15 MMA Fights That Bleacher Report Would Love to See
Without a doubt, one of the most pleasurable past-times of sports fans is mulling over hypothetical scenarios.
What if this team drafts this player? What if this trade is made? What if this player returns from injury in time for the big game?
When it comes to mixed martial arts the pinnacle of "what if" indulgence takes the form of match-making. Whether it's bridging a gap between weight classes to finally get that super-fight you crave, pondering five more rounds of an epic championship clash or musing about how a battle between a couple of friends sworn never to fight would pan out, it doesn't get much better than putting yourself in Joe Silva's shoes.
We at Bleacher Report are fans first, writers second, and as fans, we love to play match-maker as much as anyone else.
As it happens, about 20 of our staff recently had a discussion regarding what fights we just absolutely have to see. And as you can likely imagine there was a great deal of overlap, a few head-scratchers and the recognition that our internal musings could become something that we could force people to read.
So, after submitting our collective fight fancies we took a vote to see which hypothetical bouts ranked as the most popular among Bleacher Report staff. Each writer voted for the 10 bouts they'd most like to see, and those votes provided the data for the following slideshow.
Our exercise didn't rely on any strict set of criteria. We didn't limit ourselves to fights that are likely to happen, or fights between competitors in any single organization (though the list is extremely UFC-centric). We did, however, keep it to active fighters, so there is no in-his-prime Fedor Emelianenko vs. Cain Velasquez or anything like that.
Without further ado, I give you my personal consent to begin viewing our compiled list (because I know nobody skips intro slides).
Let us know what you think in the comments section. What ones do you agree with? What did we miss? What does your list look like?
T. 14. Lyoto Machida vs. Anderson Silva
We kick off our list with a battle between pals that is far more plausible on paper than in reality. The friendship shared by Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida makes the pairing unlikely, but it's a fun possibility to consider all the same.
As two of the most accurate and quick-striking stand-up fighters in the game today, Silva vs. Machida would undoubtedly make for some serious entertainment. Whether that entertainment came in the form of 15 (or 25) minutes of high-level exchanges or a flash knockout is really the only question.
Bleacher Report's resident fine young man Hunter Homistek explains what makes this one so intriguing:
Silva and Machida star in 'Enter the Matrix: UFC Edition.'
When discussing the greatest strikers in the UFC today, Silva immediately jumps to mind. With a seven-year stretch of near-perfection and mind-bending knockouts, his name is a given on this hypothetical list.
After Silva, who do fans turn to? Is it Jose Aldo? Is it Junior dos Santos? Is it…Lyoto Machida?
Regardless of where exactly Machida falls in one's ranking, it would be ridiculous to deny his excellence as a striker. With seven knockouts in 22 career fights (including a Karate Kid inspired crane kick) coupled by some of the finest defensive striking ever shown by an MMA fighter, Machida's prowess on the feet is undeniable.
Match him with Silva, and fans would be treated to an exhibition of striking mastery at a level never before imagined in professional mixed martial arts action. While the two are good friends, meaning this fight would likely result in a lot of circling and non-commitment, if they came to truly fight, the result would be nothing short of incredible.
Because of their impeccable timing and striking efficiency, Silva vs. Machida marks a matchup where the first guy to mess up loses, and, in case you haven't noticed, neither of these fighters messes up very often.
Render me interested.
T. 14. Daniel Cormier vs. Cain Velasquez
There is a certain allure to a showdown between two of the world's top heavyweights, and it was just too much for us to keep Cain Velasquez vs. Daniel Cormier off the list.
As with Machida vs. Silva, this matchup isn't practical because of the friendship between the proposed combatants.
We can dream though. And that we can dream is a good thing because once Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos III is in the books, we are wearing pretty thin on viable heavyweight title fights (save for possibly Cormier vs. dos Santos).
Our very own simile-master Jordy McElroy sums up Cormier vs. Velasquez in his own poetic way:
Velasquez and Cormier have vowed not to fight one another, a decision that isn’t likely to go over well with MMA fans. Personally, I completely understand not wanting to fight someone you have a close relationship with. Fighting isn’t like other sports.
With that said, a bout between Velasquez and Cormier is like that toy car your mom won’t buy you at a store. Her refusal to get you the car only makes you want it more. Go ahead and laugh at my sad attempt at an analogy, but there is no escaping the truth.
Fans want to see the best fights possible. We don’t care about friendships or brotherhood. Our only concern as fans is being entertained, and few bouts measure up to the excitement of a potential fight between Velasquez and Cormier.
I’d like a toy car with my pay-per-view order please.
T. 12. Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber III
This one is a bit mind-boggling to me since Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber III probably wouldn't rank on my personal top-100 list, but there is a contingent out there that still wants a rubber-match, so here we are.
Faber has lost five straight title fights dating back to his WEC days and his recent defeat to Cruz should probably have been convincing enough for people to accept Cruz as the superior competitor, but popularity is blinding, and Faber is certainly popular.
Still, it could be a solid bout. Both guys like to fight at a fast pace, both are at or near the top of the bantamweight division, and, of course, neither guy likes the other very much.
T. 12. Cristiane Justino (formerly Santos) vs. Ronda Rousey
Since joining the UFC, Ronda Rousey has gone from the face of WMMA to a bonafide MMA superstar. Unfortunately, the rise of status has not been paralleled by a rise in competition, and Rousey is now scheduled to take on Miesha Tate in what is a very redundant rematch (which will end via first-round armbar).
There are a few women waiting in the UFC wings that could make for interesting challenges, but the obvious opponent for Rousey is the knockout artist Cristiane Justino (formerly Santos).
Jordy McElroy explains why Rousey vs. "Cyborg" is the match of all matches to make when it comes to WMMA:
Rousey is currently receiving the Gina Carano treatment. She’s incredibly talented, beautiful and charming when dealing with the media. Fans are infatuated with everything she says and does, and her popularity has nearly quadrupled since joining up with Dana White and the UFC.
Personally, I believe Cyborg is the best fighter in women’s MMA. There is no other woman in the sport that can rival her strength and athleticism. I’m not here to witness a beauty contest. I look at and judge these women as athletes, which is exactly the same way men are judged.
I want to see the best of the best compete. Rousey has been calling out Cyborg for a long time. Unfortunately, Cyborg can’t safely make the cut to 135 pounds to take the fight. She has offered several times to meet Rousey at a catch weight of 140 pounds.
If Rousey truly wants this fight, what’s the problem with tacking on an extra five pounds and meeting Cyborg halfway? She won an Olympic bronze medal in Judo at 154 pounds. A five-pound allowance shouldn’t be this big of a deal. Let’s make this thing happen.
T. 9. Jose Aldo vs. Benson Henderson
An eventual move from featherweight to lightweight for Jose Aldo has been widely speculated for years now, and that speculation only grows with each passing fight.
So long as Aldo keeps winning at 145 it has to be assumed that his eventual lightweight debut will be a title shot. That means if the jump comes sooner than later for Aldo, his entry point at 155 would lead straight to Benson Henderson.
As it happens, that tussle would just make us at Bleacher Report plain giddy.
Jordy McElroy explains:
Aldo may not be listed as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but it would be hard to deny him that title if he moved up and defeated Henderson at lightweight. He would be a reigning UFC champion in two separate weight classes, which is something both Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre have never achieved in their careers.
People love super-fights, and we haven’t seen a champion vs. champion matchup in the UFC since St-Pierre and B.J. Penn. As a fight fan, this is the kind of fight you dream about.
T. 9. Junior Dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem
Junior dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem was supposed to happen back at UFC 146. Despite Overeem's positive PED test and both men suffering losses since that time, this bout remains fairly high on the Bleacher Report wishlist.
The striking prowess and sheer power of each fighter lies at the center of the intrigue, alongside what has to be classed as a promising chance of a crushing knockout.
MMA Featured Columnist Khurram Aziz explains the allure:
Back when dos Santos was still the heavyweight champion and Overeem was still on his 'horse meat' diet, MMA fans were just weeks away from seeing the clash of what would have been the best strikers in the entire heavyweight division.
Overeem the K1 champion against dos Santos, who had a seemingly unstoppable ability to knock out any 265-pounder put in front of him. The two would have met at UFC 146 at the top of a heavyweight-stacked fight card in what could have gone down as the greatest UFC event in the promotion's history.
Alas, "The Reem" failed a surprise drug test in the lead up to the event and the rest, as they say, is history. But that hasn't tempered the intrigue surrounding a potential clash of these titans, especially as the personal animosity between the two has grown more terse.
T. 9. Jiu-Jitsu Wizards: Ronaldo Souza, Demian Maia and Rousimar Palhares
We broke the rules for this one. We did, and I admit it. But just hear me out.
Of the proposed fights that our writers voted for, a handful were a clash of jiu-jitsu masters. We wanted such a bout to be represented on the list and took the measure of amalgamating a few proposals to ensure that the vote would not be split to the point that none of the potential jiu-jitsu-lovers' selections made the cut.
Besides Ronaldo Souza, Demian Maia and Rousimar Palhares being fair representatives of what we were looking to preserve, they are all of a similar fighting weight (within 15 pounds), so it is conceivable that any pairing between them could become reality down the road.
Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Artem Moshkovich explains why a bout beyond jiu-jitsu wizards is always worth watching:
Is there a more tactical facet to MMA than Brazilian jiu-jitsu? Every movement must be calculated at risk of losing a limb—it's practically a game of human chess. The levels of skill reserved for each tier of submission grappling are distinct and varied; white belts are just learning how to control their own bodies whereas experienced black belts garner an appreciation for the minutiae of proper wrist control. The lofty heights of world champion BJJ players are reserved for the elite few that can lock in a submission before their opponents are even aware the attempt is being made.
Souza, Maia, and Palhares are some of the UFC's most pure submission grapplers. Their mutual list of accomplishments and accolades is nothing if not impressive—Souza managed to submit Marcelo Garcia, a man widely regarded as the world's best grappler, Maia took home ADCC Gold in 2007 and Palhares has damaged more knees in the UFC than some had previously thought possible.
Bouts between ground specialists sometimes turn into sloppy striking exchanges, but what if any combination of these three submission extraordinaires resulted in a heated struggle to get the tap? Just imagine Maia trying to pass Souza's guard. Or how about the wizardry it would take for Palhares to try and catch Maia in a kneebar as both men scramble for dominance in the UFC Octagon?
BJJ is an artform defined by subtlety and control—tense struggles for positional dominance are mixed in with frenzied submission attempts. These three veterans have the potential to really bring that artform to life.
T. 7. Benson Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis II
Sometimes 25 minutes of a good thing simply isn't enough. Sometimes, all getting 25 minutes of what you want just leaves you with is the feeling of wanting more.
This is the case of Benson Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis, a match that put an exclamation mark on the WEC's finale.
Jordy McElroy explains why this matchup deserves another 25 minutes of our time:
Henderson doesn’t get enough credit from the MMA community. Perhaps people are turned off by the fact that most of his fights are indecisive and always come down to the wire. Some have even branded him as a fighter who is often gifted decisions.
Personally, I’d rather be lucky than come out with the short end of the stick. Henderson has proven himself to be the top lightweight in the world, and he is only one fight away from breaking the UFC record for most successful lightweight title defenses.
For Henderson to take complete control of the lightweight division, he still needs to avenge his loss to Pettis. A rematch between Henderson and Pettis has been years in the making, but Pettis’ lopsided loss to Clay Guida in June 2011 proved to be a major setback.
Now, there is no excuse for this bout not coming to fruition. If Henderson defeats TJ Grant at UFC 164, Pettis should be the next man in line for a lightweight title shot. Both of these guys have come a long way since their days in the WEC. I’m interested in seeing what adjustments Henderson makes the second time around.
T. 7. Anderson Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre
It may come as something of a surprise that this pairing isn't a bit higher on the list, given all the attention it has received over the years. But perhaps all that attention is why it's only at seventh; perhaps we are a little tired of the speculation at this point.
Still, Georges St-Pierre vs. Anderson Silva is most definitely a match that we at Bleacher Report would love to see. It looks far less likely to happen now than a few years back, but we'll hold out hope a little longer.
Our own Sean Smith explains why this fight is still worth making:
There may be more competitive superfights. There may be superfights that lend themselves to a more exciting competition. But there's no matchup available today that would be of more historical significance than one between Silva and St-Pierre.
While a Silva loss to a certain UFC light heavyweight titleholder would come with an asterisk due to age differential, St-Pierre would benefit in every way from a victory over the middleweight champion. Silva would have plenty to gain in this fight as well. Already considered to be the greatest fighter in MMA history by many, "The Spider" would cement himself as the best ever by beating a future Hall of Fame inductee in St-Pierre.
Sadly, Silva and St-Pierre aren't likely to ever meet in the Octagon, despite what UFC president Dana White might tell you. There have been numerous opportunities for this fight to be booked, yet something always seems to (in)conveniently get in the way.
6. Renan Barao vs. Dominick Cruz
UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz has been on the sidelines for over a year-and-a-half now, and interim titleholder Renan Barao recently joined him there.
Having both those guys on the shelf saps a lot of intrigue from the 135-pound class since both are exciting, legitimately elite caliber mixed martial artists.
The return of either would be big for the division. The return of both would be even better. Not just because both would be there to demonstrate their talents, but because they would be able to establish who the true champion is.
Because of the impact it would have on the UFC landscape and the potential for it to be a thriller, Barao vs. Cruz is a fight we at Bleacher Report want to see.
Hopefully, both Cruz and Barao will get well soon and fulfill our wishes in the not too distant future.
T. 3. Mark Hunt vs. Roy Nelson
Our vote was taken before Stipe Miocic schooled Roy Nelson at UFC 161, which partially explains why this pairing ranks so high.
The other element at play is a collective unabashed intrigue at watching two rolly-polly knockout artists like Nelson and Mark Hunt go at it inside the Octagon.
Hunter Homistek explains the fascination:
The fists. The chins. The bellies.
Nelson vs. Hunt is a matchup that inhabits almost every MMA fan's "dream matchups" list, and why not? As two of the most powerful punchers in the heavyweight division, Nelson vs. Hunt provides a guaranteed rock 'em, sock 'em tilt, and with each man's storied chin, MMA fanatics across the globe would be treated to a slugfest of massive proportions.
Speaking of massive proportions, Nelson vs. Hunt also represents one of few possible UFC matchups where the fans can feel good about their current state of fitness. Nelson and Hunt each lug around massive midsections and can't-be-bothered attitudes, and their combined apathy would lead them to stomach their cautions and throw leather until one man is unconscious or until somebody passes out from exhaustion.
In that sense, Nelson vs. Hunt offers fans a bout sure to be either supremely entertaining or tremendously hilarious—either way, we all win.
T. 3. Jon Jones vs. Cain Velasquez
There is no shortage of reasons one can point to in order to explain why Jon Jones has been so successful. A favorite among his detractors is the champion's unusual size.
While size is as legitimate a tool in mixed martial arts as any other, some believe Jones holds an edge at light heavyweight because of his build and would like to see him step up in class.
Some others want to see him make the jump to heavyweight simply because Jones has been so dominant at 205, that they feel it represents a greater and more interesting challenge for him.
Whatever the reasons people want to see Jones test his mettle a class above, there is consistency in where they want him to start with that challenge, namely at the top.
Right now the top of the heavyweight division is embodied by Cain Velasquez, who has been pretty dominant in his own right.
It would certainly be interesting to see how Jones would fare at heavyweight, especially against the cream of the crop. So interesting, in fact, that there are only two fights that our staff wanted to see more than Jones vs. Velasquez.
T. 3. Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones
Of course, if Jon Jones isn't willing to go to the heavyweight division, the heavyweight division would be welcome to come to him.
Enter Daniel Cormier, who has long speculated and recently declared a forthcoming drop to 205. The former Olympian's road to the heavyweight title is blocked by a friendship with current champ Cain Velasquez, so if he wants to compete for UFC gold he'll have to go to Jones' world. At least for now.
Cormier vs. Jones is a match we at Bleacher Report want to see because Cormier represents the greatest threat to Jones' light heavyweight title. He possess the style, skill set and natural athleticism that make him a threat to anyone, and could very well be the man to take out the seemingly invincible "Bones."
If Cormier is able to drop the weight by the end of the year like he claims he will, a New Year's card headlined by this dream matchup may well be in order.
2. Rory MacDonald vs. Georges St-Pierre
So it turns out that we are a little sadistic here at Bleacher Report. In addition to lusting after friend vs. friend matches Lyoto Machida vs. Anderson Silva and Daniel Cormier vs. Cain Velasquez, we badly want to see pals Georges St-Pierre and Rory MacDonald get violent with one another.
The friend-angle isn't the only thing at play here, however. MacDonald is a rising welterweight star, St-Pierre a legendary champion, so the pairing is one that is very much representative of MMA's old lion vs. the young lion trope.
Hunter Homistek provides his take on why MacDonald vs. St-Pierre would be a fun fight to see:
St-Pierre vs. MacDonald offers intrigue on several levels. Aside from the "friend versus friend" storyline, MacDonald might be the most legitimate threat to GSP's crown at welterweight from a stylistic standpoint.
Challenger after challenger has faltered under the pressure and incredible offensive wrestling GSP brings to the Octagon, but MacDonald's grappling skills have dazzled throughout his young career. From his suplexes against Nate Diaz to his overwhelming ground-and-pound against Che Mills, MacDonald has proven himself to be one of the 170-pound division's most dominating grapplers not named GSP.
Supporting this claim is MacDonald's 89-percent takedown defense rate, an interesting metric to consider. If MacDonald can stifle GSP's takedown attempts, he can work his striking, an area of his game that has exhibited rapid evolution of late, and an area in which GSP is most susceptible to imperfection (see: Serra, Matt and Condit, Carlos).
MacDonald is undoubtedly still getting better, and with his already-impressive skill set, a matchup with GSP could provide the most entertaining Canadian showdown this side of Celine Dion versus Joni Mitchell. Add in the aforementioned "we'll-never-fight" storyline, and we have ourselves a scrap, ladies and gentlemen.
1. Jon Jones vs. Anderson Silva
So, perhaps our top choice is lacking for originality, but come on. Who doesn't want to see this fight?
Jon Jones vs. Anderson Silva has supplanted Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre as MMA's most viable super-fight, and it's beginning to look like the more realistic of the two as well.
Still, there is an above-average chance that this fight never happens. We hope it does though. We really, reeeeaaalllly hope it does.
Jordy McElroy explains why:
I wasn’t even old enough to dress myself, but I can still remember my father and grandfather sitting around and debating whether or not Mike Tyson could defeat Muhammad Ali in his prime. As sports fans, it’s common to make comparisons between present stars and those who have already crossed over into the Hall of Fame.
Silva is the greatest fighter in UFC history, and generally, a talent like his only comes along once in a lifetime. However, another extraordinary talent has risen in Jones, who could possibly even surpass Silva on the all-time list.
At 38 years of age, Silva still looks to be in prime form. This is a rare opportunity in combat sports where two all-time greats can finally meet up. Personally, I don’t want to see Silva challenge a smaller fighter in Georges St-Pierre. I want to see the top pound-for-pound fighter shoot for the moon by moving up in weight and testing his chances against Jones, the UFC’s golden child.
There is always the debate about whether Silva truly is the greatest of all time. Some still believe that title belongs to Fedor Emelianenko or St-Pierre. If Silva managed to defeat Jones, there would no longer be a debate regarding the greatest of all time. Silva would go down as the best combat athlete of any sport.
Just Missed (6 Votes)
Four fights just missed the top-15 cut, but were oh-so-close that they deserve mention. These fights are:
Vitor Belfort vs. Anderson Silva II
Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Khurram Aziz provides his two cents on the match:
It was the kick felt around the world. No, not Anthony Pettis' Matrix-style kick off the cage against Benson Henderson during their WEC lightweight title encounter. It was Silva's front-kick to the face of Belfort moments into their first match.
Since that loss, Belfort has gone on a rampage in the middleweight division, dispensing with title contenders left and right and can once again seriously be considered a possible opponent for Silva. It's a clash the country of Brazil will surely salivate to watch along with the rest of us.
Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson
Jordy McElroy explains:
Henderson is coming off back-to-back controversial split decision losses, but I’d still love to see him get one last crack at a UFC title. There is also a bit of history and bad blood between him and Jones, which would play over well in marketing the fight. Chael Sonnen got a shot at Jones after losing to Anderson Silva. Come on UFC! Hook an old man up.
Jon Jones vs. Glover Teixeira
Outside of Alexander Gustafsson and Lyoto Machida, Teixeira is the most intriguing challenger left for Jon Jones at 205-pounds. John Hackleman and Chuck Liddell are all in on Teixeira, who hasn’t lost a fight since March 2005. At 33-years-old, Teixeira is no longer a prospect. It’s time to see what he can do against Jones.
Jose Aldo vs. Chan Sung Jung
And McElroy brings us home, explaining why we are so looking forward to UFC 163:
When The Cranberries’ hit song “Zombie” played during Jung’s UFC entrance, I can pretty much guarantee you some people pointed at the TV screen and said, 'I like that guy.' 'The Korean Zombie' has become a fan favorite not only for his great taste in music, but because he is also one of the most exciting fighters in the featherweight division.
The UFC has a surefire blockbuster with him taking on Jose Aldo for the featherweight title. Take my money!