Within moments of the announcement that two-time Middleweight contender Chael Sonnen and current Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones will be the next coaches on long-running reality television series “The Ultimate Fighter” and fight at the conclusion of the season, MMA message boards and news sites were barraged with stinging criticism of the matchup.
They had a bone to pick with how a guy who is coming off a resounding loss and has never made a run in the division is given a fast-track shot to the title, leaping over contenders like Dan Henderson, Lyoto Machida and Alexander Gustafsson, who are left standing impatiently in wait till at least after April of next year.
However, what has been carefully glossed over by the media is the news that the injury that Jon Jones suffered in his previous title defense against Vitor Belfort necessitates that he not be in action until at least close to April 27 anyway, the date penciled in for his bout against Sonnen. Instead of storing their incredibly marketable champion away, they will be able to generate publicity to fans even while he recuperates.
After the fiasco that was UFC 151 (when the entire card got cancelled because Jones did not want to fight Sonnen on eight days notice), the line between who the villain is in this pro-wrestling style storyline is blurred even further. Sonnen has traditionally played the “heel” role in his memorable speeches that has made people want to tune in for his fights, either to watch him win and talk more or revel gleefully in his loss.
Jones, who has always had his fair share of detractors, lost more fans when he said he was not prepared to change opponents to Sonnen when his original opponent, Dan Henderson, got injured.
The fans have now been split into two camps, with the purists who don’t care what happens outside the cage as long as the fighter is impressive inside the cage firmly behind Jones and the fans who embrace the schtick and larger-than-life persona that Sonnen bring in the other corner.
Much has been made about how the fighters mentioned have been left in the dust, but most reports fail to mention that all three are likely to have to take another fight before facing Jones anyway.
Gustafsson has a fight with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua on December’s UFC on Fox card, while UFC President Dana White has said Henderson and Machida will most likely face each other. It can be argued that Chael Sonnen had a fight with Forrest Griffin as well, but that was a fight that was never very attractive to start with. Detractors who questioned how someone could waltz in and get a title shot should consider if Sonnen defeating Griffin would have changed their mind anyway.
Save the Show, Save the World
The Ultimate Fighter, which is screened on FX, stands to benefit the most. It has seen ever-dwindling numbers since its move from Spike TV to FX as a result of the blockbuster FOX deal that UFC signed a year ago.
Bringing the feud between Sonnen and Jones to television will get people talking and drive up viewership numbers. Sonnen is always ready with a quip, and Jones has been blasted for coming off as fake in front of the camera, so both the fighters will bring an interesting dynamic to the show.
The Ultimate Fighter is an integral part of the FOX deal, as it provides FX with weekly programming. The Forrest Griffin against Stephen Bonnar epic on the first season finale goes down as the best fight in UFC history so far, and it would be a waste to let such history get dissolved into the annals of the record books.
Granted, the series has yet to produce any champions in recent seasons, but that could easily change if UFC mandates all new fighters go through the show, with the winner getting a title shot.
We should just sit back and enjoy the show for what it is, reality television, and teach the young champion an important life lesson in not letting words bother you. Rub your hands in gleeful delight and get your popcorn ready, because this will be one hell of a ride!
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