By: Albert Miller – Just the idea of the “Super Fight” is exciting. Two fighters that are going to come together and scrap despite the odds, despite the obstacles; everyone has talked about it happening and now it’s going to happen! See? Spine tingling! Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has had its share of incredible Super Fights: Shamrock vs. Gracie, Shamrock vs. Severn, Fedor vs. CroCop, and CroCop vs. Wanderlei Silva, just to mention the few that immediately come to mind. Part of the thrill of the Super Fight is collecting how much has been overcome for that fight to come together. The risk of the Super Fight is the crushing disappointment that comes when a fight isn’t put together.
This week on the Friday 5ive, we’re counting down five of the biggest Super Fights that never came together for various reasons. They were five fights that could have had huge implications and then completely fizzled out.
Note: This piece is my opinion and represents no definitive ranking.
No. 5: Bas Rutten vs. Rickson Gracie (Pancrase) – Bas Rutten had learned a lot about combat in Pancrase, specifically how important the ground game was after ordeals with the Shamrock brothers. Rutten came into the hybrid wrestling organization as a kickboxer; Pancrase hobbled Rutten a little with their rule on no strikes with a closed fist. Fortunately for Rutten, his open handed strikes had as much venom in them as the closed fisted ones. During his Pancrase career, Rutten patented his liver kick, and would eventually become a king of Pancrase. Rickson Gracie has been hailed as the best Jiu-Jitsu fighter in the Gracie family. Rickson has victories over Nobuhiko Takada in the main event of PRIDE 1, ruled the Vale Tudo Japan competitions in 1994 and 1995, and had an undefeated professional fighting record. After a victory in Japan, Rutten grabs the mic and announces that he is aware that Rickson Gracie is in the crowd. He proceeded to challenge Gracie to a fight, any kind of a fight. What Bas Rutten had essentially accomplished was expose himself to a grappling match that he statistically would have lost. As proficient as Rutten was becoming on the ground, Gracie was groomed in mat mastery since childhood. Even if it was a mixed fight where Rutten was allowed to strike, there was no guarantee that Rutten could have defended the takedown enough to keep Gracie standing. As star powered as this Super Fight to be was, it is ranking so low because it was never booked and had the least probability of ever happening. Gracie never accepted the challenge and we are left with a big “what if” to ponder.
No. 4: Frank Mir vs. Daniel Cormier (Strikeforce) – Beginning in 2008, Zuffa, LLC began buying up other fight companies to make their brand of combat sports the destination for combat consumption. Among the acquisitions were World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), World Fighting Alliance (WFA), Affliction MMA, PRIDE FC, and Strikeforce. With the exceptions of WFA, and Affliction, Zuffa had every intention of operating these promotions as independent entities. WEC had their weekly show and pay-per-views like an independent company would, Strikeforce kept promoting, and PRIDE had to close because of all of the difficulty that surrounded the promotions demise. When PRIDE was purchased, the MMA world was hoping for the “big game” fights between the two MMA giants, and we found ourselves disappointed. When the announcement that the UFC was going to send Frank Mir to headline against Daniel “DC” Cormier in November 2012, we found there was an ember of hope that cross-promotional fights were still in the realm of possibility. Sure, it wasn’t the “champion vs. champion” fights that we salivated over, but it was still something. For me, the most intriguing part was whose stock would rise in victory? If Cormier beat Mir, would he transcend Strikeforce and begin a run at the UFC Heavyweight division? If Mir beat Cormier, would he have new life in his career with a Strikeforce title run? There were questions, and as underwhelming as that fight might be to some, there were still reasons to be very excited for the bout. Unfortunately, Mir had to withdraw from the bout due to an injury. The whole event ended up being scrapped because a replacement for Frank Mir couldn’t be found. Strikeforce ended up being enveloped into the UFC shortly after. Mir and Cormier did cross paths in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, with Daniel Cormier getting the decision victory, but it just wasn’t the same.
No. 3: Ken Shamrock vs. Frank Shamrock (IFL, Strikeforce) – When “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” left mixed fight competition for the WWF(E), Frank Shamrock was put in charge of training and managing the Lion’s Den. Frank felt disrespected, that Ken believed he’d never be champion in his own right, and he left the Lion’s Den. That departure from his adopted brother’s gym lead to strained relationships and estrangement from their father, Bob Shamrock. As the feud simmered to a boil between the two, Bob Shamrock had passed away without Frank ever making peace with the man, further damning him in the mind of his brother Ken. Think about what we have here: two professional fighters who have a problem with one another, they had an old school upbringing that involved boxing to resolve conflict, and they were very similar in weight and build. Yes my friends, we have the makings of a Super Fight! At the height of the tension between the Shamrock Brothers, Frank was between deals with Strikeforce and the International Fight League and Ken was in the middle of tension with the UFC and Dana White. The fact that both were coaches with the IFL was beginning to point to a coach vs. coach Super Fight that the IFL was big on (such as Renzo Gracie vs. Pat Miletich). Because of Frank Shamrock’s relationship with Strikeforce (partly due to his own rivalry with a Gracie), the California promotion was also a very viable option for a Brother vs. Brother platform. For months, both camps said “this fight is on,” “it’s going to happen,” and “we’re going to go.” Maybe not those exact words, but bravado of the same relation. When it came time to put up or shut up, the fight never came together. I can’t say for certain whose side backed out the most or if at all, but I feel like it was injuries plaguing Shamrock (groaney misdirection intended). Eventually, Ken and Frank had reconciled; they said their peace and they ended up hugging. During Ken’s training camp for Kimbo Slice, Ken enlisted the help of Frank Shamrock. While they might not be the closest brothers, they are certainly in no position to fight.
No. 2: Randy Couture vs. Fedor Emelianenko (RINGS) – I feel like the argument could be made, and I could hold my own in the debate, that “the Natural” Randy Couture is one of the best Heavyweight champions of all time. “The Last Emporer” Fedor Emelianenko is also arguably the best PRIDE FC Heavyweight champion of all time. So, we have two guys in the discussion of “best of all time,” what would happen if those two fighters came head to head in their prime? Well, that was almost the case in 2000. The Japanese fighting promotion RINGS was in the middle of their “King of Kings” tournament and Fedor Emelianenko and Randy Couture were in a related bracket. Fedor had dispatched of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Ricardo Arona by decision and found himself in a bout with Tsuyoshi “TK” Kohsaka. During their clase, Kohsaka threw an illegal elbow against Fedor and the fight was stopped. The problem is: Fedor received a cut to the eyebrow and was not allowed to continue. Even though Kohsaka threw the offending elbow, RINGS still needed someone to advance to the next round and Kohsaka was given a pass. Randy Couture had his tough bouts in the tournament as well, having decision victories over Jeremy “Gumby” Horn and Ryushi Yanagisawa. The rub is: the winner of Emelianenko vs. Kohsaka would move on to face Randy Couture. Thanks to one illegal elbow and no other option, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka got the fight that fans would salivate over seventeen years later. Couture defeated Kohsaka in the RINGS tournament, and Kohsaka would make a run at the UFC Heavyweight championship. Fedor would be the longest reigning PRIDE FC champion in PRIDE history.
No. 1: Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva (PRIDE FC) – You know how protective the UFC is of their fighters? I’m talking sixty page contract protective of their fighters. In 2003, Chuck Liddell had just suffered a loss to Randy Couture for the UFC Light Heavyweight championship and needed some serious momentum to get back into title contention. Up to the loss with Couture, Liddell had laid the ground work to be considered the Light Heavyweight to watch and didn’t need to reinvent the wheel to get back into the limelight, but it had to be a statement. Overseas in Japan, “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva was the PRIDE FC Middleweight champion and was on one hell of a tear. The powers that be at the UFC made the executive decision: they would allow “the Iceman” Chuck Liddell to return to PRIDE FC and make a run at Wanderlei Silva. The challenge, while clearly defined, was not as simple as a single bout against Silva; Liddell would have to compete in the Final Conflict 2003 Grand Prix in order to get to Silva. Despite this being the dark time of the UFC, the UFC rules were almost solidified into what we know them to be today. The PRIDE FC rules were a serious culture shock for those who went from the unified rules to Japan; PRIDE allowed soccer kicks to a downed opponent, there was a 10 minute opening round, and a yellow card system that needed to be considered. Still, Liddell was not completely foreign to this concept, as Liddell had fought and defeated Guy Mezger at PRIDE 14. In the quarter finals of the tournament, Liddell had dispatched of future Heavyweight contender Alistair “The Reem” Overeem by knockout. On the other side of the bracket, “The Axe Murderer” knocked out “The Gracie Hunter” Kazushi Sakuraba. In the ultimate example of “MMA Math Does Not Work,” a lot of folks expected Liddell to steamroll over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson on his way to a match with Silva in the finals. “Rampage” Jackson had a different idea, and knocked Liddell out for himself. Wanderlei Silva would knock Rampage out to win the tournament and the rest was history. Liddell and Silva would eventually meet in the UFC, but at that point it wasn’t the Super Fight that was hoped for in 2003.
Thank you for joining us for this week’s Friday 5ive. If we take anything away from this list, it’s to appreciate a Super Fight as it presents itself with all of your interest.
Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!