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It's time to wipe the word "deserve" out of our UFC lexicons. Who "deserves" what often doesn't matter, and whether it should is simply opinion, anyway. What matters is dollars, not sense. At this point, that's more fact than criticism. Because of that, the value of a title match isn't always equal to the value of the title belt. Sometimes it's greater, sometimes it's lesser. When it comes to Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen, this is a case of a great financial decision and a mediocre matchmaking one.
To be blunt, Sonnen has no realistic case for the spot he suddenly finds himself in. He's coming off a TKO loss in a lower division and he hasn't fought at light-heavyweight since 2005, the year Jones was winning the New York state high school wrestling title at 189 pounds.
As a fight, it's indefensible. There are others far more worthy. But as a gate attraction, it's just as gold as the belt they'll be fighting over. The UFC is in the business of sport, and to remain in it, the bottom line must sometimes be placed above all else.
We can all pine for the glory days of PRIDE and early UFC, but there's a reason those ownership groups aren't around any longer, and it's not because they didn't put on compelling matchups. It's because they ran out of money.
The decision to match the two on The Ultimate Fighter and a title bout is about the two "R's": ratings and revenue. By making the pairing and fight, the UFC is saying that this is the most compelling season of TUF they can offer, and the most bankable fight they can produce at 205 given the current set of circumstances.
On Wednesday afternoon, Dana White is scheduled to speak to the media and perhaps explain how it makes practical sense from a matchup standpoint. It does not make any. Instead, it is a shot in the arm when one is badly needed.
Less than one month ago, when Jones initially turned down the fight, White acknowledged that the only reason Sonnen was tentatively placed in the bout was because he was the only one willing to face the champion on eight days' notice. After Jones turned Sonnen down and instead beat Vitor Belfort at UFC 152, White basically shot down the idea of pairing them again anytime soon, saying, "I just think there's other fights that make sense."
Yet here we are.
There's little doubt that the uproar over the UFC 151 fiasco played into White's decision but there's also no question that other factors were at play.
Keep in mind that just a few days ago, White claimed he'd throw enough money at Anderson Silva to change his mind about fighting Jones, an offer he couldn't refuse. That plan didn't last very long, probably because White needed an immediate answer to the TUF question and didn't have time to gather all the relevant parties around the negotiating table. Sometimes, it's just as simple as two guys being ready when you need them.
In a vacuum, the obvious choice for Jones was Dan Henderson. The 42-year-old was part of 2011's fight of the year, and was days away from fighting "Bones" when his knee gave out. As the last reigning Strikeforce light-heavyweight champ, he also has the best case of any light-heavyweight that "deserves" the fight. But he is just another fighter to get swallowed up in the Sonnen vortex.
There will be those who suggest that such random pairings devalue the belt, but the UFC has always taken risks with their champions when they felt they had a bankable main event.
Randy Couture went from losing a light-heavyweight title fight to fighting and winning the heavyweight belt. In the midst of his second title reign, Matt Hughes was surprisingly matched with Royce Gracie in a non-title fight. Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre were essentially asked to fight journeymen reality show winners. Brock Lesnar fought for the heavyweight title after three pro fights. And the list goes on. The point is, these questionable matchmaking decisions have been going on for years, and some of them have resulted in shockers. Most of them have resulted in big business. Ultimately, the belt's legitimacy is directly linked to the man holding it above all else, and Jones' is beyond reproach.
At least there are a few takeaways from the UFC's decision.
For fans, it's be careful what you ask for. You wanted Jones-Sonnen last month, and now you're getting it. You can't blame the UFC for hearing that message and delivering. You think the UFC is sending a mixed message by talking up Jones-Silva but delivering Jones-Sonnen? What about the message you sent by rioting when Jones turned down Sonnen and now railing against the same matchup?
For fighters, it's to open your mouths and ask for what you want. At best, you might actually get it. At worse, you're planting a seed in the minds of executive brass, and that's no small thing. It's no coincidence that the rise of Sonnen as a gate attraction occurred as he became the mouth that roared, refusing to shy away from a microphone, a notepad or a high-profile feud. Sonnen wouldn't be in this position without his continual goading of Jones.
White recently said that Sonnen and Jones were among the five biggest pay-per-view draws in the UFC, and the long season of TUF will effectively serve as a commercial for one of the biggest fights of 2013, perhaps we can even call it a super fight. Maybe you're not sold on Sonnen-Jones now, but the UFC is betting that by April, you will be. That's the definition of promoting, and whether you think the matchup is worthy of the belt or not, your attention and your dollars will always speak louder than your objections.
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