Fedor Emelianenko was a target for many. | Photo: Taro Irei/Sherdog.com
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 Sherdog.com 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
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 by Affliction, 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 Sylvia and 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.”
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