Say Hello to the Good Guy: Chael Sonnen

August 24, 2012


Thursday’s unprecedented cancellation of UFC 151: Jones vs. Henderson has sent the MMA world into a tizzy.  Never before has the UFC canceled an entire card, and UFC President Dana White has laid the blame squarely at the feet of Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, plus his trainer Greg Jackson.

It all started on Wednesday, when rumors surfaced on Twitter that Dan Henderson’s knee had gone balky.  The MMA veteran tried his hardest to make the fight, but was forced to pull out for the first time in his career.

Now, UFC 151 was a two-horse show.  There was no co-main event bout scheduled, nor were there any other notable fighters on the card.  This was a fight card that had a pretty darn good main event and nothing else to speak of, so the loss of Hendo immediately struck a death blow to interest in the PPV.  UFC President Dana White contacted the next in line, Lyoto Machida, about replacing Hendo, but Machida wasn’t available at the time.

Dana White flipped through the rolodex and was turned down by everybody except the last guy on the list.

Former Middleweight title contender Chael Sonnen.

And for the first time ever, a UFC champion turned down a fight against a potential challenger, leading the UFC to cancel the entire event.

Instead, Jones will fight against former UFC LH Champion Vitor Belfort, who is 3-1 since returning to the UFC, on September 22 at UFC 152, which will keep its name.

The decision to write UFC 151 off as a lost card is likely some sort of jab at Jon Jones.  From now until the end of time,  White and the fans can point at this as the card that Jones sank by himself.  And for a fighter that is sponsored by the UFC itself, you can be sure that the organization will let its anger be known for a long time.

The loss of a main event will hurt the depth of any fighting organization and test its’ overall depth.  However, there must be contingencies in place.  For the UFC to not have a co-main event, when Jones already has difficulty drawing numbers that they really want, is a huge mistake on the part of Dana White and the Fertitta brothers.  In that regard, Jones holds no responsibility.  When a fight is lost, the show simply must go on, and backups must be planned.

But for Jones, the decision to not fight Chael Sonnen seems like a simple business decision.  If Jones defeats the already-trash-talking Sonnen (who would only have eight days to train, study, and make weight), he proves nothing and opens the door for a “fair” rematch.  If Sonnen defeats Jones, it trashes his entire mystique as a fighter.

The phrase “styles make fights” certainly backs up his reasons for declining.  Many have judged that Jones would struggle against a fighter like Sonnen, just as Anderson Silva did.  Sonnen is a high-level wrestler who is content to control you and rough you up for 3-5 rounds, and Jones hasn’t fought many guys who have pushed the pace against him.  In the Rashad Evans fight, Jones kept Evans close with elbows, but allowing Evans to score some big shots as well.  Sonnen would absolutely close that distance in a hurry and try to outwrestle Jones.

For Jones, taking a fight on short notice against a guy you haven’t planned for isn’t a smart business decision.  For a guy who is having a difficult time establishing himself as the face of the organization, taking a fight against the guy who is the anti-hero poster boy could be a PR nightmare if you lose.

But by declining the fight, Jones seems like a top boxer, who won’t take a fight he isn’t positive that he can win.  After declaring that he wouldn’t fight Anderson Silva, in what would likely be the biggest draw in his career, getting arrested for DUI, and now this, all of the positives of his recent Nike sponsorship seem erased.  Jon Jones feels like he’s becoming the bad guy.

Meanwhile Sonnen looks like the champion of the people once again.  He’s the guy that’s offering his entire purse to make the fight happen, sacrificing even the benefit of a training camp, and telling the world he will fight tonight if he has to.  When fighters complained because their paychecks were suddenly erased, Sonnen was the guy who came to their defense.

Suddenly, Uncle Chael looks like the good guy.

It’s quite the posturing from Sonnen, who looked like he’s at least fourth in line for a title shot.  With Machida declining, due to a rapid turnaround from his last bout and short prep time, Belfort sliding up, and Henderson’s injury, Sonnen could earn himself a title shot with just a couple of wins, leapfrogging several other guys in the field.  He is still the #2 Middleweight in the world, according to many publications, and has shown that he can do the one thing that Jones may never accomplish: Sell 1,000,000 PPVs for a single show.  With the latest controversy, plus the genuine animosity between the two, there is definite appeal in a Jones-Sonnen fight, and that could lead to a match in the upcoming months.

Jones still struggles to sell fights, and this was a card that didn’t offer any other reason to buy.  In a card that needed salvation, Sonnen stepped up to be the savior, which likely would have sold at least a few more PPVs.  Instead, Jones turns it down and becomes the goat.  His camp’s unwillingness to comment on the situation as it was developing certainly doesn’t help him appeal to people.

MMA Junkie finally caught up with the Light Heavyweight Champion on Thursday night, and this is what he had to say.

While Jon Jones talks about how sorry he feels for guys losing money, Chael Sonnen talks about how Jones is a greedy little snob who is costing them money.  He talks about how in real life, we aren’t told about a fight eight days before it happens.  He brings up how our soldiers don’t get eight days notice before they are attacked.  He tells us that all MMA fighters are volunteers.  He rides in on the white horse, and he’s bringing truth with him.

Chael Sonnen is transcending the role of anti-hero.  Chael Sonnen is becoming the hero.

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About mattpocket

I am the Sports Director at 88.3 FM WXOU Radio, out of Oakland University. I am the play-by-play voice of the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. I've been to two NCAA Tournaments, been heard on ESPN, and won 9 Michigan Association of Broadcasters Awards. Follow me on Twitter. @cornerpocket422 You can tune in to The Corner Pocket every Friday from 3-5 pm with my cohost Bryan and Everson and myself, featuring the best guests, such as Dave Birkett, Jim Nill, and Bruce Buffer.

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3 Comments on “Say Hello to the Good Guy: Chael Sonnen”

  1. jumpingpolarbear Says:

    Who would have thought Chael would be the good guy? :).


  2. Grieser Says:

    Jon Jones punked out because he was going to run into a fighter that could take him down. add in the fact that he is the champion. champs dont duck fighters. champs take on all comers.

    furthermore, i agree with dana whites comments about greg jackson. greg jackson has taken exciting fighters that people want to see and turned them into point fighters that bore audiences into submission. and for him to tell a champion and arguably the p4p king to decline a fight against a guy with 8 days notice is a joke and a disgrace to the sport of MMA. grow a pair and take the fight.


  3. Stefan Jagot Says:

    I think Dana White will be seen as a big loser in this too, by canceling this card for the reasons you say it shows that one fighter is bigger than one one federation.


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