TORONTO — The dance begins with one fighter walking out onto the stage, stripping down to his skivvies and stepping onto the scale. When his weight is announced, he flexes for the crowd, then moves off to the side and dresses while his opponent walks out, strips, weighs in, flexes, dresses. The two meet at center stage, face to face, fists up, striking a combative pose for the cameras. And after a dozen shutter clicks they’re done, off to rehydrate. Next set of fighters, please?
There may be no element of a mixed martial arts event more choreographed than the weigh-ins.
So how did light heavyweight champion Jon Jones end up having an off-the-script moment Friday afternoon after stepping off the scale?
It came about when Jones found himself staring into the eyes of not one but two people ready to go face to face with him. One was Vitor Belfort, who’ll be his opponent in the main event of UFC 152 on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre (10 p.m. ET, PPV). The other was Dana White.
The UFC president and his 205-pound megastar had been sparring verbally for weeks, ever since Jones, upon being notified nine days prior to UFC 151 that challenger Dan Henderson was injured, turned down replacement opponent Chael Sonnen. The UFC ended up cancelling the Sept. 1 event — a first in the 11 years White has been running the show — and a fired-up White went on the offensive, calling Jones “selfish and disgusting” and his trainer/adviser/guru, Greg Jackson, “a [expletive] sport killer.”
As this weekend’s event neared, with Jones having been added to the top of the bill, he and White indicated that they would meet face to face here in Toronto to clear the air. The meeting was to take place just prior to the weigh-ins. So all eyes were on Jones as he stepped off the scale. Would he and White shake hands or even embrace, an indication that the cold war was over? Or would an icy chill pervade the stage set up atop a hockey rink at the old Maple Leaf Gardens, telling us that Dana might not have renewed his membership in the Jonny Bones Fan Club?
What we saw instead from Jones was an uncharacteristic moment of uncertainty. This phenom fighter who never hesitates to attack inside the octagon seemed to waver when he spotted White. Then he smiled, White smiled, even Belfort smiled, and the choreography resumed.
What did it all mean? It meant that Jones and White had not yet met. They apparently planned to do so a few minutes later. And say what? “None of your business,” White responded when asked that very question in a Fuel TV interview following the weigh-ins.
We can at least surmise that the discussion explored areas of disagreement. A case in point: At a Thursday press conference, Jones spoke respectfully of the boss — “Dana White is awesome, man” — but steered clear of accepting responsibility for the UFC 151 fiasco. “I have actually zero power to cancel an event,” he said. “When I was actually talking to Dana and [UFC chairman/CEO] Lorenzo [Fertitta] about accepting the Chael Sonnen fight, they never told me if I didn’t accept the fight that they were going to cancel the event.”
It would have been interesting to hear White respond to that, but he was absent from the press conference, laid up at his hotel with an episode of Ménière’s disease. But in the Fuel TV interview, Dana had his say. “I don’t think he would have said that if I was there,” said White. “So today we’re going to be face to face and we’ll see what he says and what he doesn’t say. The fact that he says that he didn’t know that the show would get cancelled is false. I did tell him that the show would be cancelled.”
And with that, White headed off to a windowless room with his light heavyweight champ. And then? Nothing. Nada. Not a word. (OK, chief, you can deactivate the Cone of Silence now.) My colleague from Yahoo! Sports, Kevin Iole, texted White to ask about the meeting and got this terse text back: “It went well.” Other than that, White, who posts his thoughts on Twitter about as often as he takes a breath, has gone quiet. So has Jones, unless we can read something into his only post-meeting tweet, a quote attributed to Michael Jordan: “Limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.”
So stay tuned. Like any long-running soap opera, there’s always another episode to come.