Chavez Jr.-Martinez Overshadowing Alvarez-Lopez in September 15 Showdown; Fan’s Perspective

by Paul Magno

Take a trip on social media or on boxing website message boards and, other than the ever-present Mayweather-Pacquiao talk, the main topic of conversation is Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. vs. Sergio Martinez on September 15th.

Chavez-Martinez, however, will be sharing Mexican Independence Day in the same city with another high profile bout featuring a young Mexican star as Saul “El Canelo” Alvarez takes on Josesito Lopez. Although the head to head rivalry of the two simultaneous Las Vegas cards is history-making, only one of the bouts has managed to capture the public’s attention.

It’s no mystery why Chavez-Martinez, housed in Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center and broadcast on pay-per-view, is the talk of the sport. The drama has been building for close to two years and the fight’s back story is as compelling as any other in the sport. Can Martinez expose Chavez Jr. as a protected, bogus WBC middleweight champion and regain the belt that’s rightfully his? Can Chavez Jr. finally win credibility and the respect of hardcore fight fans who see him as the product of pure nepotism? The words have been harsh, the animosity is real. And, of course, the fans are eating it up like peanut M&M’s.

At the same time and just a couple of miles away at the MGM Grand, Saul Alvarez will defend his WBC junior middleweight title against Josesito Lopez. Many have questioned the opponent selection for Alvarez and the fact that Lopez was a natural junior welterweight before moving up to stop Victor Ortiz in a welterweight contest to earn this shot. Regardless of the criticism, though, Lopez always comes to fight and the bout, itself, should be entertaining.

However, in comparison to Chavez-Martinez, few are really talking about Alvarez-Lopez. Even though it’ll be on Showtime rather than pay-per-view and part of a solid quadruple header, the Golden Boy-promoted card still can’t seem to get much traction among the hardcore fight fans.

Really, only Golden Boy is to blame for being overshadowed in the big September 15th showdown.

“Canelo” Alvarez is an honest fighter who always puts on a decent show and Lopez is a legitimately solid professional with a feel good rags-to-riches story. Both could’ve been part of the show in exciting bouts against more appropriate opposition. Instead, it’s a bit of a farce for boxing purists who will rightfully bristle at the idea of this being a “world” title bout and it reeks of a slapped-together contest with no real back story or logic, other than “this is what Golden Boy settled on.”

Who knows, maybe both cards will produce quality action, but currently, only Chavez-Martinez is making fans care.

Matt Hamill’s return to the UFC gives him a chance to finally realize his potential

by Kevin Iole

There’s always been a sense when watching Matt Hamill that there is another level which, for some inexplicable reason, he’s been unable to reach. He’s been good when he should have been great.

Beginning with an outstanding wrestling pedigree, Hamill possesses nearly all of the prerequisites for success as a mixed martial arts fighter. For some reason, though, the whole hasn’t equaled the sum of his parts.

And so, after back-to-back disappointing losses last year to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Alexander Gustafsson, Hamill summarily retired.

He had nothing to apologize for, to be sure. He walked after a loss to Gustafsson at UFC 133 with a 10-4 record and as a hero to deaf people everywhere. He’d beaten quality fighters like Tito Ortiz, Mark Munoz, Tim Boetsch and Keith Jardine, among others, and was more often than not very competitive.

Matt Hamill lost to Alexander Gustafsson in his last UFC fight. (Getty)

But he was a guy who’d lost the majority of his most significant fights and not a guy who many believed was championship material.

When he retired, there was little fuss. It seemed like his time was at hand after he was manhandled by Gustafsson.

His trainer/manager, Duff Holmes, did what any worthwhile trainer will do: He was extremely frank with Hamill.

“Duff told me I didn’t have it anymore,” Hamill said Wednesday. “I was banged up, I was hurting and I decided to walk away.”

But it wasn’t long before Hamill felt pangs of regret. Suddenly, he wasn’t the celebrity he once was. When he was in the gym, attention was focused on others who were preparing for fights, and not on him.

And, as fighters often do when they retire, he began to reconsider.

He was working out with some of Holmes’ other fighters and began to wonder if his choice to step away had been in haste. His injuries had healed, and he was, at 35, still young enough to compete at a high level.

He liked the freedom retirement presented, but he missed the rush he got from fighting. As he began to mull a comeback, the idea that he might be able to ascend to the next level began to overtake him.

“I was helping the other guys and I was feeling good and I started to have some regrets about the decision I made,” Hamill said. “I started thinking about it and it made sense for me to try to come back. If I didn’t, I was afraid I’d have regrets the rest of my life and I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.”

So, after a retirement that lasted about a year, he’ll unretire on Sept. 22 and return to active duty when he fights Vladimir Matyushenko at UFC 152 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Hamill calls his comeback “Hammer 2.0” and said the time off from fighting, however brief, gave him much needed perspective.

He is going to take a more cerebral approach to his game.

“I didn’t perform well in some fights where I wanted to, but I’m older and wiser than I was and I’ve gotten a lot smarter,” he said. “I realize now, after I stepped away from it for a while, that it’s not how bad ass you are, it’s what you know and how you use your intelligence.”

Hamill was an athletic freak who things came to easily. But he didn’t always take the smartest approach in his preparations or in his personal life.

Matt Hamill shows the damage of his UFC 130 tussle with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. (Getty)

He’d go hard in practice when there was no need and would suffer an entirely avoidable injury. Holmes was constantly nagging him about the way he went about his business.

“I’ve told Matt this a lot, that he’s been careless a lot in some of the things he’d do,” Holmes said. “In training, he’d get too rough and push too far. At home, he’d be screwing around and would hurt himself. He had this great athletic body and he was just be careless with it.

“But he’s trying to do things the right way now. He’s taking time to rest when he needs it. He is seeing a chiropractor, he’s getting the massages. He’s a great athlete and he’s starting to take care of his body like great athletes do.”

Hamill is the only man to hold a victory over UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, though it’s quite a tainted win. He beat Jones by disqualification after referee Steve Mazzagatti ruled Jones hit him with illegal elbows.

He said “I definitely didn’t win that fight,” and said he’d welcome another shot at Jones somewhere down the line in an attempt to try to get what he perceives as a legitimate victory.

That may be a stretch, because the way Jones is going now, it might take a super human feat to knock him off. Hamill, though, has the kind of talent to compete on more than even terms with the elite men at 205.

It’s time for him to start doing it.

Georges St-Pierre says he’s medically cleared to fight

by Maggie Hendricks

(Getty)

The UFC welterweight champion is now cleared to compete. Georges St-Pierre shared the good news on his Facebook page.

Yesterday was the final chapter of my Road to Recovery- I’m now medically cleared to compete in professional mixed martial arts! Big thanks to all my fans for the amazing support during those 9 long months of rehab- couldn’t have done it without you.

St-Pierre tore his ACL while preparing for a bout with Carlos Condit. While GSP rehabbed, Condit fought Nick Diaz for the interim welterweight belt. Condit won with a tight decision. Since he was not given a chance to defend the interim belt, it turned out to be just a really shiny, kind of heavy reminder of Condit’s No. 1 contender status.

The two are slated to fight at UFC 154 in Montreal. GSP’s last fight was on April 30, 2011, against Jake Shields. By the time he fights on Nov. 17, St-Pierre will have had 572 days off between fights.

Not Waiting for Title Shot: Alistair Overeem Wants to Fight the Minute He Gets His License Back

by MMA Weekly

Alistair Overeem

 

Overeem is still serving out his nine-month de facto suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission stemming from a test given in April. That test indicated the Dutch fighter had an elevated ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone.

 

Now residing full time in Florida as part of the Blackzilian camp, Overeem has dedicated himself to training and preparing for his return to the cage once he can apply for a fight license.

 

It appeared briefly that Overeem might get to face UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos upon his return, but ultimately promotion officials opted to give the next shot to former titleholder Cain Velasquez at UFC 155 in December.

 

The news may have been somewhat discouraging for Overeem because he has been gunning for dos Santos since entering the UFC, but the bigger picture right now is just getting back to fighting, no matter who the opponent might be.

 

“First of all, he would have loved to have had the opportunity to fight for the title, but Alistair is a fighter, and as a fighter he will fight whoever they put in front of him,” Overeem’s manager Glenn Robinson of Authentic Sports Management told MMAWeekly Radio recently.

 

“Reality is, he’s training extraordinarily hard, and whoever gets in front of him is going to meet a completely different Alistair. This guy is just dedicated to rebuilding and rededicating himself.”

 

Despite being on hiatus until at least December, Overeem isn’t taking to time to enjoy a long vacation or even spend the extra months at home in Holland. No, he’s treating this extended period of time between fights as a long and hard training camp, aimed at making Overeem the best he’s ever been.

 

“He’s in great shape. He’s in better shape now than when he joined us. He’s strong; his cardio is crazy. He’s training with pro football players, a whole team of pro football players. We ran out of people large enough to fend him off, so we put him with a whole pro football team to do cardio,” Robinson revealed.

 

“All that’s going to happen is whoever does face him is in a lot of trouble.”

 

Overeem’s longterm goals are still to take the UFC heavyweight title and add it to his mantle of championships, but he knows he’s not going to face Junior dos Santos upon his return.

 

The Dutch wrecking machine has already been out too long and when the gates are opened for his return, Overeem wants to face the best heavyweight available, as soon as possible.

 

“He wants to come back as soon as he can. We have to wait until the Nevada State Athletic Commission can give him the license, and he’s doing everything he can to live by the letter of the law so that there’s no issue with getting that license when the time comes,” Robinson stated.

 

“He’s going to be ready to fight the second that there’s a fight. He’s not going to need a camp, because he’s never left camp. The day that he’s allowed to be licensed, if they want him to fight the next day, he’ll be ready.”

Wanderlei Silva Loses Father in Tragic Car Accident

by MMA Weekly

Former Pride champion and current UFC fighter Wanderlei Silva recently took the hardest blow of his storied career, losing his father, who died in a tragic car accident.

Holando Pinheiro da Silva died Sunday in a head-on collision while driving in the Brazilian state of Paraná, according to a report from Gracie Magazine, which cited local Brazilian news sources.

Wanderlei had been in his hometown of Curitiba, Brazil, recently, visiting his family. He took fans on a tour of where he used to live and introduced much of his family, including his father, who is featured extensively in the video below.


Wanderlei was at his home in Las Vegas when he found out about the tragedy and is of course headed home for his father’s burial.

The outpouring of support for the legendary fighter was immediate, coming in waves via the popular social media site Twitter, where Wanderlei is a very active participant, constantly communicating with his fans.

“I haven’t the words to thank you all for your support. We end up not knowing what to do, but it’s at times like this that we know who is on our side. Thank you very much,” Wand posted in Portuguese over Twitter.

Wanderlei had recently been rumored for a possible fight with Patrick Cote at UFC on Fuel TV 6 in Macau, China.

 

Pacquiao’s advisor: No decision yet

by Lem Satterfield

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Eight-division title-winner Manny Pacquiao still has not yet chosen from among three opponents, and still is considering either Nov. 10 or Dec. 1 at the MGM Grand for a potential return date, according to his advisor, Michael Koncz.

Top Rank CEO Bob Arum had originally reserved the MGM for a Nov. 10 event to be headlined by Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38 knockouts), who has been mulling rematches with either WBO welterweight titleholder Tim Bradley, four-division title-winner Juan Manuel Marquez or three-division belt-winner Miguel Cotto.

At one point, however, Top Rank had informed Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer that Pacquiao would not be a part of a Nov. 10 pay per view event at the Las Vegas-based hotel and casino, although the company still planned to hold a major fight at the venue on that date.

Koncz supported that assertion at the time, citing “conflicting schedules with boxing and Manny’s personal affairs” as reasons that Arum had “moved the date now to Dec. 1.”

But on Monday, Koncz qualified his previous statement.

“I spoke to Manny at length in regard to our upcoming fight with Manny on Sunday, and in reality, I’ve had ongoing phone conversations since Sunday with Bob,” said Koncz during an interview with RingTV.com.

“This involves some very calculated business decisions, so I am planning on meeting with Bob again this evening in Los Angeles, and the dates are still open. We haven’t committed to a date and we haven’t committed to an opponent.”

Arum is expected to attend a Monday press conference at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, where he will promote an Oct. 13 show featuring IBF and WBO junior featherweight titleholder Nonito Donaire in an HBO-televised defense against Japanese veteran Toshiaki Nishioka at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., with former lightweight beltholder Brandon Rios making his junior welterweight debut against Mike Alvarado on the undercard.

Cotto (37-3, 30 KOs) has been slated for a return date of Dec. 1 at Madison Square Garden, and is coming off May’s unanimous-decision loss to five-division, eight-belt winner Floyd Mayweather Jr., who added Cotto’s WBA junior middleweight belt to the WBC welterweight crown he already owned.

Cotto had scored three straight stoppage victories since losing by 12th-round knockout to Pacquiao in November of 2010, including December’s 10th-round stoppage of Antonio Margarito to avenge the first loss of his career.

If Cotto does stick to his plan to return on Dec. 1, it is unlikely that Pacquiao would attempt to compete with him, being that Cotto represents the sport’s third highest pay per view draw behind Mayweather and Pacquiao.

Bradley (29-0, 12 KOs) is also in contention for another shot at Pacquiao after winning by controversial split-decision in June to end Pacquiao’s 15-bout winning streak that included eight stoppages.

There is also Marquez (54-6-1, 39 KOs), who has lost by disputed majority decision in November to Pacquiao as well as by a draw and a split-decision loss previously.

Marquez rebounded from the loss to Pacquiao with April’s unanimous decision over Sergei Fedchenko for the WBO’s interim junior welterweight belt (which has since been “upgraded” by the organization to full title status).

Abraham crowned new world super middleweight champion

by AFP

Germany‘s Arthur Abraham is the new world WBO super middleweight champion after his unanimous win over compatriot Robert Stieglitz.

Abraham, 32, who defended his IBF middleweight title 10 times between 2005 and 2009, is now the world champion at the heavier weight after the judges scored the fight 116-112, 116-112, 115-113 on Saturday.

“This is an emotional moment for me and it’s hard to describe how I feel,” said Abraham.

“I always wanted to be the middleweight world champion and now I am the super middleweight champion too.

“I trained hard for this and I had to box cleverly against such a good champion.”

Having held the title for three years, Stieglitz was well beaten with heavy bruising and cuts around both eyes at the end of the punishing title bout, while Abraham was left relatively unmarked.

Abraham lived up to his ‘King Arthur’ moniker and the new champion now has a record of 27 knock-outs in 35 wins and three defeats.

Having laboured to a points win over Piotr Wilczewski to defend his European WBO title in March, Abraham was back to the best fighting for the world title.

Abraham started the stronger of the pair, but the champion twice pinned the challenger to the ropes in the second and started to exert his authority.

Stieglitz raised the tempo in the third and Abraham fell clearly behind on points going into the fourth, but responded with some body-head combinations and one sharp hook left Stieglitz with swelling above his left eye.

By the fifth, Stieglitz’s face was marking noticeably while Abraham started to let his guard drop to lure the champion as he landed some punishing shots.

Stieglitz put together some good combinations in the seventh round and kept up his impressive work-rate, despite a cut above his right eye needing the attention of the ring doctor in the 10th.

Abraham raised his fists to the Berlin crowd in early celebration before the start of the 12 and finished clearly ahead on points as Stieglitz, 31, suffered the third defeat of his career in his 45th fight.

Germany‘s WBA super-middleweight and IBF middleweight title-holder Felix Sturm, who fights next Saturday against Australia‘s Daniel Geale, has said he will fight the winner of Saturday’s bout.

Without Jon Jones and Dan Henderson, the show couldn’t go on at UFC 151

by Kevin Iole

The key to understanding what occurred Thursday on what was perhaps the most bizarre day in UFC history is first understanding what the UFC is not.

It is not the NFL. Nor is it the NBA or MLB or, for that matter, the PGA Tour.

What happened late Wednesday and on Thursday that culminated in the cancellation of an entire fight card and the public vilification of one of the sport’s elite talents wouldn’t have happened in other sports, many of the UFC’s critics point out. And, clearly, they are right.

Jon Jones is sure to take the brunt of the criticism for UFC 151's cancellation. (Getty)

Jon Jones is sure to take the brunt of the criticism for UFC 151’s cancellation. (Getty)

That, though, is because a fight promotion has next-to-nothing in common with those sports.

Fighting is better compared to a concert. Tennis players and golfers are independent contractors who, like fighters, only get paid when they compete.

But, unlike in fighting, if Tiger Woods pulls out of a PGA Tour event with an injury, the tournament will proceed without question. In fighting, the event itself is at stake whenever the biggest names withdraw close to its start.

In that way, fighting is much more closely aligned to a concert. If Bruce Springsteen gets sick and can’t perform, the show is in instant jeopardy of cancellation. Not too many people are going to be eager to pay top dollar for a ticket and to fly around the world to see a Springsteen-less show that features just the opening act. More often than not in those cases, the show is cancelled.

Fortunately for the UFC and its fans, it never had to cancel an event before it scrapped UFC 151 on Thursday.

But on a zany day in which the UFC announced that A) Dan Henderson was injured and couldn’t fight Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title; B) Chael Sonnen had agreed to fight Jones on eight days’ notice; C) Jones declined to fight anyone other than Henderson on Sept. 1; D) Jones would defend his belt on Sept. 22 at UFC 152 against Lyoto Machida; E) Machida declined the Sept. 22 match and F) Vitor Belfort ultimately would wind up fighting Jones in Toronto, everything bad that could have happened did, in fact, happen.

The events began to unfold late last week, when Henderson, a former PRIDE and Strikeforce champion, suffered a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Henderson tried for a few days to see if he could go, but the knee lacked stability.

On Wednesday, he informed UFC president Dana White that he had to withdraw. White made several phone calls trying to replace Henderson, but, understandably, not too many were all that eager to take on Jones on such short notice. Only Sonnen had agreed to take the fight in what seemed to be setting up as a show-saving decision.

But Jones had other ideas.

“When Chael stepped up, I thought we were good,” UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta said. “I honestly never thought of the possibility that Jon wouldn’t fight.”

Fertitta referred to what he called “a brotherhood in the fighter ranks” to do what they could to save the show.

Jones, though, looked at the differences in style between Sonnen and Henderson and decided it wasn’t worth it to him to accept with only three days of practice available.

From a competitive standpoint, it was hard to argue with his decision. It wasn’t easy to win the title, and in the last year-plus, he’d beaten Ryan Bader, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Machida and Rashad Evans, fighting five times when the UFC was lacking stars because of an assortment of injuries and illnesses.

The injury bug has hammered the UFC throughout 2012 and has forced White, Fertitta and matchmaker Joe Silva to scramble to rearrange cards. They’d moved fights off UFC 151 to other shows and were left with a card that seriously lacked in star power behind Jones-Henderson.

None of the other fighters on the card had the juice to carry the show. Fertitta said he agonized before yanking the show.

“We felt [we] needed to have a big headliner,” Fertitta said. “We were in Las Vegas on the biggest stage and we just felt like we needed to have a big championship fight. That’s just the way we do things. When Dan fell out, we were scrambling to find an opponent. … It’s an individual sport, not a team sport, and a guy at the top like Jon Jones is hard to replace.”

Jones was vilified by White during a heated conference call Thursday and then by fans, media and fighters afterward. White announced during that call that Machida would fight Jones at UFC 152, though he hadn’t even spoken to Machida.

He’d broached the idea with Machida’s manager Ed Soares, who desperately began trying to reach Machida. Machida had flown to Brazil and it was several hours before Soares could reach him.

Chael Sonnen jumped at the opportunity when presented with another title shot. (Getty)

And when they talked, they concluded it wouldn’t be wise to fight Jones for the second time in less than a year without a full training camp.

They discussed the fact that every fighter in modern times who lost twice to the same champion was forced to leave the division. Rich Franklin and Sonnen each lost twice to Silva and jumped to light heavyweight. Frankie Edgar lost twice to Benson Henderson and is moving to featherweight. B.J. Penn was beaten twice by Edgar and moved up to welterweight.

“If Lyoto would have taken the fight, he wouldn’t have had enough time to prepare and so he wouldn’t have gone into the fight 100 percent confident the way he needs to be to win,” Soares said. “We asked Dana if he could move the fight to Brazil (in October) and that would have given us five weeks and it would have been enough.

“At the end of the day here, Jones should have fought. He had a full training camp and he would have been fighting a guy for the light heavyweight title who had just been knocked out six weeks ago in a middleweight title fight. Jones absolutely should have stepped up and taken the fight to avoid this. All of this [controversy] is because of him, not Lyoto.”

The way it unfolded made the UFC brass look disorganized, at best. It wasn’t until 10 p.m. Pacific on Thursday, when Fertitta said he offered the fight via text message to Belfort, that the saga finally ended.

“He replied to me in literally a minute, ‘I’m in, bro,’ ” Fertitta said.

 

The last fight between Jon Jones and Lyoto Machida didn't end well for Machida.

The last fight between Jon Jones and Lyoto Machida didn’t end well for Machida.

That finally gave stability to a listing ship. Fertitta, though, isn’t concerned that the day’s bizarre events will have a long-lasting impact.

And he said the UFC would still work hard to promote and develop Jones, even if feelings between the sides are strained at the moment.

How Jones comes out of it is anybody’s guess. He’s a mega-talent whose success has seemingly gone to his head. As he has climbed the ranks, he’s become more of a diva and been difficult to deal with.

He took a torrent of abuse from fans and his fellow fighters.

 

Michael Bisping, who lost a disputed decision to Sonnen in January in a fight he took on eight days’ notice, was, as usual, among the most vocal.

“I’ve taken short-notice fights for the UFC a bunch of times, three or four times,” he said. “I was told before weighing in for one fight that I was fighting again in six weeks. That wasn’t a nice telephone call to make to my girlfriend, who’d just booked a holiday with the kids, I can assure you. But the UFC has provided me with a great lifestyle and I’m here for them.

“Jon Jones likes to talk about where he comes from, but the reason he now has a Bentley to wrap around a tree is because Dana White and the UFC have built this sport up from zero. Dana and the company needed him and he basically bitched out.”

In other sports, competitors can talk trash with impunity. But in the fight game, you talk trash at your own risk. Sooner or later, you may be standing across a locked cage from the guy you’ve just insulted.

Jon Jones is paying the consequences now for his choice. In a while, it may well be Bisping who has to face the music.

Anderson Silva offered to fight

by Brett Okamoto

UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva offered to accept a light heavyweight fight on eight days’ notice if it would salvage UFC 151, called off Thursday after the loss of its main event.

Ed Soares, Silva’s manager, confirmed to ESPN.com his fighter contacted him from Brazil on Thursday to inform the UFC he was willing to headline the card as a light heavyweight. MMAFighting.com first reported news of Silva’s offer.

Ultimately, of course, UFC president Dana White declined Silva’s offer, responding to Soares it was too late to save the card.

“Anderson called me, said he heard about the event getting canceled,” Soares told ESPN.com.

“He goes, ‘Well dude, tell Dana I haven’t been training and I’m not in the best shape. I wouldn’t be able to make 185 pounds, but if he could find another 205-pound fighter willing to take the fight on eight days’ notice, I’d be willing to take the fight to save the event. I don’t want to see the other fighters on the card not be able to fight and the fans and all of it. I don’t know if that will make a difference.'”

The UFC announced Thursday it was scrapping the UFC 151 event in Las Vegas after an injury forced light heavyweight Dan Henderson off the card and champion Jon Jones turned down a replacement fight against Chael Sonnen.

Soares said Silva was willing to fight another light heavyweight but not Jones, as he would obviously want reasonable time to prepare for a fight of that magnitude.

Previously, Silva had said he wished to take the rest of 2012 off after a win over Sonnen at UFC 148 in July.

“He’s got a lot of stuff going on right now, and there aren’t any fights that make a lot of sense,” Soares said on Silva’s decision to rest until 2013. “But Anderson has a big heart. I was really bummed out yesterday to hear the UFC had to cancel an entire event. That was a kick in the stomach to, I think, every fighter in the organization.

“Some fighters get big paydays, but other smaller fighters now don’t have a paycheck from that event, and it’s sad.”

 

Silva (32-4) is widely considered the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He holds the UFC record for successful title defenses at 10. His last fight at 205 pounds was a knockout win over Forrest Griffinat UFC 101 in August 2009.

In addition to Silva and Sonnen, middleweight contender Chris Weidman reportedly offered to headline the Sept. 1 event. UFC officials have since announced Jones will meet Vitor Belfort at UFC 152 on Sept. 22 in Toronto.

Jon Jones’ tough decision to not fight Chael Sonnen triggers outrage from fans, boss

by Kevin Iole

Jon Jones, a fighter who should be celebrated for his athletic brilliance, lauded for his groundbreaking style and beloved for his charismatic ways, is probably now the most despised man in mixed martial arts.

Jones’ decision Thursday to decline fighting Chael Sonnen at UFC 151 on Sept. 1 led to the cancellation of the entire card at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Late Wednesday, Jones learned that Dan Henderson, his scheduled opponent at UFC 151, had a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee and could not fight.

The UFC desperately wanted to save the show and sought a new opponent for Jones. It offered the fight to Sonnen, who quickly accepted.

Jones, though, chose to ponder the decision carefully instead of accepting right away. He convened a meeting of his team, and debated the pros and cons of accepting a bout with Sonnen with three real days of preparation remaining. Because of weight cutting and all the promotional and marketing duties a fighter has, it is difficult to get any serious preparation done on fight week.

Fans and the media alike have railed on Jon Jones in the wake of his decision. (Getty)

Jones concurred when coach Greg Jackson advised against taking the bout. He did not waver even in the face of extraordinary pressure from UFC president Dana White, a man used to always getting his way.

Essentially, he wouldn’t agree to fight anyone but Henderson, the man he had prepared to face for two months, on Sept. 1. That led to White repeatedly lambasting his budding star on a conference call Thursday.

White said Jones’ decision cost the UFC “millions and millions of dollars” and said it would have far-reaching implications. He pointed out that because of Jones’ decision to pass, the undercard fighters lost their paydays. Fighters are independent contractors who get paid only when they compete. They don’t earn salaries.

 

One of them, Jeff Hougland, tweeted to Jones on Thursday, asking him for one of his Nike T-shirts. He said he wouldn’t be able to afford to buy his daughter new clothes for school since his fight was canceled. Hougland later took the tweet down.

Fighters have stepped up to take such bouts on short notice for years. In 2003, a 38-year-old Lennox Lewis accepted a much more difficult bout, against Vitali Klitschko, when original opponent Kirk Johnson pulled out about 10 days before their match.

Michael Bisping did it for the UFC in January, when on eight days notice he accepted a fight against Sonnen, a high-level wrestler, when he had been preparing for submission expert Demain Maia.

“Jon Jones is never, ever going to live this down,” Bisping told Yahoo! Sports. “This was a massive mistake. I can’t believe this was his decision. If you have ultimate fighter on your business card, you are supposed to show up and fight. And if you are the world champion, you are supposed to have the ‘anytime, anywhere, anyhow’ attitude.

As great as Jon Jones is, and he’s a great talent who has done a lot of great things and will do a lot more great things, he’s never going to be allowed to forget this. I know myself, the fans are very passionate and have long memories. I can see it already: ‘Chicken Bones Jones! This is the UFC, not KFC!’ And the fans are right. This is a little pathetic to be blunt.

For all the vitriol being directed Jones’ way, he has the right to do what he feels is best for his career. Jones, though, looked at it from a strategic standpoint and not simply a fighting standpoint.

His relationship with White and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta has been irreparably damaged. It’s always best to have the bosses on your side and owing you a favor rather than the other way around.

“This is one of those selfish, disgusting decisions that just doesn’t affect you,” White said. “He just affected 16 other people’s lives, families, kids going back to school. The list goes on and on, the money that was spent for these fighters to train, and everything else.

“Like I said, this isn’t a decision that is going to make Jon Jones popular with the fans, sponsors, cable distributors, television network executives or other fighters.”

Dan Henderson’s knee injury forced Dana White to try to find a replacement. (Getty)

Former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, now a Zuffa front-office employee, said he would have advised Jones to fight had they had the opportunity to talk. He said that Jones, who has been struggling with image problems, will pay for it in the eyes of the fans.

He said fans will now have a vastly different perception of Jones.

“The fans want to think their favorite, their world champion, is indestructible, and believe he can beat anyone,” Liddell said. “From a fan’s standpoint, you want to believe your guy would fight anyone at any place at any time. Him saying no to a guy fans perceive as a middleweight isn’t going to help his image at all.”

This is a coming-of-age problem in many ways for the UFC, though. As it’s gotten more successful and generated more revenue, it’s attracted better athletes who have been more aware of the business aspects of the sport.

White repeatedly referred to Jones as being rich during the conference call. It was a subtle way of reminding Jones that he made his fortune via his success in the UFC and that he should be willing to do a favor for management when asked.

The majority of fighters take such bouts in order to save the show, as Sonnen repeatedly pointed out Thursday.

“Without Dana White and the Fertittas, where would this sport be?” Sonnen said. “We’re all enjoying the fruits of their hard work and investment. They built this sport from nothing and when they need you, you step up and you do what they ask you. If they want you to take a fight, you take the fight. That’s what you do to show the people who have created this opportunity for so many of us to follow our dreams that you appreciate what they’ve done.”

As Jones has gotten more successful in the cage – his 2011 campaign might be the best in the sport’s history – his popularity has waned among fans and media. His publicist quit last week, frustrated by Jones’ prickly style and inability to deal well with the media.

White continually voiced his displeasure with Jones on a media conference call Thursday. (AP)

Jones has chosen to cut his own path and not follow the road that others have done in accepting these short-notice bouts. He was asked to take a fight his team didn’t think was wise for him to take so close to the bout. He could have easily overruled them, and if he had taken the bout and subsequently had lost, he’d have had White on the hook for a major favor.

By choosing not to do so, he made an enemy of the sport’s most powerful man. That won’t do much for one’s long-term prospects, Nike sponsorship or not.

Jackson said he only offered his advice regarding the fight when asked and didn’t consider anything other than fight circumstances. But he didn’t buy the argument that White and Sonnen made Thursday that Sonnen hadn’t been training.

“Chael’s not an idiot,” Jackson said. “If he didn’t feel he could go and do it, he wouldn’t step off the couch and take the fight. I guarantee you he’s been training and probably training very hard.

“That he’s a middleweight is irrelevant because he’s not a middleweight any more. It’s not that, though, as much as it was that it was three days notice for a world title fight against a person who is exactly the opposite style of the guy we were training for. Three days to deal with a southpaw who does things very differently than Dan Henderson does, who is very dangerous and I believe in shape, didn’t make much sense.”

Jones will now fight Lyoto Machida in the main event of UFC 152 on Sept. 22 in Toronto. He’s beaten Machida before, choking him out in the second round of UFC 140. He’ll probably do so again, though in fighting, it’s wise never to speak in absolutes.

The only thing for sure these days is that Jones is no longer a popular man among his bosses or the sport’s growing fan base.

The shrewdest prediction for UFC 152 is to expect boos – lots and lots of boos – whenever Jones comes into public view at the Air Canada Centre. It’s something he’d better get used to.