TOP 10 matches that never happened

Over the years, one of the main selling points of mixed martial arts has been its ability to deliver the fights people want to see. Whether or not you agree with the methods of UFC President Dana White, it is hard to argue with his track record of delivering big-ticket bouts. Without question, 2012 has been a challenging year for the sport, with many pivotal matchups falling by the wayside due to injuries and withdrawals. The good news: many of those bouts — i.e. Jose Aldo-Frankie Edgar, Jon Jones-Dan Henderson, Glover Teixeira-Quinton Jackson, etcetera — still have plenty of time to materialize.

As with any sport, however, MMA still has its share of “What if?” matchups, bouts that, for some reason or another, did not happen and probably never will. What if M-1 Global and White had been able to agree to terms? What if Wanderlei Silva fought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship in his prime? What if “The Spider” stepped into the Octagon as a welterweight? What if Sean Gannon got a sanctioned bout with Kimbo Sli … just seeing if you were still paying attention.

For every great fight that actually happened, there is always another that fell through the cracks. As voted on by a 10-person panel of staff, here are our choices for the “Top 10 Matches That Were Never Made,” and, no, Dave Bautista-Rashid Evans did not make the cut. Let the arguments begin.

1. Randy Couture vs. Fedor Emelianenko
2. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Rickson Gracie
3. Ken Shamrock vs. Frank Shamrock
4. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Josh Barnett
5. Wanderlei Silva vs. Chuck Liddell (in 2003)
6. Frank Shamrock vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
7. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brock Lesnar
8. Anderson Silva vs. Matt Hughes
9. Tito Ortiz vs. Dana White
10. Randy Couture vs. Wanderlei Silva

1. Randy Couture vs. Fedor Emelianenko

Couture excelled in two divisions.

Four years ago, with Couture finally inked to a new three-fight deal after a lengthy contract dispute, White spouted his usual lines of bravado about the promotion’s potential acquisition of Emelianenko, who was then regarded by many as the world’s pound-for-pound best mixed martial artist.

At the time, the stoic Russian was still gainfully employed byAffliction, an apparel company that had thrown its hat into the MMA game. While the fledgling organization had managed to stockpile a considerable stable of talent, particularly at heavyweight, it was also hemorrhaging money. According to White, Emelianenko’s entry into the Zuffa family was a foregone conclusion. After all, Couture had re-upped with the Las Vegas-based company under the assumption that his desired showdown with the former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder would be delivered.

“These guys are dying on the vine,” White said, pointing to Affliction during a 2008 conference call. “They’ll be gone in a couple of months anyway and then Fedor will have to come here. Listen, you’re not under contract if the company isn’t in business anymore. We’ll figure it out.”

White was right about one thing: Affliction’s time was limited. However, “The Last Emperor,” despite raising his stock to an all-time high with first-round victories over former UFC champions Tim Sylviaand Andrei Arlovski while fighting for the short-lived promotion, would never set foot inside an Octagon. White was never able to see eye-to-eye with M-1 Global, Emelianenko’s management team.

“He got offered a [expletive] assload of money,” White said in June 2009. “A ton of money, everything he wanted. He can go fight in sambo every [expletive] Thursday night if he wants to. He can do everything he wanted to. We showed them nothing but respect.”

Instead, Emelianenko went to Strikeforce and eventually suffered a string of losses that resulted in his release — after the company was under Zuffa ownership, no less. Couture, who had relinquished his title to Brock Lesnar in November 2008, competed once more at heavyweight — aside from his freakshow bout with James Toney — before returning to 205 pounds. He retired in 2011, while Emelianenko called it a career earlier this year.

“I wish [I could have fought Emelianenko] when we were both kind of at our peak; if it would have happened it would have been something special,” Couture told The Score. “The cards didn’t just come out that way.”

4. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Josh Barnett

In its brief existence, the Affliction promotion acquired a boatload of big-name heavyweight talent, enough to rival any mixed martial arts organization at that time. The crown jewel of the roster, of course, was Emelianenko, who earned victories over Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski as headliner of the promotion’s first two events.

While those two matchups generated their fair share of interest, neither was as highly anticipated as the proposed meeting between Emelianenko and Barnett at Affliction “Trilogy” on Aug. 1 2009. At the time, Emelianenko and Barnett were arguably the top two heavyweights in the world. Unfortunately, Barnett failed a pre-fight drug test, and the California State Athletic Commission denied “The Warmaster” a license, resulting in the cancellation of the bout. As a result, the entire card was scrapped, and Affliction went under shortly thereafter. In typical fashion, Emelianenko took the news of the lost fight in stride.

“Josh is a great, strong fighter. I’ve always followed his fights and liked him as a competitor and as a person. I was very prepared, totally ready for a good, hard fight,” he told “But what can you do? I am disappointed, though I’m glad that after all I don’t have to fight a friend.”

There were other opportunities for the fight to occur. In 2010, rumors of a Barnett-Emelianenko matchup in Dream — where Barnett could still compete as he fought his positive drug test — tantalized, but never came to fruition. In 2011, Strikeforce’s heavyweight grand prix offered the potential of a final featuring the two former Pride standouts, but Emelianenko was upset by Antonio Silva in the tournament’s first round.

While the fight could certainly generate its fair share of interest even today, the Russian closed the curtain on his career in June. Some things just are not meant to be.

7. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brock Lesnar

After Lesnar stopped Randy Couture with a series of hammerfists at UFC 91, a bout between the former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar and Emelianenko instantly became the next big thing on the MMA horizon. By the time Lesnar decimated Frank Mir at UFC 100 to establish his place as a bona fide pay-per-view giant, Emelianenko-Lesnar had the potential to be the biggest fight in the history of the sport, at least in terms of gate and buy-rate figures.

While Lesnar was coming off impressive wins against Mir and Couture, Emelianenko had further added to his mystique with triumphs over former UFC rulers Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski under the Affliction banner. The two heavyweights could not have appeared more different to the outside observer. Lesnar was the brash professional wrestler who received a title shot after just two Octagon appearances, while Emelianenko was the all-time great looking to further cement his legacy on MMA’s biggest stage.

Before Lesnar was weakened by battles with diverticulitis and Emelianenko lost some of his luster in the Strikeforce cage, this was going to be the UFC’s next blockbuster hit. Who would have been the favorite in such a titanic clash? Prominent oddsmaker Joey Odessa opened the betting lines for the proposed bout in 2009 with “The Last Emperor” as a -240 favorite.

“Whether I get a chance to fight Lesnar in the future or not, that fight will be about me taking advantage of those weaknesses,” Emelianenko said. “Any opponent that he has in the future, for them to prevail would be for them to take advantage and capitalize on mistakes that he makes. Like every fighter, he’s certainly prone to them and I see that.”

The speculation turned out to be all for naught, however, when the UFC failed in multiple attempts to lure Emelianenko to the promotion. To make the match happen today, Lesnar would have to leave the WWE and Emelianenko would have to be coaxed out of retirement. You can bet that if their names showed up on a fight poster tomorrow, more than a few people would still be interested.

Source: Sherdog

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