10 Fights That Could Have Been

10 - 6

By Tim Leidecker Nov 25, 2008
Mixed martial arts remains a very young sport. Despite a short history that dates back less than 20 years, it has produced some remarkable fights -- bouts like Royce Gracie against Dan Severn, Frank Shamrock versus Tito Ortiz and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira against Fedor Emelianenko.

Every longstanding promoter will admit that for every “superfight” made, another fails to materialize because of injury, a contract dispute or promoters failing to cooperate with one another.

Sherdog.com’s Tim Leidecker has compiled a list of the top 10 fights that could have been during the last 15 years.

10. Vitor Belfort vs. Guy Mezger

Newer fans most likely know Mezger as just “one of the guys” from Ken Shamrock’s Lion’s Den. What they don’t know is that the proud Texan is a one-time UFC lightweight (under 200 pounds) tournament champion and former King of Pancrase in one of Japan’s most prestigious fighting organizations.

Newer fans most likely know Belfort as just a fighter with enormous potential -- potential the Brazilian unfortunately only managed to tap little by little during his 12-year career. Towards the end of the 20th century, the “Phenom” was one of the game’s most feared strikers.

Belfort -- who destroyed fellow Brazilian Wanderlei Silva at a UFC in Brazil back in 1998 -- was scheduled to face the far-more-experienced Mezger in the UFC 19 main event but pulled out because of a knee injury. Mezger went on to lose a controversial fight against Tito Ortiz, sparking the rivalry between the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” and the Lion’s Den.

9. Jens Pulver vs. Rumina Sato

At the same time Ortiz rose to superstardom and became the face of the UFC, Pulver had been just as hot a ticket for new owners Zuffa. Despite being a natural featherweight, “Little Evil” fought himself into fans’ hearts in the 155-pound division. Packing knockout power unheard of for such a small guy, Pulver was billed as the next big thing.

Some 5,500 miles further east, Sato filled highlight reels with never-seen-before submissions and spectacular knockouts. The “Moon Wolf” was one of the true pioneers of MMA, having debuted back in 1994; that was the same year “The Ultimate Fighter” season five winner Nate Diaz started elementary school. With his slick submissions, Sato was seen as the perfect foil for the hard-hitting Pulver.

Unfortunately for fight fans, Pulver did not move to Shooto until 2004. By then, Sato had been knocked out by Japanese nemesis Caol Uno -- a fighter Pulver convincingly beat in the UFC -- and suffered a drought unparalleled in his career. He won only two of eight fights between 2000 and 2003, effectively ending any interest in a match with Pulver.

Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

In his prime, could Rizzo
have hung with Vovchanchyn?
8. Igor Vovchanchyn vs. Pedro Rizzo

Ukraine’s Vovchanchyn was without a shadow of a doubt the most devastating striker in all of MMA around the turn of the century. The unimpressively built, stocky kickboxer had posterized opponents with vicious punches and kicks and made a big name for himself by winning no less than six eight-man tournaments in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Brazil. He also put the first crack in the armor of the seemingly invincible Mark Kerr when the two fought in Japan in 1999.

Rizzo, a luta livre and vale tudo fighter from Brazil had KO’d his way into the UFC at the same time. Always appearing a little drowsy and uninspired, the star pupil of UFC 7 tournament winner Marco Ruas had devastating punching power at his disposal and employed a textbook way of setting up his cracking knockouts with punishing leg kicks. “The Rock” started his career 9-0, and most fans saw him as a worthy opponent for Vovchanchyn.

By the time both fighters finally met on promotional paths, they were both in the autumns of their careers. Ironically, they fought on the same card together -- the second round of Pride Fighting Championship’s 2005 middleweight tournament. By then, Vovchanchyn had dropped down to the 205-pound division and Rizzo was still a heavyweight, making a direct clash impossible. Both fighters were stopped quickly that night.

7. Matt Hughes vs. Takanori Gomi

UFC President Dana White never grows tired of hailing Hughes as “the greatest welterweight of all time.” During his prime, which spanned six years (2001-06), the powerful wrestler, vicious ground-and-pounder and underrated grappler gave a good thrashing to a who’s who in his weight class, including Japanese star Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, a young Georges St. Pierre and the legendary Royce Gracie.

Gomi, like Hughes, comes from a wrestling background. He has collected championship belts both in Shooto and Pride. From 2005 to 2007, he was the undisputed top dog in Pride’s 160-pound division, a weight class that was created especially for him. Gomi paid back the faith the promoters showed in him by going on a devastating rampage, finishing six consecutive opponents inside the first round during one stretch.

Whether or not the two were actually supposed to meet remains unclear, but they appeared on promotional material for a Pride lightweight tournament that never took place. If the grand prix had not been abandoned in the spring of 2007, Gomi and Hughes may have either fought in the first round or, given their undeniable class, made for an absolute dream final.

6. Volk Han vs. Marco Ruas

Before Fedor Emelianenko, there was Oleg Taktarov. And before Oleg Taktarov, there was Han. The sporting pedigree has come full circle, as it was sambo master Han who taught Emelianenko his moves. Han was loved in Japan for his decade-long run in the Rings promotion but mocked by hardcore “no holds barred” purists for his professional wrestling roots. Han proved all critics wrong by taking part in real MMA fights late in his career, even going the distance with the legendary Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who replaced him as the sport’s most technical submission fighter.

Well-rounded luta livre practitioner Ruas would have loved to have made an even more lasting impression on fight fans and experts. However, his main problem was that a lot of renowned opponents turned down fights with him, as he was the only Brazilian fighter at the time that was good on the ground and packed a decent punch. Ironically, the favorite submission of the “King of the Streets” was the heel hook -- a hold Han had perfected in all kinds of variations and a hold with which he had finished countless professional wrestling bouts and MMA fights.

It would have been a treat to see these two legends of the ring go at it. Both men are from the same generation, born in 1961, and have flown under the radar as far as MMA history is concerned. Had Ruas joined the Rings promotion instead of Pride when he finally jumped to Japan in 1998, fans would have been in for a leglock fest and an instant classic.
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