The Ones That Got Away: MMA Superfights We Never Saw
The greatest of all-time… It’s a subjective accolade, but poll any group of MMA fans from any era and the vast majority will offer up either Georges St Pierre or Anderson Silva as MMA’s theoretical "man to beat." In late 2016, news of the French-Canadian’s return fueled whispers of UFC president Dana White’s "one that got away" -- St Pierre vs Silva -- the best versus the brightest. Sadly, the chances of it happening now are as slim as they ever were. "Rush" vs. "The Spider" is a myth; just one of many super fights we’ll probably never see.
Sadly, it’s not the only one. Here are some other MMA superfights we never got to see...
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brock Lesnar
Partly due to the UFC’s monopolistic marketing power and partly due to his best years being a decade ago, Fedor Emelianenko doesn’t always get the respect he deserves from modern-day MMA fans. For those who witnessed his epic rampage through PRIDE’s heavyweight division though, he was the greatest heavyweight of his era… perhaps the greatest ever.
While Fedor might have been the best fighter in his day, Brock Lesnar was easily the biggest box office draw. An instant superstar, he polarized an audience who didn’t know what they wanted more; so see him humbled in defeat, or glorified in victory.
Physically, Lesnar was an animal. Walking around north of the 265-pound heavyweight limit, the NCAA standout moved with the speed and grace of a man half his size. Whether it was down to popularity or notoriety he was a magnet for the paying public, headlining what was then the UFC’s biggest card above the likes of GSP, in what was just his third tilt with the promotion.
After years of deriding the Russian while he plied his trade for the competition, White declared that signing Stary Oskol’s favourite son was his "obsession." Accounts of what happened next differ depending on who you hear them from. Fedor was tied up with M-1; according to White, a deal offering $2,000,000 per fight, Pay-Per-View points and an immediate title shot against Brock Lesnar was spurned; M-1 wanted to co-promote Fedor’s fights, and allegedly wanted Zuffa to fund the building of a stadium in Russia. M-1 refuted these claims, and talks broke down.
Fedor’s stock would drop considerably following three straight losses and Lesnar, while still a licence to print money, was exposed by better fighters and left the sport. It could have been the biggest-grossing MMA fight of all-time, but as is so often the case, politics ultimately ruined it.
Ken Shamrock vs. Tank Abbott
Throwbacks to a different age, arguably a different sport, Ken Shamrock and Tank Abbott were the poster children of the UFC’s formative years. While the event was intended as a subversive info-mercial for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, you have to believe that the money men were quietly pulling for a Shamrock victory at UFC 1. He was 220 pounds of chiselled muscle, and the only fighter in the bracket with documented "free-fight" experience, Shamrock had the look of an action hero and the ability to back it up.
A few years later, David "Tank" Abbott hit the scene. Watch MMA live or at a bar even today, and you’ll find no shortage of out-of-shape, beer-swilling loudmouths eager to share their opinion of how they’d mop the floor with the guys on TV. Abbott was that guy, only he could mop the floor with some of the guys on TV. Fat, cocky and sporting roughly the same number of teeth as he’d had karate lessons, Abbott was the manifestation of everything that a martial artist wasn’t supposed to be.
There’s a bit of MMA folklore that says Tank was brought in to lose, thus proving the theory that the martial artist would always triumph over the thug. His (admittedly limited) wrestling background was played down and he was branded a ‘Pit Fighter’ in promotional material. When Tank began cracking heads in some of the most visually violent UFC fights of the era, a star was born, to the point that the company put him on a monthly salary; something not repeated since.
There was even legitimate bad blood between the two parties, with Shamrock and his "Lion’s Den" once hunting down Abbott backstage after he’d caused trouble. Ken never caught up with him though, either in the parking lot or the cage, with both eventually leaving the company for careers in pro-wrestling. Their surprise early-00’s returns once again sparked hope of a superfight from another generation, but for reasons unknown it was never meant to be.
Anderson Silva vs. Jon Jones
Before the controversy that shelved him for what would likely have been his fighting prime, few would argue that Jon Jones wasn’t at the absolute pinnacle of mixed martial arts. A world-class athlete, not just adept, but an expert in all facets of the game, Jones looked insurmountable. In 2011, he completed what was arguably the greatest year’s work of any combat sports athlete, defeating Ryan Bader, "Shogun" Rua, "Rampage" Jackson and Lyoto Machida in the space of just 10 months.
While Jones was painting a picture of violence in the light-heavyweight division, Anderson Silva was creating a masterpiece at middleweight. Nobody had previously cleared out such a talent-rich division and looked so untouchable in doing so. So absolute was Silva’s dominance, he had twice moved up a weight class and demolished his opposition. His claim to the title of ‘best ever’ could be challenged by a scant few.
White once cited his ability to make a Jones vs. Silva superfight happen as something that would define his own legacy as a promoter. Fate, as it is want to do, conspired against him. Silva’s standing plummeted following a series of losses and a failed drug test. Jones’ image was tarnished even further; while he did not falter in the cage, a series of self-inflicted ‘personal issues’ stripped "Bones" of his dignity, credibility and – most importantly – his ability to compete.
Silva is past his prime and threatening retirement. Jones is focused firmly on regaining the light heavyweight title he never lost in the cage. Problems outside the cage have almost certainly deprived us of one of the greatest battles within it.
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