Dan Henderson was supposed to fight Jon Jones for the light-heavyweight title at UFC 151. But then he got injured and the event got cancelled and Jones ended up fighting Vitor Belfort at UFC 152 instead. Belfort was a make-fight rather than having any real contender status and so Henderson surely retains his pole position in the challenger rankings, right?
Wrong. He learned this week that he is being leap-frogged by Chael Sonnen, who will coach opposite Jones on season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter and will then face him for the title on April 27.
But with Jones recovering from an elbow injury and Henderson recovering from a knee injury, it seems there is no reason that Henderson could not have either taken the TUF spot or waited until Jones was healed, then mounted his title challenge.
UFC president Dana White couldn’t really answer that on yesterday’s conference call to announced the TUF17 pairing. He admitted that he wasn’t up to speed on how Henderson’s recovery was going, although he did say it was taking longer than expected.
“I don’t know about Dan, that’s the thing. We were talking about Dan Henderson, trying to get him to fight again after his injury. They said it was going to be only a few weeks. They said it would be a few weeks he had to wear that brace and stay off it, all this stuff. But then after a few weeks his knee wasn’t ready,” he said.
“You’ve got to understand that we’ve got the make decisions around here, pull the trigger, and if guys aren’t ready to fight then… you know.. We gotta make some decisions.”
But if Henderson is injured and Jones is injured, what was the need to “pull the trigger” and move quickly into a Jones-Sonnen series of TUF? Again, White couldn’t really nail that one down but he did admit that Henderson wasn’t even asked about coaching against Jones.
“I don’t know what Dan’s situation… I don’t even know if Dan would do The Ultimate Fighter, you know what I mean?” he said after a pause. “Its a lot trickier than that. Its easy to sit on the outside and go ‘you should have done this, should have done that.’ Trust me - getting sh-t done around here is a lot harder than it looks.
“It actually started when we found out Jon was hurt, he went to see his doctor in New York, they got an MRI and thought he was fine. We brought him out here to LA to get him looked at and the doctor said ‘no way, he shouldn’t be fighting until April.’ He was gonna be sitting around until April so, we figured it out.”
In situations where the proffered explanation doesn’t add up, there is usually an unspoken factor or two. And in this instance it was TUF itself. Because it was telling that an FX channel executive was on the line as well, to reveal that TUF was to be moved from its current Friday night slot.
It has been doing woeful numbers on Fridays but that is not surprising, given that Friday night is a graveyard for any television aimed at a young audience - they are all out of the house. White actually never wanted TUF to go on Fridays in the first place and is now no doubt delighted that it is being moved.
Pairing Jones and Sonnen should be a huge shot in the arm for the show. But if it isn’t it will raise serious questions because the two are the most compelling characters in the UFC right now and if they can’t draw then nobody can. What is more certain is that their April pay-per-view fight will be a huge seller, despite Sonnen having little chance of taking the belt from Jones.