National Columnist

White's mishandling of UFC 151 proves that UFC's competitors need a union

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UFC fighters are some of the toughest athletes on the planet, but they're scared of Dana White. (US Presswire)  
UFC fighters are some of the toughest athletes on the planet, but they're scared of Dana White. (US Presswire)  

They're suckers, these UFC fighters. They've been brainwashed by Dana White and are too naïve to know it, and it pains me to say that because I love this sport and the fighters who do it. Professional athletes don't come more accessible or honest.

But they don't come more brainwashed, either. That's my conclusion from the fiasco of UFC 151, which was scheduled for Saturday in Las Vegas but canceled late last week because the UFC tried to milk a pay-per-view card out of one marketable fight, and when that fight fell through eight days ahead of time -- and fights fall through all the time -- the flimsy card fell apart.

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This was the UFC's fault. This was UFC president Dana White's fault.

But he said it was light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones' fault -- and other UFC fighters believed him.

This is why they need a union. That's the takeaway from this UFC 151 fiasco -- not that Jon Jones is a chicken or Chael Sonnen is a gangster. The takeaway is that UFC fighters need unity. They need strength in numbers. What they need is someone to look out for their interests, because Lord knows these guys can't do it themselves.

The back-story: Jones' opponent for UFC 151, Dan Henderson, withdrew last week because of a knee injury. White found a replacement in Sonnen, a fascinating talker who has zero business fighting for the 205-pound title. Sonnen has had two title fights in his past four appearances and lost them both -- at 185 pounds. Somehow a 185-pound fighter coming off a lopsided loss, a guy who doesn't deserve to fight for the 185-pound title, probably ever again, talked his way into a title fight in a heavier weight class.

Bully for Chael Sonnen, but what was Jon Jones supposed to do? Take a no-win fight, a fight that does nothing for him if he wins but sets his career back a year or more -- and the shelf life of a fighter is measured in years, not decades -- if he loses?

And Jones could lose to Sonnen -- not because Sonnen is all of a sudden the most dangerous fighter ever, two paragraphs after I said he's unworthy of this title shot. No, Sonnen could win because anyone can win in this sport, at this level. The gloves are so small, the techniques so violent, the action so unpredictable. Chael Sonnen could do like Matt Serra did to Georges St. Pierre at UFC 69 or like Gabriel Gonzaga did to Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 70 and land a lucky blow and win the damn thing.

Point being, Jones would have been risking everything -- his belt, his reputation, his short-term career -- to take a no-upside fight on eight days notice. So Jones said no.

And the meatheads revolted.

The revolt was led by King Meathead himself, Dana White, who I like very much when he's not embarrassing his sport with a profane or misogynistic rant on camera or Twitter or wherever he goes to lose his mind. White lost his damn mind Thursday when UFC 151 fell through, putting the blame -- all of it -- on Jon Jones.

Never mind that there wasn't one fight on the card worthy of elevating to the main event once Jones-Henderson fell through. Even with Jones-Henderson, UFC 151 was being panned as one of the worst PPV cards in UFC history. Anything can happen once the cage door shuts, but on paper this card was a rip-off at $24.95 -- and the UFC was charging $54.95. Dana White and his partners have grown transparently greedy, putting on cards at an increasing pace, and the results are weak, watered-down shows unable to survive if the wrong fight falls through.

This is not Jon Jones' fault.

None of this is the fault of Jones or his coach, Greg Jackson, who already has been criticized for devising cautious game plans for his fighters -- including St. Pierre -- to lessen the chance of another Matt Serra miracle. Dana White has ranted about that before because he wants thrilling fights while Greg Jackson wants victorious fights. And Jackson, smart man that he is, knew Sonnen would be a no-win opponent for Jones. And Jones, smart man that he is, took Jackson's advice.

And UFC fighters, lemmings that they are, lashed out.

They did exactly what Dana White wanted them to do, directing the blame for the card's demise away from White ... and onto Jones. Some fighters from the undercard even sent Jones self-pitying tweets saying they would struggle to pay their rent and feed their families because of him.

Think about that, UFC fans and fighters alike: Full-time professional athletes in the biggest company in MMA -- some of the best fighters in the world, in a billion-dollar industry -- are so underpaid, so vulnerable, that a single show falling through leaves them in financial straits.

Jon Jones didn't create this system -- Dana White did -- which is why these guys need a union, though they're too unsophisticated to know it.

Fighters inside and outside the UFC are grateful to Dana White, and with reason. MMA was dying when he convinced Las Vegas casino owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta to buy the UFC in 2001 for $2 million. Thanks to White's persuasion and business savvy, the UFC is now worth $2 billion and smaller MMA companies are succeeding -- and fighters are appreciative.

But they're clueless, too. They fail to see there's an "us" and "them" in the UFC, and fighters aren't "us." You guys are "them." Lose a fight or two, and you're fired. Other than the biggest stars, the purses are so small that fighters scramble to make rent if something doesn't break the right way, as was the case with UFC 151.

Fighters fight who -- and when -- the UFC tells them, and they earn what the UFC says they will earn. It's a take-it-or-leave-it proposition for the competitors in a sport that crushes bodies and brains, even in training. The lucky ones win enough to stay on Uncle Dana's payroll, though as the UFC 151 card shows, that doesn't guarantee a living wage.

It's a brutal, Darwinian existence, and the UFC controls the gene pool. Fighters, grateful to be in the organization at the lower end or thrilled to be paid so well at the upper levels, are too intimidated or too content to unionize. They think -- no, they know -- Dana White would fire them all and replace them with fighters who would do his bidding.

So they take what the UFC gives, and they respond "how high" when Dana White says "jump," and when one of them refuses to do as he's told -- when Jon Jones refuses to take a no-win fight on eight days' notice -- they eat their own. They tear into Jon Jones so viciously that Jones eventually caves in and offers a wounded apology of his own. Somewhere in his mansion in Las Vegas, or maybe his ocean-front vacation home in Laguna Beach, Dana White stops pulling the strings long enough to smile.

Hey, UFC fighters? You need a union, you meatheads.

And you need to apologize to Jon Jones.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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