Throughout the history of MMA, there have been many great fights that fell through. While I have not been following the sport long enough to have seen most of these fall through personally, I do follow the past of the sport enough to wish they had. There are a few recurring names here, what could have been career defining fights for now relatively unknown among mainstream fans.
"Ice Cold" Igor Vovchanchyn vs Ken "The Worlds Most Dangerous Man" Shamrock
This fight was supposed to happen on PRIDE 13, which lost another great matchup I will discuss later. Ken was very well known at the time, Igor was not. It was a classic striker vs grappler matchup, pitting the best puncher to that point (and still in my opinion) and the best leg-lock specialist. Igor was hovering in the top five, having just avenged his no contest to Mark Kerr. Unfortunatly, Ken got hurt in training and was replaced by his student Tre Telligman who pulled what Bas and Quadros called a "Rocky". I don't think that is a good description, maybe in terms of upset but certainly not excitement, which we probably couldn't say about Igor vs Ken, but we will never know.
Fedor Emelianenko vs Josh "The Babyfaced Assassin" Barnett
These two were slated to meet at Affliction Trilogy. And what a fight it could have been. The best all around MMA fighter versus the best catch wrestler since Farmer Burns and Frank and Carl Gotch. On the ground this had potential to be great. Fedor is great on the ground, but Josh is, on paper at least, better. Fedor would kill him standing, but in the ground the advantage goes to Barnett, especially if he's on top. Josh has the submission skills and ground striking to beat the best from the mount and side mount, and Fedor is, well, Fedor. Unfortunatly Josh tested positive for steroids, and the entire event was cancelled, so we'll never know.
Randy "The Natural" Couture vs Bas "El Guapo" Rutten
Bas Rutten was the best striker in MMA, yet had more submissions than KO's on his record. Randy Couture was the UFC Champion and the best wrestler in the UFC at the time, outside of his replacement Kevin Randelman. Randy pulled out of the first match, and Bas beat the afformentioned "Monster". Then when it looked like it would happen, Bas had repeated injuries in his knee as well as tearing his bicep twice. This could have been great, and in my opinion we would be talking about Bas the way people talk about Randy as a great UFC Champion. These next two had the potential to be the best striking matches, and again we will never know what could have been.
"Ice Cold" Igor Vovchanchyn vs Wanderlei "The Ax Murderer" Silva
This was supposed to happen at in the USA at PRIDE 34, as the main event. Igor was experiencing a career resurgence at 205 after for once being on the recieving end of a highlight reel KO by a Cro Cop roundhouse. He had torn through a few decent Japanese 205'ers, with his only recent loss to Alistair Overeem and was ready to again test himself against the best in the world. Unfortunatly, that dam Cro Cop roundhouse showed up again. Wanderlei couldn't get licesened in California because he had also been put out cold by a Cro Cop kick. Boy, Cro Cop really screwed Igor a few times, from keeping him from a fight with Nog for the interim belt and keeping fro #1 contendership at 205 in PRIDE and immediatly after as a UFC fighter, as this was PRIDE's last show. We never saw this, and Igor never di fight again. He is relatively unknown among today's fans, and that is a crying shame. The two biggest fights of Igors career never happened. As for Wand, he instead got extremely gassed and looked like a madman against Chuck Liddell.
Wanderlei "The Ax Murderer" Silva vs Bas "El Guapo" Rutten
This fight was uspposed to happen in PRIDE, but fate had other plans. It was to be Bas' first fight in PRIDE, probably the first of many. Around PRIDE 19 Bas started hinting that he would come back to fighting, this time in PRIDE FC. The middleweight cham of the time was Wanderlei Silva, and Bas had never lost his UFC and Pancrase titles. He was in line to Wanderlei, but Bas just couldn't keep away from injury. His knee and bicep again kept him out of the ring, and out of modern mainstream MMA, at least as a fighter. Wanderlei would go on to hold the belt for six more years, crushing all who opposed him until finally serrendering the belt to a "Dangerous" Dan Henderson at PRIDE 32. It is noteworthy that Wand never lost a match under PRIDE rules, as the figth with Dan was under the unified MMA rules of the US. I find it fitting that the top three on my list feature probably the three best MW in MMA history. These fights are the kinds that legends are made of, but t'was not meant to be.
Bas "El Guapo" Rutten vs Kazushi "The Gracie Hunter" Sakuraba
Bas was riding an unbeleivable 17 fight winning streak, had never lost the UFC HW belt or the title of King of Pancrase and was the best technical striker in MMA. Sakuraba was the top fighter in the world, and had just recently finished his quest to derail the Gracie myth of BJJ being unstoppable on the ground by beating the best BJJ fighters on the ground. The two were an ovbious choice to fight each other. It was supposed to happen at PRIDE 13, but Bas Rutten's wife was ill. She had pregnancy poisening, and he couldn't come to an agreement with PRIDE executives. It was thought that the match was only delayed, but again Bas was hurt, plus it didn't help that Sak was "Ax Murdered" that night by Bas' replacement, Wanderlei Silva. Truly sad that this never happened.
Rickson Gracie vs Bas "El Guapo" Rutten We actually missed out on this one several times. Bas called Rickson out in Pancrase after a win, and again in PRIDE while doing the ceremonial flower presentation to Carlos Newton and Sakuraba before the best grappling-oriented match in MMA history. But somehow, it just didn't happen. It is speculated that the best BJJ practitioner of all time wanted too high a price to fight the best striker in MMA at the time. Some say he was afraid, but regardless, it never happened.
Rickson Gracie vs Kazushi "The Gracie Hunter" Sakuraba
This is it, the greatest MMA match that never was. It could have once and for all proven that BJJ was the greatest of the grappling arts. It could have proven that the Gracies were not much more than a name with good ground skill. It could have proven that Rickson was the greatest to ever don gloves or a gi. But alas, it didn't happen. Again, as with Bas and Rickson, no one really knows why. Neither side really offers a concrete reason, it just didn't happen. And so the only losers were the fans, and in this case Rickson. He rubbed many fans as a coward hiding behind a disproven record. This was his chance to prove them wrong, but he didn't. To many this is an admission of guilt, but to me it only proves that somewhere in the negotiations there was a hitch, regardless we never saw it, and Rickson's legacy remains in question while Sakuraba is praised as a living legend.