I’m sympathetic to the fans who were going to be in attendance at the now-canceled UFC 151 event on September 1st, because I’ve been in a similar situation. In fact, I held tickets for the infamous Affliction: Trilogy event, which was to feature a main event of Fedor Emelianenko vs. Josh Barnett. After Barnett was forced off the card due to a positive drug test, Affliction scrambled to find a replacement for Barnett, courting Brett Rogers in particular, before simply canceling the event altogether. It was extremely disappointing.
After it was discovered that challenger Dan Henderson tore his MCL in training, the UFC also scrambled to find a replacement to fight Jon Jones, and found one in Chael Sonnen, who deserves serious credit for his willingness to fight Jones on very short notice. Unfortunately for the fans, the UFC, and all the fighters who were going to participate on the card, Jones declined the fight. The UFC, left with no viable alternative for a main event, decided to cancel the event altogether.
On The MMA Show with Mauro Ranallo, Jones’s trainer, Greg Jackson, had this to say:
I was asked if it was smart to take a fight on three days notice and I don’t think it’s smart to do that. Three days to fight a guy that caliber is not a smart thing to do. I’m not trying to ruin the sport or cancel an event. I don’t know about that stuff, but thought it wasn’t a wise course of action.
In my opinion, this is a terrible, mind-blowing decision on the part of Greg Jackson and Jon Jones. The justification for turning down a fight against Sonnen, as articulated by Jackson, is simply that there is too much risk inherent in fighting Sonnen on short notice. Since I’m a numbers guy, let’s think about this in terms of numbers. Jones was listed at about a -700 favorite to beat Henderson, a betting line that translates to a roughly 88 percent chance of winning. Now, if I assume that Jones would be a -600 favorite against Sonnen (an educated guess, but I think it’s a reasonable estimate), that translates to a roughly 86 percent chance of winning. If Jones was a -450 favorite, and that’s as low as I think that line would get, that translates to a roughly 82 percent chance of winning. At most, Jones’s chance of winning decreases by 5-6 percent, but in reality, I think it decreases even less than that.
Of course, the sticking point here is not the change of opponent, but fighting that opponent on short notice. Here is where I don’t buy Jackson’s argument at all. The difference between Jones and Sonnen is that Jones has been through a full training camp for this fight. Sonnen, on the other hand, has not had a fight of any kind lined up, and would likely be scrambling to get into shape. If anything, the fact that this fight would take place on short notice would be to the advantage of Jon Jones.
As far as I see it, the decision not to fight Chael Sonnen has been made not because of actual risk, but because of Greg Jackson’s perception of how risky taking the fight on short notice would be. And now, by deciding not to fight, Jones has drawn the anger of those set to attend UFC 151, the fighters who were set to compete at UFC 151, and worst of all, UFC president Dana White. If we’re talking about risk, Jon Jones just took a much bigger risk in turning down the fight against Chael Sonnen than he would have if he had accepted that fight.