5 MMA Fights We Never Got To See – Part 1
There have been a number of matchups over the course of our beloved sports near 29-year run that were either never put together, or were put together, but never ended up happening for a multitude of reasons.
Some of these matchups were incredibly important for the sport, and others would have simply been an extreme pleasure to witness. Continue reading to see this list of five list of MMA fights we never got to see:
5. Rafael dos Anjos vs ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor
This bout came very close to happening back in 2016 when Rafael dos Anjos was the UFC lightweight champion and Conor McGregor was the UFC featherweight champion coming up to his natural weight of 155 lbs.
Dos Anjos was on an absolute tear at this time, and many of us, including Joe Rogan, believed him to be the greatest lightweight the sport had ever seen.
With his 3rd-degree (now 4th-degree) black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, along with a black prajied (strap/belt) in Muay Thai and his much-improved wrestling and strength, he was quickly becoming dominant as anyone in the entire sport.
At this point, dos Anjos was 25-7 as a professional, he was on a five-fight win streak, and he’d gone 10-1 in his latest 11 bouts, only losing to future champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
What’s more, his hit list included the likes of Donald Cerrone twice (UD, TKO), former WEC & UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson (KO), The Ultimate Fighter 5 winner Nate Diaz (UD), and another WEC & UFC lightweight champion in Anthony Pettis (UD), who he absolutely battered at UFC 185 to claim the title.
Following his first title defense over Donald Cerrone, dos Anjos was then matched up with Conor McGregor, who was 7-0 in the UFC at the time with six knockouts, all down at 145 lbs.
But McGregor did become a champ-champ in Cage Warriors, winning the featherweight and lightweight titles in back-to-back fights prior to coming over to the world’s leading promotion. He wanted to mirror that success in the UFC, and he did, but not at UFC 196 as planned.
The Irish superstar defeated the likes of Marcus Brimage (TKO), future UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway (UD), The Ultimate Fighter 14 winner Diego Brandao (TKO), future interim UFC lightweight champion Dustin Poirier (TKO), Dennis Siver (TKO), and Chad Mendes (TKO) when he claimed the interim strap.
McGregor then unified his title against Jose Aldo (KO) at UFC 194 to claim the undisputed UFC featherweight championship.
McGregor KO’d the greatest featherweight to ever do it, who aimed to make his tenth-straight title defense at this event, in just 13 seconds. Things were looking incredibly bright for ‘The Notorious’ and his future.
That brings us up to this fight booking, a superfight where McGregor had a chance to do exactly what he did in Cage Warriors, become a two-division champion.
Only the champion was forced to withdraw from the fight with a broken foot 11 days out, and was replaced by Nate Diaz up at 170 lbs. This was a very entertaining clash that saw McGregor gas in the second round, leading up to his submission (rear naked choke) defeat.
An immediate rematch would ensue, an even more entertaining clash than their first, with McGregor being awarded the very close majority decision victory over the course of five rounds.
Now that he’d avenged his only promotional defeat to date, McGregor was ready to make his lightweight debut.
Only it wasn’t Rafael dos Anjos who held the belt anymore, it was former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, who’d just taken it from the Brazilian via first round TKO.
McGregor would go on to have one of, if not the single handed most flawless performance in UFC history, securing the victory, and his second title via TKO in round two.
But, we can’t help but wonder how this fight would’ve gone had dos Anjos suffered an injury.
The fights with Nate Diaz probably wouldn’t have ever happened, and who knows, maybe McGregor wouldn’t have become champ-champ. Or, or he could’ve had an even more dominant victory than he did over Alvarez.
We’ll never know.
4. Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell vs Dan ‘Hendo’ Henderson
The light-heavyweight division was the premier weight class to watch for quite some time in the 2000’s and early 2010’s, up until Jon Jones defeated Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua for the belt back in March of 2011.
Jones’ dominant reign just made the division appear weak to most.
205 lbs showcased so many legends in both the UFC and PRIDE, such as Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Wanderlei Silva, ‘Shogun’, Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell, ‘Suga’ Rashad Evans, Dan ‘Hendo’ Henderson, ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ Tito Ortiz, Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture, Frank Shamrock, and Antonio ‘Lil Nog’ Nogueira, amongst others.
We did get to see a lot of these stellar, legendary match ups play out, a number of them more than once, but one we never got was five-time UFC light-heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell versus PRIDE champ-champ (185 lbs & 205 lbs) and eventual Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion Dan Henderson.
Both men came from wrestling backgrounds; Liddell becoming an NCAA Division I talent prior to his start in MMA, and Dan Henderson becoming a two-time Olympian, representing the United States in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games in the Greco-Roman category, following his NCAA Division I run.
Henderson achieved much greater lengths in wrestling, of course, being a two-time Olympian.
But he also was awarded a silver medal at the World Cup on two separate occasions, in 1994 and 1996, he placed in the Pan American Championships four different times (one bronze, two silver, one gold), and he placed at the Pan American Games as well, winning the bronze medal in 1995.
The thing is, neither of these men really used their wrestling throughout their careers; instead, they built the blueprint for talents like Justin Gaethje to use their wrestling in reverse. They’d use it to keep theirs fights on the feet, which almost always worked out for them, so they could land their massive bombs and secure a considerable amount of knockout wins.
These two were both on top of the world around 2005 and 2007, Liddell winning his title in April of 2005, Henderson winning his first title in December of 2005, and his second in February of 2007.
We were so close to seeing this fight pan out once the UFC bought out PRIDE, when Henderson aimed to unify his titles in the UFC.
Only ‘Rampage’ Jackson knocked Liddell out to claim the belt just one fight prior, literally in his fight just before, and Henderson had his title unification bout with the new champion instead.
With Liddell going 20-2 as a kickboxer with 16 knockouts, being 20-3 at his best with 13 knockouts, to Henderson being 22-5 with ten knockouts at his time of arriving on the UFC roster, this will remain quite the sizable what if in MMA history.
Henderson was also coming off a KO victory over Wanderlei Silva in his fight prior to joining the UFC, and Liddell versus Silva had been a highly anticipated match up for years and years at this point.
This fight made all the sense in the world to make.
Liddell’s well-rounded stand-up attack against Henderson’s thunderous right hand, this would’ve surely gone down in history as one of the most legendary fights to ever happen.
3. Joseph Benavidez vs John ‘The Magician’ Dodson
This is a truly exciting match up that we’re very surprised never happened, hell, it was never even scheduled a single time. For a few years there, these were the no. 2 and no. 3 flyweights on the planet, unquestionably, coming in second only to the greatest to ever do it, Demetrious Johnson.
Both men gave Johnson his toughest tests to date, primarily in their first encounters with him, as each fought him twice.
Benavidez is one of the greatest fighters ever, if not the greatest fighter ever to have never won a belt.
Then we have Dodson, the first man to defeat the arguable bantamweight goat TJ Dillashaw, doing so via TKO in round one of his UFC debut to win The Ultimate Fighter 14.
Dodson moved down to 125 lbs following this victory, while Benavidez moved down to the flyweight division just two months prior. Considering Dodson moved back up to 135 lbs following his second defeat to ‘Mighty Mouse’, this fight could’ve happened anywhere from 2012 to 2015.
By time Dodson went back to the bantamweight division, he was 17-7 as a professional (6-2 UFC), only losing to the champion inside the octagon, while Benavidez was 24-4 (11-2 UFC), again, he’d only lost to Johnson inside the octagon.
The only other two defeats of Benavidez’ entire career came up at 135 lbs to the other arguable bantamweight goat, Dominick Cruz. Two of his four defeats came via split decision, and two of Dodson’s defeats also came via split decision.
Dodson also won two rounds against Johnson the first time around, being narrowly defeated in the end.
Also, each of their defeats following, Dodson’s to John Lineker in his return to 135 lbs, and Benavidez’ to current Bellator bantamweight champion Sergio Pettis after a near two-year layoff, also came via split decision.
Both Benavidez and Dodson were incredibly elite talents that’d done very well throughout their careers, even in their defeats.
What’s more, each man hurt, and dropped Johnson in their first fights with him.
Both Benavidez and Dodson had a reputation for putting their opponents away with their vicious power, and they were the clear best in the division outside of the champion.
This too will remain one of the bigger what ifs in the sports history.
It’s a wonder why the UFC never even attempted to put this match up together; these two peaked at the same time, they both ran through everyone not named Demetrious Johnson, quite handily we might add, and the division became stale for a lot of fans due to the champions dominance.
This fight surely would’ve helped out the slow-to-come-along 125 lb division, and all of us fans deserved to know how this one would’ve played out. It’s too bad.
Who do you think would’ve came out of this fight on top?
2. Gegard ‘The Dreamcatcher’ Mousasi vs Luke Rockhold
This would’ve been such an epic fight to see had it ever been booked, these are two of the best middleweights the sport of mixed martial arts has ever seen.
Mousasi is a true great of the sport, boasting titles in a number of organizations, just about every one of them he’s fought in. Not only that, but he, like Conor McGregor mentioned above, is a champ-champ.
Mousasi first laid claim to a title back in 2006 when he captured the Cage Warriors middleweight championship via first round TKO.
Fast forward two years and he was now the DREAM middleweight champion, and one year later he’d win the Strikeforce light-heavyweight championship.
Following his defeat to ‘King Mo’, which saw him lose his Strikeforce belt, he’d return to DREAM and win that light-heavyweight championship as well, before defending it and returning to Strikeforce.
Not long after this, Mousasi would finally make his UFC debut with a record of 33-3-2.
Though he’d go 4-3 through his first seven octagon bouts (boasts wins over all three of those defeats), he’d cap off his tenure with five-straight victories, securing four knockouts in that time, before joining the Bellator roster.
It would have been super interesting seeing him fight for the UFC title, considering he was pretty much next in line. He didn’t want to wait for a shot however, as this was around the time the UFC put then middleweight champion Michael Bisping against the returning 11-time UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
Following a victory over former multi-time Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko, Mousasi would defeat then champion Rafael Carvalho win that title via first round TKO. One defense would follow over then Bellator welterweight champion Rory MacDonald, before he’d lose his strap to the undefeated Rafael Lovato Jr. in a sizeable upset.
But Lovato was forced into retirement following this bout, and the belt was left vacant.
Mousasi would next avenge his defeat to former UFC light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, before facing another Bellator welterweight champion, this time Douglas Lima, for the vacant middleweight strap.
Following this unanimous decision win at Bellator 250, two more dominant victories would soon come after, seeing him defend his title via TKO in back-to-back outings against top contenders, before being upset by Johnny Eblen in June.
Luke Rockhold came over to the UFC with a record of 10-1 after a dominant Strikeforce run, seeing him go 8-0 within the promotion, capping off with three title fights.
After winning the Strikeforce middleweight championship against Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza (UD), Rockhold would defend it against the likes of UFC veteran Keith Jardine (TKO) and Tim Kennedy (UD) before joining the UFC’s roster.
He’d get viciously knocked out by a TRT-abusing former champion, Vitor Belfort, in his promotional debut, before going on a dominant, and incredibly impressive win streak.
This saw him victorious over Costa Philippou (TKO), Tim Boetsch (kimura), future UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping (guillotine choke), becoming the first man to ever submit ‘The Count’, and former UFC light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida (rear naked choke), submitting the BJJ black belt midway through the second round.
This awarded him a title shot at then champion Chris Weidman, who was undefeated (13-0) at the time. The New York native was 2-0 against the greatest to ever do it, Anderson Silva, he’d just defended his title twice more against former champions Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort, and many were expecting him to go on a long, dominant title reign.
Only he’d run into Luke Rockhold at UFC 194, who finished him off (TKO) in the fourth round of a legendary fight to capture the UFC middleweight championship. This set up an immediate rematch, which Weidman was forced out of with an injury, and he was replaced by Michael Bisping.
Going into this rematch, Rockhold was far too arrogant and overconfident, causing him to get KO’d in the opening round, a huge upset mind you, and he hasn’t been the same since.
He’d rebound with a second round TKO over former WSOF champ-champ David Branch (185 lbs & 205 lbs), which granted him a shot at the interim title. But he’d be facing Yoel Romero, who KO’d him even more viciously than Bisping.
Rockhold has fought one time since this, where he faced future, now former UFC light-heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz in July of 2019 at UFC 239, a fight he also got violently KO’d in.
Neither of these men are what they once were (though Mousasi is still performing at an elite level, and Rockhold is expected to make his return opposing former title challenger Paulo Costa at UFC 277, ending his three-year layoff), but had they fought when they were at their best, somewhere between 2010 and 2017, this would have been one of the highest-level match ups any promotion could’ve ever put together.
Mousasi has titles in Cage Warriors (185 lbs), DREAM (185 lbs & 205 lbs), Strikeforce (205 lbs), and Bellator (185 lbs), would he have beat Michael Bisping and became UFC champion as well?
Then we have Rockhold, who won belts in Strikeforce (185 lbs) and the UFC (185 lbs). Considering he only ever fought for three promotions, that’s next to as good as it gets.
With Rockhold’s high level BJJ black belt and his overall grappling, such as his top pressure and body lock takedowns, to his viciously powerful kicks of all sorts; then mix that with Mousasi’s Judo black belt and experience in boxing (12-1) and kickboxing (8-0), this is a truly great match up between two incredibly gifted finishers that regrettably just never ended up happening.
1. Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov vs Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson
Oh, the great travesty this became…
You knew this had to be first on our list, for a multitude of obvious reasons. This is surely the greatest, most anticipated fight we never got, perhaps even more than honorable mention Brock Lesnar versus Fedor Emelianenko.
Each of these men were on top of the UFC’s lightweight division for the longest time.
Ferguson came over to the promotion making his debut in June of 2011 to claim The Ultimate Fighter 13 trophy via first round knockout, following a 3-0 stint on the show, winning all three of those bouts via knockout as well, all up at 170 lbs.
Following this, he moved down to the lightweight division and went on an absolute tear there as well.
After winning his first three octagon bouts, he’d lose to Michael Johnson (UD), a fight he broke his arm in, before returning a year-and-a-half later to pick up another first round finish, and he didn’t lose again for seven years, as he won his next 12-straight fights.
This included wins over the likes of Mike Rio (D’Arce choke), Katsunori Kikuno (KO), Danny Castillo (SD), Abel Trujillo (rear naked choke), becoming just the second man to submit BJJ black belt Gleison Tibau (rear naked choke), former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson (UD), Edson Barboza (D’Arce choke), Lando Vannata (D’Arce choke), former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos (UD), Kevin Lee (triangle choke) to win the interim title, former WEC & UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis (TKO), and another one of the best to never win a title in Donald Cerrone (TKO), forcing the corner and doctor to stop the fight following the second round in the latter two.
‘El Cucuy’ was the true boogeyman of the division.
Nurmagomedov came over at a similar time, in January of 2012. He too was dropping down from 170 lbs, and he too went on an absolute tear once arriving.
This tear included wins over the likes of Kamal Shalorus (rear naked choke), Gleison Tibau (UD), Thiago Tavares (KO), Abel Trujillo (UD), Pat Healy (UD), future UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos (UD), Darrell Horcher (TKO), Michael Johnson (kimura), Edson Barboza (UD), Al Iaquinta (UD) to win the title, former Cage Warriors & UFC champ-champ Conor McGregor (neck crank), who hadn’t lost his belt in a fight, interim UFC lightweight champion Dustin Poirier (rear naked choke), and another interim UFC lightweight champion in Justin Gaethje (triangle choke).
As you see, they both racked up quite a hitlist, and each of them had to face a late replacement as a result of the other pulling out; Ferguson facing Vannata on short notice, and Nurmagomedov facing Horcher on short notice.
Each of them picked up second round finishes in those late replacement fights.
Nurmagomedov also ended up winning the title from no. 11 ranked Iaquinta in a vacant title fight, as Ferguson was forced out of the bout the week of due to a knee injury. This is the most cursed match up the UFC has ever attempted to make, and that’s not at all arguable.
It was inevitable these two would one day meet, no matter how many times the UFC had to rebook the fight.
But, it never did happen.
Ferguson withdrew from the bout twice, and Nurmagomedov three times, the last due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. It is perhaps the most unfortunate turn of events this sport has ever seen.
Both of these men were absolutely running straight through their competition, Nurmagomedov being 12-0 in the UFC, Ferguson being 15-1 in the UFC on a 12-fight win streak.
They had a number of common opponents such as Gleison Tibau, Abel Trujillo, Rafael dos Anjos, Michael Johnson, Edson Barboza, and Justin Gaethje, and they each had one somewhat controversial win in that streak, Nurmagomedov’s over Tibau, and Ferguson’s over Castillo.
There were so many parallels going into this fight, and we just had to see it happen.
Not only did everything about this match up line up perfectly, but Ferguson was an NCWA national champion in college, something that could perhaps compete with Nurmagomedov’s wrestling. And when he did get taken down and end up on his back, his guard was wicked, and his elbows even more so.
Every one of his opponents’ faces were battered at the end of their fights, and Nurmagomedov had never been cut. It would have been incredibly interesting to witness how he would’ve dealt with that.
Kevin Lee gave ‘El Cucuy’ all he could handle while that fight lasted, securing mount a number of times, reigning down some vicious ground and pound, up until Ferguson submitted him in the third round.
If Lee could do that to Ferguson, it’s a sure thing Nurmagomedov could have done the same without being submitted, right?
Well, the same could be said for that guillotine choke Dustin Poirier had locked in on ‘The Eagle’; if Ferguson was the one applying that choke, it’s a real possibility he could’ve finished the fight with it.
At the final time these two were matched up, Ferguson was 25-3 as a professional, and Nurmagomedov was 28-0; both had 28 total fights, just another parallel that made this fight all that more intriguing.
With Nurmagomedov’s elite level wrestling, his Judo black belt, his two world championship gold medals in Combat Sambo, mix that with Ferguson’s wrestling credentials, his striking, and his BJJ black belt under Eddie Bravo, this was the fight.
Man, it really is too bad..
I guess we’ll never know, as ‘The Eagle’ retired following his win over Justin Gaethje, and Ferguson has since lost his last four-straight fights.
Which fight of these five mma fights would you have most wanted to see? Stay tuned for more pieces just like this one.
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I became a fan of combat sports when I was 12 years old. I was scrolling through the channels and landed upon versus, where WEC was televised. Urijah Faber fought Jens Pulver for the second time that night. That’s the first fight I saw, and the fight that got me hooked on the sport. Since then, the sport has grown so rapidly, and my goal is to enlighten everyone on what’s going on in the sport today.