Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012 | 1:20 p.m.
UFC President Dana White called Chael Sonnen late last night when he ran out of all other options to save next week’s UFC 151 card at Mandalay Bay.
With light heavyweight champion Jon Jones’ original opponent, Dan Henderson, out to injury and top contender Lyoto Machida unable to accept the bout on eight days’ notice, Sonnen was the final choice. Despite not training seriously since his loss to Anderson Silva last month, Sonnen accepted the bout with Jones immediately.
“I’ll fly to Las Vegas tonight and fight him at Mandalay Bay or any other casino you’d like me to fight him at,” Sonnen responded, according to White.
White said his staff immediately got to work preparing new promotional materials and re-branding the event. They scheduled a media teleconference for Thursday morning to announce Jones vs. Sonnen, a fight that had some intrigue because of trash talk the two had exchanged over the last week.
But the conference call turned out to have entirely different topic — UFC 151 became the first event in promotional history to get cancelled.
“The one thing I thought wouldn’t happen in a million years happened: Jon Jones said ‘I’m not fighting Chael Sonnen with eight days’ notice,’” White said. “Something that has never happened in UFC history — someone who is a champion and considered one of the pound-for-pound best turns down a fight.”
Jones will now headline UFC 152 on Sept. 22 in Toronto in a rematch against Lyoto Machida while Henderson recovers from an MCL sprain.
White was irate after spending more than 12 hours trying to get Jones to accept a bout against Sonnen to save UFC 151. He called Jones’ coach Greg Jackson a “(expletive) sport killer” for advising the champion not to take the fight and hinted that his relationship with Jones was forever tarnished.
“Good for you, Jon Jones,” White said mockingly. “You’re rich and you’ve got some money so you didn’t need to take this fight. But there are a bunch of the guys on the undercard and this is the way they feed their family. This is the way they make a living. The UFC has spent (loads) of money to promote this fight and you didn’t feel like it or whatever your reason is not to fight.”
White called the announcement one of his “all-time lows” as president of the UFC for the last 11 years. But the UFC constructed the entire card around Jones, so there was no salvaging a pay-per-view when he refused to fight.
White admitted the Sonnen matchup wasn’t ideal considering he was coming off of a loss and hadn’t fought at 205 pounds in seven years. But it was a bout that could have sold.
“There would have been people who liked it and people who didn’t,” White said. “But here’s what I do know: Chael Sonnen would have shown up, fought his ass off and tried to win. Chael Sonnen wants to be a world champion. Those are the kinds of guys I like. Those are the guys the fans should like.”
Sonnen made one last ditch effort at getting Jones to take the fight moments before White scrapped the card completely.
“30 (minutes) to cement your legacy,” Sonnen wrote on twitter. “Champ or coward? I make a lot more than you… Show up in 8 days and I’ll give you my purse.”
Jones gave no response. He’s stayed silent, not releasing as much as a statement, since White revealed what happened.
Tickets will be refunded and White said the UFC would lose “major, major” amounts of money on unrecoverable costs. He chose to take his anger from the situation out on Jones.
“I don’t know why a champion, a guy considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters, wouldn’t fight anybody,” White said. “It’s baffling to me. I’ve never seen it before.”