The 5 Biggest What If's in Mixed Martial Arts
Everyone has a regret in their lives.
It could be anything from asking that girl out on a date to choosing colleges. There is always an instance where we wish we could turn the clock back and try it again.
The UFC and the world of mixed martial arts is no exception. Fighters, promoters and fans alike all wish fights took place or fighters lived up to their true potential.
If some things had happened differently, maybe MMA would be the biggest sport in the world.
Or maybe it would have ended up as popular as roller derby.
These are, in no particular order, 5 of the biggest “what if's” in the UFC.
What If: Royce Gracie Went 0-1?
Everyone knows it was Royce and the Gracie family that put Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and the UFC concept on the map.
Before the Gracies decided to show everyone the wild world of submission grappling, the UFC was considered more of a circus than a sport. You would see fighters with one boxing glove stepping into the cage. There were massive Sumo wrestlers and skinny kickboxers. Even looking at Royce, you saw this man in pajamas who looked to weigh about 160 pounds soaking wet walking out to the Octagon, going to fight these men mentioned before.
But despite appearances, Royce's run while in the UFC tournaments was nothing short of spectacular. He would pull off submissions against anyone and everyone and make it look easy.
However, what if he had walked into the Octagon for the first fight of his career and it all ended with one shot? What if Royce tried to shoot in for a takedown, ate a knee, and that was that?
What would the MMA scene look like? Would there even be a scene to be talking about?
The BJJ schools around the country that opened as a result of Royce and UFC's expansion wouldn't exist, the mixed martial arts competition would not have evolved from a bunch of men each with one good skill, and no effort would have been made to regulate the sport.
What If: Griffin vs. Bonnar Had Disappointed?
I remember watching The Ultimate Fighter when it first aired. I remember not knowing much about the sport, but the guy with the tattoo on the side of his head looked cool and he was teaching these young guys how to fight. Through watching the show up until the finale, I was excited to see what the ending would be. So I turned on Spike TV and watched the Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar fight.
What happened in the next 15 minutes changed the scope of mixed martial arts forever.
It was not that they were swinging for the fences, but it was what you could feel during the fight. It's tough to explain if you have never seen the fight, but you could feel the desire in both men. Neither man wanted to lose, and they both left it in the cage that night.
After that epic fight, UFC signed a long term deal with Spike TV, The Ultimate Fighter kept airing, and the rest is history.
However, what if the fight had been awful?
What if Forrest had tried to work a ground game and spent 15 minutes pushing Stephan against the fence? What if we saw a carbon copy of the Nate Quarry vs. Kalib Starnes fight? If you haven't seen that particular fight, trust me when I say you missed nothing. But, had that been the case for the first TUF finale, the UFC would be struggling to find a company to support them to air their fights and events.
What If: BJ Penn Had Had Cardio?
Ahhh BJ Penn. BJ Penn might be one of my favorite fighters of all time.
He is the former lightweight and welterweight champion. His skill set is second to none. In his prime, he had the best boxing in MMA. His takedown defense still might be the best to date, and his Jiu Jitsu was world class.
However, BJ believed that these talents were all he needed.
He felt that he didn't have to be in good shape or train himself like an athlete to win fights, and early on he was right. Unfortunately, that was his downfall in the long run. He tried to amp up his cardio and overall training a few years ago, but it was too late.
So the question is, if BJ Penn had trained like a professional, how high would his ceiling have been?
He's already known as one of the best fighters of all time, skill-wise (at least in my opinion). What could he have done if he had hit the treadmill? What if he hadn't fought at different weight classes all over the world to prove he didn't need to be in great shape to win?
Could he have been the best?
Would we be talking about superfights with his name on the card? Could you imagine if he had the gas tank of a GSP and he was going to fight Jose Aldo?
What If: UFC Had Merged with Pride at Right Time?
There was a time when fighting in Japan was much more financially lucrative than fighting in the United States. That meant that the best competition was also in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Pride had fighters in their prime like Dan Henderson, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Mirko Cro Cop and of course Fedor Emelianenko, to name a few. There was a time when Chuck Liddell went over to Japan to fight Rampage, resulting in a loss.
However, should it have ended there?
What if Dana had kept sending the UFC's best fighters over to Japan, or had the Pride fighters come here? What if we got to see fights like Tito Ortiz and Wanderlei Silva in the prime of their careers?
The matchups possible from both organizations would be limitless, and most of them would include Cro Cop and Fedor.
Even though Dana eventually bought out Pride and the fighters came here to fight their UFC counterparts, the fights did not live up to the hype: the Pride fighters were past their prime.
We got a hint of what could have been with Chuck and Wanderlei squaring off, but imagine if that fight had been when both of them were at the top.
The superfights we speak of now with GSP, Jon Jones and Anderson Silva would not hold a candle to seeing Fedor in his prime, fighting in the cage against the best in the world.
What If: New York Never Regulates?
This topic seems to have been put on the back burner.
Even though the UFC has Las Vegas, Canada, Brazil and Boston, it doesn't have the crown jewel: New York. It doesn't have Madison Square Garden (even though it includes the arena in the video game).
If New York finally comes to its senses and regulates MMA, there would be a fight card set for the Garden within the hour. Tickets would sell out at record pace and it would be an event for the ages.
However, what if it doesn't happen? What if the UFC never graces the legendary venue?
Will the UFC still be fine financially? Yes. I don't see Dana White begging on the corner for spare change anytime soon.
But think of the money that could be made by having fight cards there. Think of all the new avenues MMA could open in the Mecca that is the Big Apple.
Hopefully, we won't have to wonder about this one for much longer.