Chael Sonnen was on the phone, a hopeful sound in his voice.
"Please," he asked, "please, please tell me that I'm fighting Jones. Please."
When the answer was yes, that he would indeed be coaching opposite UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones on the 17th season of "The Ultimate Fighter" and then fighting him in a pay-per-view bout on April 27, Sonnen unleashed a long, sustained roar.
"Oh thank you," he said, as he cheered his own good fortune. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And let me call you back. I've got to call my Mom and tell her."
And with that, what should be one of the biggest pay-per-view cards in UFC history, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, officially kicked off.
You don't have to like it. I sure don't. I'd much rather have seen Jones fight middleweight champion Anderson Silva in his next bout in a match that would have pitted far and away the two best fighters in the world. The reality, though, is that there are 800,000 or so out there, maybe even a million, who will pay the $50 the UFC asks to see Jones and Sonnen fight.
The match came about, UFC president Dana White said, because of yet another injury. The company has been plagued by major, long-term injuries to its biggest stars and top fighters throughout 2012.
This time, it was an injury to Jones himself that led to the coaching stint on TUF and the fight with Sonnen being made.
Jones injured his right arm when he was arm barred by Vitor Belfort in the first round of his Sept. 22 title defense at UFC 152 in Toronto. Doctors told White that Jones couldn't fight again until April.
White said Tuesday the plan had been for Jones to defend the belt against Dan Henderson at the company's annual Super Bowl weekend card in February in Las Vegas. Henderson was injured in August, which forced the cancelation of UFC 151 when Jones declined to face Sonnen with just eight days notice. As a result, that put Jones onto the UFC 152 card against Belfort.
Now, with Jones unable to go until April and thus, not available to fight Henderson on Feb. 2, White had to adjust. The irony of the situation is that if Jones had taken the fight against Sonnen at UFC 151 when it was offered, he likely wouldn't have injured his arm and wouldn't be hurt now.
"This wasn't where I was going," White said. "But when this happened and Jones was going to be out for so long, it made sense. I understand completely [about Sonnen not having won a fight at light heavyweight], but it's a fight people want to see."
The UFC is in the business of making fights people want to see. People want to see the fight because of Sonnen's incessant trash talking and the way Sonnen has tweaked Jones publicly, particularly on Twitter.
Sonnen trashed Silva and wound up getting two fights against the man most consider the greatest mixed martial arts fighter of all-time. Those fights, and particularly his performance at UFC 117 in 2010, helped make Sonnen one of the company's five biggest pay-per-view stars.
White said at the postfight news conference at UFC 152 that Jones, Sonnen, Silva, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans are its biggest pay-per-view attractions.
Putting two of them together is almost a slam-dunk megafight.
That, though, doesn't make it right.
Sonnen was knocked out in devastating fashion by Silva in the second round at UFC 148. That dropped him to 0-2 in his two bouts with Silva. Whether or not he won five of the seven rounds against Silva, he didn't win the fights. He lost.
One of the things that White and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta did in taking control of the company in 2001 was to try to structure the titles in a way that they meant something.
There has been a path to a championship that is transparent and understandable. No one was given title shots just because of their name or who their manager happened to be, as has been the case far too long in boxing.
By adhering to that rule as strictly as possible, White and Fertitta gave the UFC title belts meaning. Not many boxing fans care much for the WBO, the WBA, the IBF or the WBC. Very few can name all of their champions or their top contenders.
In the UFC, with some exceptions, it's clear. One must win his way to a title shot.
Sonnen, though, is getting a title shot simply because he's outspoken and because there is no better self-promoter in the sport.
He didn't earn this shot. He was given it. And that demeans the belt.
It will, though, make Jones, Sonnen and the UFC a lot of money and figures to immeasurably help the ratings on TUF. The reality series created by White and Fertitta, and that helped turn the UFC into a multibillion dollar business, has been listing recently.
Ratings are down and interest seems to be waning.
White, though, insisted he was not asked by Fox officials to put Jones and Sonnen on the show and that it wasn't done as a means to boost ratings. He said the show is doing what it is supposed to do.
"That's what the word is, that TUF needs the help?" White asked in response to a question whether the decision was driven by a desire to give the show a boost. "People love to speculate and talk [expletive], but the truth of it is, they don't know what the [expletive] they're talking about. I have all the answers. The Internet does not. We built this company and we know what we're doing. That had nothing to do with it."
White also said having Jones and Sonnen coach on "The Ultimate Fighter," did nothing to interfere in a potential Jones-Silva superfight. He said Jones-Silva "was never going to happen that soon," and said Silva will face St-Pierre long before he fights Jones.
Thus, White was able to put Jones and Sonnen on TUF, where the exposure on FX each week will undoubtedly make the pay-per-view bigger.
It's hard to argue with the business logic of the decision, but from a purely sporting angle, it sucks.
A guy who did nothing to qualify for a title shot is getting one for no reason other than that he's quick with a quip.
The UFC bills itself "as real as it gets," but this time, it's nothing but a fairy tale.
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- Mixed Martial Arts
- Martial Arts
- Jon Jones
- Chael Sonnen