Chael Sonnen believes heavyweight champion Jon Jones' injury creates a potentially awkward scenario for the UFC.
Jones (27-1 MMA, 21-1 UFC) withdrew from his first title defense against Miocic (20-4 MMA, 14-4 UFC) at UFC 295 after he sustained a torn pectoral tendon that required surgery. The UFC plans to reschedule Jones vs. Miocic once Jones is healthy.
In the meantime, the promotion opted to book an interim title fight between Sergei Pavlovich (17-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) and Tom Aspinall (13-3 MMA, 6-1 UFC) to co-headline UFC 295 on Nov. 11 card at Madison Square Garden in New York. That means the interim champ will have to wait until Jones and Miocic fight before they can even book a title-unification bout, and Sonnen doesn't see how that makes sense.
“Your problem comes tomorrow; your problem doesn't come today,” Sonnen told MMA Junkie. “You're going to Madison Square Garden, you have an event that's not sold out, you have a few problems with your headlining act, and now it's not your headlining act. Stipe and Jones wasn't some great night of business. Now you have less than that. You've got to put the belt up. If you promised fans and it's close, you've got to put the belt up.
When I tell you the problem comes tomorrow, there's never been a time in the sport, and I fully understand we're going to fiercely adhere to whatever rules we make up on the spot in the space, but we've never had a healthy and willing interim champion – it's just never happened – and then you have the return of the undisputed champion, and they don't fight each other. They always fight each other. At a minimum, if you're looking for a precedence and history, we can all agree the interim belt makes you the No. 1 contender. What we're talking about now is you have a healthy interim champion who sits in the front row and watches somebody else fight for the undisputed belt. Well, what happens then?
“If we stick to the script that's out there, that (Jones vs. Miocic) is a retirement fight, which I'm here to let you know it's not – but if we stick to the script, it's a retirement fight. So now this guy in the front row (interim champ) isn't getting ready to come into the ring and do a faceoff to have the undisputed belt. He instantly, as soon as the words ‘I'm retiring' come out of this guy's mouth, this guy is now the undisputed champion. That's weird. That's going to be problematic for me.”
UFC CEO Dana White said Jones is expected to be out eight months. Miocic could be 42 by the time Jones is healthy and ready to fight, which Sonnen believes naturally puts that fight in jeopardy.
With that in mind, Sonnen shared a scenario that he believes is more logical.
“You've got to have a belt up. It's MSG,” Sonnen said. “You've got to find your interim champion, then you come out with something along the lines of, ‘We just talked to a doctor, (and) it's worse than we thought. We're actually going to elevate this belt to an undisputed belt, but when Jon comes back it'll be his choice. We'll let him fight Stipe, or we'll let him fight the interim champion. We'll see what he wants to do.'
“It has to be that. We can't just have an interim champion and an undisputed champion both willing and ready and not have them fight. It just can't happen. I'm good at storytelling. I can't tell that story.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie's event hub for UFC 295.