by John Morgan on Aug 23, 2012 at 10:45 pm ET
UFC light heavyweight Jon Jones (16-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) is no happier than you are at the cancellation of September’s UFC 151 card, an event he was supposed to headline.
But with opponent Dan Henderson forced to withdraw from the card just nine days before the event, Jones believes he made the right choice for his family and his career.
And while “Bones” admits he feels terrible for the other 20 fighters on the card who were affected by his decision not to accept a fight with replacement opponent Chael Sonnen, he hopes fans can understand the motivation behind his decision was simple: to ensure he’s fighting at peak performance each and every time he steps into the cage.
“Dan Henderson got hurt, and the fight was canceled,” Jones told MMAjunkie.com(www.mmajunkie.com). “I signed a contract a long time ago to fight Dan Henderson. That’s what I studied for, and that’s what I prepared myself for. To take a fight with a different opponent in which I would basically have three days of training before traveling and then starting to cut weight I just thought would be the dumbest idea ever. I wouldn’t have been properly prepared.”
UFC President Dana White on Thursday morning revealed Henderson suffered a knee injury in training and was forced to withdraw from the planned UFC 151 event, which was set to take place Sept. 1 at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Events Center. And while White admitted finding an opponent willing to step in on such short notice was a difficult proposition, he revealed Sonnen had agreed to answer the call.
There was just one problem: Jones wasn’t willing to take the fight.
Without a suitable main event in place, White and UFC brass elected to cancel the entire event, and the fiery UFC head admitted he was “disgusted” at Jones’ decision.
Jones said he never intended for the entire event to be scrapped and apologized to the remaining fighters on the card who were all forced to reschedule their next appearances.
“I definitely apologize to the other fighters on the card,” Jones said. “I feel terrible, but it also wasn’t my decision to cancel the whole card. I don’t make those decisions.
“I take a lot of pride in the way I perform, and I want to put on the best performance possible every time I fight. I don’t want to go out there just to win the fight. I want to go out there to dominate. I want to make it look effortless. I want it to be a beautiful thing.”
In Henderson, Jones was preparing for a relentless warrior with a right hand capable of stopping any man. In Sonnen, he would be facing a southpaw who relies in his superior wrestling technique to put opponents on their back and eat ground-and-pound blows.
Jones said he didn’t feel like what ultimately boiled down to just a few days was near enough time to prepare for such a drastic change – especially with the majority of his coaching staff committed to spending most of fight week in the Philippines to corner Andrei Arlovski at ONE FC 5.
“Chael is completely different fighter,” Jones said. “This is war. This is strategy. You have to go in there prepared and know that you did your homework. I wouldn’t be the same warrior if I just jumped in there blindly and was cutting weight while I was trying to prepare for the fight.
“Greg Jackson wasn’t going to show up until Friday. Coach (Mike) Winkeljohn wasn’t going to be there until Wednesday or Thursday. I would have been pretty much on my own trying to prepare for a new opponent. That’s just not the best way to prepare.”
Thus far, Jones has endured a largely negative response from fans and many MMA pundits. The 25-year-old champion admits it hurts for observers to question his rationale, but he stands behind his decision.
“If this was my first fight in the UFC and I really didn’t have a choice and they needed somebody to step in last-minute, if it was that type of scenario, then I’d probably more open to it,” Jones said. “But I’m a UFC champion, and I need to perform that way. If I would have taken this fight, that would have been letting my ego get in the way and not using my intellect. This is war, and you have to go in there prepared.
“The criticism does bother me, but I have to stand by my decision. I have to be the man that I am. With such large audiences comes great criticism. There will be a lot of scrutiny, but I’ve got to do what makes me happy and feels right to me. At the end of the day, I have to make the best choice for me and my family.”
Jones now meets Lyoto Machida in the main event of UFC 152, which takes place Sept. 22 in Toronto. It’s a rematch that Jones recently admitted he wasn’t exactly thrilled to take, but now that it’s booked, “Bones” said he’s attacking the challenge at full-strength.
“I just hiked about eight miles today,” Jones said. “I’m moving forward. I’m continuing to work, and I’m working on transforming my body from great shape to phenomenal shape. My goal now is to beat Lyoto better than I did the first time. I want to be a better version of myself, and I’m looking forward to it.
“This is a professional sport. It’s not just a backyard fight. You put everything on the line every time you step into the cage, and I now have a new mission. I’m all-in now, and I won’t give anything less than my full effort.”
And so Jones heads back to camp, looking to put the distractions of Thursday’s controversial decision behind him. A few more impressive wins will go a long way toward winning back fans he may have alienated with his decision to not fight Sonnen, and “Bones” said he’s even willing to someday to face the self-appointed “Gangster from West Linn, Oregon.” He just wants what he feels is adequate time to prepare for a championship contest.
“I apologize to the people that lost money on tickets and travel and things like that,” Jones said. “I don’t apologize for my decision, but I do apologize for the way it affected people. I hope people can understand I was just trying to do the best thing for my career.
“Dan Henderson got hurt, and our fight was canceled. As difficult as it is to deal with everything that’s happened, I just didn’t feel like I had enough time to prepare both physically and mentally for a fight with a new opponent. I just didn’t feel I had enough to prepare properly and perform at my best. Whether Chael Sonnen actually deserves a title shot really isn’t my place to say. But if he wants to fight on Sept. 22, then I’m fine with that.”