnen finally managed to insult Silva’s family and country enough to anger the champ enough to get a second shot.
Even my favorite fighter in the UFC, Junior Dos Santos, attempted to pass over a worthy Cain Velasquez to go after Alastair Overeem. Cigano’s reasoning was better than Jones’, Silva’s or Condit’s in the sense that he just dislikes Overeem and wants to fight him more than Velasquez. Nevertheless it would have pushed back the heavyweight title defense and robbed the fans of what would surely be a fantastic rematch. Thankfully Dos Santos/Velasquez II will be happening in December. With Dominick Cruz and Jose Aldo having recent health issues (Aldo hopefully returning in October) it seems like the lightweight division is stuck carrying the load. Happily, Ben Henderson, Frankie Edgar, Donald Cerrone and Nate Diaz are always ready to go.
It is a fighter’s job to fight and that job becomes even more important when you are wearing gold. If a champion is healthy they should take on all comers whether they have fought before, whether they are a bad stylistic matchup, whether they are a last-minute replacement or whether they belong to the same camp, which is a whole other issue in itself. Jones simply not wanting to fight is detrimental to the sport and shows a complete lack of respect for the fans. Dana has forced Bones to take on Lyoto Machida in Toronto three weeks after he was supposed to take on Hendo. “Forced” is actually an appropriate term given that Jones doesn’t want to fight Machida either.
This is a dangerous trend for MMA and hopefully it doesn’t continue for the sake of the fans and the sport which is still young and fragile enough to fall apart.
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