Top 10 of 2012: No. 1 UFC 151 Cancelled

January 1, 2013

The No. 1 MMA business story of 2012 is the cancellation of UFC 151.  The decision to call off the September 1st event raised a number of issues that the company may need to address going forward.

The cancellation of 151 amakes it the event that never was.  It was estimated that the UFC would lose $40 million due to the cancelled show.  The cancellation also caused a trickle-down effect as nixing the show likely meant hotels, casinos, restaurants and bars lost out on potential revenue from UFC fans coming out to Vegas.  Of course, the fighters on the card felt the economic effect as they had to wait for another fight although it was reported that some were compensated despite the cancellation.

UFC 151

Initially Dana White came out and blamed Jon Jones and Greg Jackson for not taking on another opponent at short notice.  White later assessed some of the blame to Dan Henderson for not informing the UFC of his knee issues until it was too late.

Aside from the basics (i.e., losing money) there were other lessons to learn from UFC 151:

  1. Fighter relations – The fact that Jones and Machida turned down a fight brought the issue up of a fighter’s leverage.  No longer could White pick up the phone and call a top-notch fighter to fill in at a moment’s notice.  As the champ, Jones felt he did not have enough time to prepare for Chael Sonnen.   For Lyoto Machida, turning down the fight made some sense if you think about the fact he may never get another shot at Jones.  If you had only one shot to regain the title, you’d probably want a full camp to prepare.  With top stars earning seven figures, something White has confirmed, certain fighters can pick and choose their shots without worrying about their finances.  Even though Anderson Silva stepped up to fill in at UFC 153, one might infer that Silva dictated the terms of his appearance.  He faced Stephan Bonnar in a three round fight at 205 pounds in his home country.  No travel, no weight cutting and no competition.  An easy pay day and he’s revered as a hero.
  2. Media relations – While I do not think this will change in the near future, the dissemination of information from Dana White via twitter and/or his rants at press conferences could be a detriment to the company if it truly wants to be considered as a major sports league along with the NBA, NFL and MLB.  Only David Stern offers up as many potshots in the press (in a sarcastic, “I’m smarter than you” way).  But White’s comments at the initial announcement, the UFC’s press release (press release entitled, “Jones Refuses New Opponent”) calling out Jon Jones and then his subsequent mea culpa are standard fare.  (See also the Jeremy Stephens arrest for another example).  But, does anyone in the MMA media really care?
  3. Fight camps and injuries to fighters – It’s a constant in the UFC.  Fighter injuries and replacements happen almost every fight card.  It was a matter of time that something like this would happen.  It may be time for an examination of fight camps to determine what can be done to prevent injuries.
  4. Depth on the fight lineup – The underlying issue regarding the cancellation of the card was that the rest of the card was not strong enough to sustain without the main event.  Although the problem was Jones not wanting a new opponent so late in the game, the fact that the UFC did not think the card was marketable without the Jones fight reflects the roster being stretched thin to cover all of the UFC events.  With the end of Strikeforce, its the hope that there’s enough talent on the roster to have more than just one compelling fight on a card.

The UFC 151 aftermath had many fans question Jon Jones.  Many sided with White calling the champ selfish and as the person behind the cancellation.  Jones has not always been the sympathetic figure.  Some attribute this to his attitude.  Sonnen’s taunting the champ gained traction with fans and subsequently caused a matchup this spring.

On the positive side, UFC 151’s failure and subsequent goading by Sonnen gave us The Ultimate Fighter with Jones and Sonnen as coaches.

Top 10 of 12

10. Injuries continue to plague the UFC

9. TUF moves to Fridays on FX, poor ratings move it to Tuesdays

8. Zuffa continues international expansion

7. The UFC-Fox relationship

6. Nike sponsors Silva, Jones and JDS

5. GSP returns

4. Bellator moves to SpikeTV

3. Ronda Rousey signs with the UFC

2. The end of Strikeforce

One Response to “Top 10 of 2012: No. 1 UFC 151 Cancelled”

  1. CodeMaster on January 2nd, 2013 4:17 PM

    I would put the plague of injuries as the top business story of 2012. The sheer number of injuries exposed a giant hole in the business model of the UFC. Fans who plan to buy tickets now wait until the last moment–to ensure the card is as advertised.

    The cancellation of UFC 151 showed how greed can ruin any business model. I say greed because UFC 151 was an extremely thin card which relied completely upon the main card champ vs. challenger.

    I think the takeaway lessons from this fiasco is that PPV cards need more depth of talent/ ‘name’ fighters, and for championship bouts, backup contender bouts in the same weight class need to be scheduled as insurance.

    Notice the GSP vs. Nick Diaz fight has a group of top WW contenders on the card, which provides insurance against injury. The UFC has done this before–for example in the Lesnar vs. JDS match, Carwin was scheduled for the main card also–and he stepped in to replace Lesnar when he was injured.

    If the UFC schedules contenders in the same weight class as the championship fight, then the excuse of short notice cannot be used–the contender fighters have already done a full training camp, and either is available as a replacement.

    The biggest news story to me regarding the cancellation of the event was Dana White’s reaction. He slammed Jon Jones and dragged him through the mud. This is no way to treat your future bread-and-butter champ–and the blame for the fiasco rested more on Dana White’s shoulders than anyone else’s.

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