UFC 151 is cancelled. Is this catastrophic for the sport?

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On Thursday, it was announced by UFC Dana White that for the first time in UFC history, an event would be cancelled.  The main event was to be Jon Jones(16-1-0) defending his light heavyweight title against Dan Henderson(29-8-0).  However, Dan Henderson suffered a knee injury late Wednesday night forcing him to withdraw from the match.  Dana White reported Chael Sonnen(28-12-1) was offered Henderson’s spot, which he accepted, although Jon Jones reportedly did not accept the new match.  Instead, Dana White was forced to cancel the entire UFC event, as he was left without a promotable main event.  Which leads to the question of just how much this hurts the MMA business and sponsors.

Frankly, I can’t blame Jones for not accepting the match.  He’s an alright heavyweight champion, which alone earns him quite a bit in endorsements.  On eight days notice, Jones is essentially risking his title even greater fighting Sonnen than he was with a match against Henderson.  Since Dana White announced the main event on May 9th, both sides had been preparing for the fight.

The announcement that 151 would be cancelled comes just a few days after preliminary estimates of UFC 150 Pay-per-views numbers were released.  Early reports show that only 190,000 purchases were made for the event, the lowest number since 2005.  Couple this with UFC on Fox being destroyed by NBC coverage of tape delayed Olympics, and it could potentially be a tough PR battle for the UFC and Dana White.

There is a lot that goes into putting on a UFC event.  There are TV crews that are flown in to setup, sponsors that pay to have ads created and ran in the media, sports books had several bets listed for the event , and fans who plan to attend the event purchase airline tickets and reserve hotels.  All of these are now cancelled.  While most of the airline and hotel reservations can be cancelled and money refunded, some cannot.

We probably won’t see much impact from this in the short term.  However, the sad fact that Dana White was unable to put together a promotable main event should bring a worry to fans and raise red flags to sponsors.  If ratings continue to stammer along at a critical rate, I believe that Dana White will have a long term PR mess on his hands.

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