UFC president White is notorious for his long workdays and for going to great lengths to try to achieve the impossible.
He so badly wanted to sign Fedor Emelianenko a few years ago that he flew to an island near Venezuela to negotiate with the Russian’s management team. The security arrangements alone for that meeting are probably worthy of a book.
But coming off UFC 153, the indefatigable White should have spent his days, as well as his nights, working to put together a fight between light heavyweight champion Jones and middleweight champion Silva.
It's the fight that mixed martial arts fans want to see more than any other. It's the fight that would do the biggest business. It's the fight that would match the Nos. 1 and 2 rated fighters in the world.
It's the only fight that made sense and it was White's job to try to get it done.
He doesn't always come through – who does? – but he rarely fails to exhaust every effort in the process.
This time, though, he failed, and in a big way. Instead of pushing and prodding and demanding and cajoling Jones and Silva to fight each other in a match for the ages, he took the easy path.
Confronted with an injury to Jones' right elbow that will keep him out until April, White opted to have Jones spend the next few months in Las Vegas coaching on "The Ultimate Fighter."
That was a good choice. Jones has gotten a lot of bad media recently and could use the exposure the reality series will bring him.
The bad part is that White opted to pair Jones against Chael Sonnen, the trash-talking self-proclaimed gangster from West Linn, Ore., who is not only coming off a loss, he's yet to win a fight at light heavyweight in the UFC.
Without question, Sonnen talked his way into the match, which he readily admitted on an often-surreal conference call Wednesday.
"As far as talking my way into it, what do I care about that?" Sonnen said. "So what? I talked my way into it. I wanted it and I got it. I talked a cat out of a tree earlier today. I'll do whatever I want. I've gotten plenty of jobs I wasn't qualified for and I went in and I got promoted anyway."
That flies in the face of what White said he would allow when he was asked on a Las Vegas radio show on August 21 if he'd give Sonnen a title shot were he to beat Forrest Griffin at UFC 155.
The Griffin-Sonnen bout is now cancelled since Sonnen will be on "The Ultimate Fighter," but White's remarks at the time were unequivocal.
"Yeah, he's a long way away," White said during the interview with Dave Farra and Dave Mahoney."He's not coming off the Silva fight and just talking his way into a 205-pound world title shot. He's going to have to beat a couple of the best in the world, you know? If he beats Forrest, we'll shoot him right into the top five. Let him beat some of those guys there and we'll see what happens."
White's explanation for why that changed doesn't wash. He told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday, and then said repeatedly during the conference call on Wednesday that other contenders turned the fight with Jones down. But he was referencing the match with Jones at UFC 152, which became necessary when Dan Henderson was injured and pulled out of his fight with UFC 151. Several fighters declined to fight at UFC 151 on short notice, but Sonnen agreed to take on Jones.
But Jones then shocked White by opting to decline that bout, saying he didn't think he had time to properly prepare for a fighter with a different style. As a result, UFC 151 was cancelled and Jones wound up fighting Vitor Belfort at UFC 152 on September 22.
Machida turned down a chance to fight Jones at UFC 152 because he didn't feel he had enough time to prepare. But it's disingenuous to use that as the reason for pairing Jones and Sonnen at TUF, given White's comments to Farra and Mahoney and the fact that Machida was never offered the TUF coaching gig. He would have taken that opportunity.
It should never have come to this, though. White should have been working like the madman he is in order to convince Jones and Silva to fight each other in April.
White talked about putting on a fight in the cavernous Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, when he had a show big enough to fill it. Without question, Silva-Jones would have been that fight.
There's been great angst among most MMA media over Sonnen's selection, with much vitriol directed at White.
That vitriol, though, is misplaced. White is simply doing what a wise businessman does, selling his customers what they want to buy.
The blame for the match should be placed on those who will tune in to watch the reality show to hear Sonnen taunt and berate Jones for 13 weeks, and to those who will plop down $50 to see them fight in April.
White is simply reacting to what the fans want.
People will tune in to the reality show, which will move off of Friday nights, an FX executive confirmed during the call, to see if Jones comes unhinged by Sonnen's constant trash talk and mind games.
Jones, though, handled himself quite well on Wednesday. He had been reluctant to fight Sonnen before, saying he didn't believe Sonnen deserved it, but reconsidered as he realized what it could do for him.
"My decision didn't have anything to do with finances, it really had to do with just getting over this chapter in my career," Jones said. "I'm trying to move forward and do a lot of amazing things. The UFC 151 cancelation was a [low point] of my career. Beating Chael Sonnen, and then after that, beating Dan Henderson, it would help me to have closure on both situations.
"That's what this is about for me, putting closure to the Chael Sonnen invasion of my career."
If that’s the case, Jones made the right choice.
It's White who erred. His decision will sell tickets and pay-per-views, and many will say that's ultimately all that matters. But giving a guy coming off a one-sided loss and with no wins at the higher weight provides way too much of a WWE-feel to this.
Going all out to make a Silva-Jones fight would have made everyone more money and made the sport look good.
Instead, this is one of those times where it feels like Vince McMahon is running the UFC.
- Martial Arts
- Sports & Recreation
- Chael Sonnen