UFC star Jon Jones has absorbed more hits against his reputation lately than he has in the cage.
But if "Bones" Jones had the chance to make his decision again, he would still tell UFC President Dana White that he wouldn’t accept a replacement light heavyweight title defense on eight days’ notice.
Jones was held responsible when the promotion scrapped the UFC 151 card that was set for Sept. 1. Light heavyweight contender Dan Henderson injured his knee leading up to the fight and Jones declined a replacement fight with Chael Sonnen.
White bashed Jones for refusing to accept the fight, calling the decision "selfish" and "disgusting."
UFC was forced to cancel a major card for the first time in his 11 years under White’s control.
White said calling off the Las Vegas slate was one of his "all-time lows."
The 25-year-old Jones, one of UFC’s brightest stars, said he had no regrets in turning down the fight. He has agreed to defend his title against Vitor Belfort at UFC 152 on Sept. 22 in Toronto.
"I had to do what’s right for myself by turning down that fight, Dana had to do what was right for himself by putting the blame on everyone else except for himself," Jones said by phone Wednesday. "The lesson to be learned is, at the end of the day, you have to protect yourself and your family."
Jones won the UFC light heavyweight title in March 2011 with a third-round stoppage of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. He lost his only fight nearly three years ago and had emerged over that span as one of the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view stars.
The UFC ran into trouble when the 41-year-old Henderson was forced to drop out of his title shot against Jones after partially tearing a ligament in his knee during training. Jones was asked to fight Sonnen on short notice.
Much to the promotion’s anger, Jones said no thanks. White said Jones was the first UFC champion ever to turn down a match. White went off on an uncensored rant on Jones and his trainer, Greg Jackson. Jones said it was wrong for the UFC to think he would accept a new opponent, "just like that."
Jones has yet to speak to White about his scathing remarks.
"I think in the future, this can make me and Dana even better off," Jones said. "For him to get out how he felt about me in that situation, it will help me look at things more business-oriented. A lot of good can come out of it. Fighters can learn the lesson of doing what’s best for themselves and not feeling like puppets. I think the UFC has learned a lesson of making sure they stay loyal to the fans and give them full cards."
The promotion took some heat for not having a stacked card to ensure the pay-per-view would go even with a new main event.
The UFC has put on a huge slate of promotions during the first year of its new television deal with FOX, leading to criticism from fans who claim they’re getting watered-down shows. The fans, though, directed their anger on Twitter and other outlets toward Jones.
Some preliminary fighters on the wiped-out 151 card criticized Jones for the lost payday and exposure.
"I’ve been dealing with a lot of controversy," Jones said. "A lot of insults right now."
But not enough to waver in his belief that he made the right call and to do what was best to protect his title and career. Jones believed it was unfair to try and prepare for a fighter with a different style after spending months focused on Henderson.
"People tell me, ‘You’re the champ, you’ve got to take the fight,’" he said. "Being the champ wasn’t given to me.