UFC President Dana White / Photo via Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE
The big news coming out of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is that the UFC 151: Jones vs. Henderson pay-per-view (PPV) was cancelled. Dan Henderson suffered a partial rupture of his MCL forcing him to pull out of the main event. Chael Sonnen agreed to step in and face Jon Jones on nine days notice, thus saving the Sept. 1 event.
Except "Bones" was having none of it.
At the behest of his trainer, Greg Jackson, Jones turned down the fight as a "business decision." UFC 151, which admittedly was an extremely weak card, was forced to be trashed upon the realization no one would be paying $50-plus for a show with no main event.
It was the perfect storm of bad luck, poor planning, and straight up selfishness. UFC President Dana White's only option was to cancel a PPV for the first time in 11 years. It must be terrible to feel this helpless, to watch the company you helped grow to unprecedented levels receive one of the worst black marks in its history.
It also makes you wonder if he's feeling a pang of jealousy towards WWE.
Dana wishes, nay fantasizes, about having a fraction of the control over his company that Vince McMahon has with WWE. When Vince says jump, he has dozens of employees scrambling to the top rope. John Cena is working over 300 days a year (more if you count the Make-A-Wish and promotional tours) through injury and divorce, without the slightest hint of complaint.
Dana can't even get Jones, his most marketable star, to work a PPV he already spent months training for.
The two organizations operate in distinct spheres. Mixed martial arts (MMA) is the purest of blood sports, the modern equivalent of the Roman gladiators. Meanwhile, pro wrestling is an athletic art form, a metaphor for "real" sports. The two have maintained a wall of separation church and state could respect. UFC relies on the "legitimacy" of its competition to survive. If people believed that the fights were "worked", they would have no reason to spend money on the product.
Sports Entertainment, on the other hand, actually benefits from not having to worry about real fighting. There is a reason the Brawl for All failed so miserably. A great fight is often a happy accident. Unless there is an awesome knockout or a spectacular submission, allowing a match to be decided by the judges tends to leave many fans unhappy. When you are able to control not just the outcome of a match, but how each move plays out, it gives you a level of control over your workers.
It is this control White does not possess.
Dana is at the mercy of Jones. The Light Heavyweight Champion can determine who and when he fights. I would venture to call him the Hulk Hogan of the UFC. The only difference being that Jones can legitimately lose his title in the Octagon. With a sparkling 16-1 record (his only loss a disqualification) who knows when he'll be dropping the strap? Until that point, he has the power to cause another situation such as UFC 151.
Of course, there are guys in the WWE who have refused to play ball as well. The most famous example being "The Montreal Screwjob."
Bret Hart, the WWE Champion, was leaving to the rival World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and was refusing to drop the title to Shawn Michaels at the 1997 Survivor Series in Montreal. Although Hart promised to lose to Michaels the next night on Raw, it was not up to him to determine his fate.
Vince made sure that Hart would not be taking his championship to WCW. When Michaels put Hart in a Sharpshooter the referee was told to ring the bell and Michaels was declared the victor, even though Hart had not tapped out. While it could have been seen as a black mark against WWE it actually ended up working out pretty well. Hart was left to languish in WCW, the character "Mr. McMahon" was born, and the Attitude Era started with a bang.
Somehow, I don't see Mr. White being able to pull off the same stunt.
I'm in no way suggesting the UFC should start fixing fights. MMA is its own sport and shouldn't be copying pro wrestling. It's not what the paying fans want. But I bet Dana would love to have more control over his employees. He can cut his "do you want to be a f*cking fighter?" promo as many times as he wants but if his employees don't want to step up and help the company, disasters like UFC 151 are bound to happen.
In a way, White pays Jones' bills. The champion's sponsorship deal with Nike would not have happened if UFC hadn't made headways into the American mainstream. The problem is that Jones would not have gotten the Nike deal without the gold belt sitting on his waist. So now he is putting the title, and himself, ahead of the promotion whose name is on the strap.
And Dana can't do anything about it.
You know what would have happened if this was WWE? If a single wrestler caused an entire PPV cancellation? If a company employee refused to play by McMahon's rules?
They wouldn't be able to play, period.