Previewing and Predicting Every Potential MMA Superfight
The superfight: It’s a term used so often these days that it’s become a novelty.
In theory, it identifies a bout that is designed to bring two fantastic fighters together in a clash that speaks to the best aspects of their relative skills and styles.
In boxing, it has often been used to identify bouts that could never happen: Muhammad Ali vs. Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr., Roberto Duran vs. Manny Pacquiao.
But in the sport of MMA, it is used to describe the dreamlike quality of fights that, while perhaps improbable, are not impossible: Jose Aldo vs. Anthony Pettis, for instance.
Or the previously ballyhooed Georges St-Pierre vs. Anderson Silva.
It’s the proverbial “white whale” of the sport. No matter how many times such bouts are rumored, only to fail to be actualized, the term endures because new fighters are always rising to the top. Thus, new fights could answer the question: Who would win if...?
As fighters fight to answer that question, fans and pundits ponder and posit in the absence of these rarest of occurrences. We question and debate who would win in a bout between two fighters that are so good that they remain nearly untouchable by anyone save perhaps another of their untouchable ilk.
No matter what criteria you favor, you know the fights in question, as we all do. While Anderson Silva may no longer have the title, much of the superfight debate has been built upon his name, and that honestly has not changed.
Even though he lost two in a row to Chris Weidman, he is still thought to be the best because great fighters are not the sum total of their defeats. Muhammad Ali lost to Leon Spinks when the latter had just eight professional fights, yet even after their bout, no one doubted Ali would be remembered as the greater fighter.
So, we ponder the obvious inclusions, as we always have; this time, we include them all, in one place and at one time. In fact, we will also include one boxing bout—Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao—simply because it has been debated at length in many MMA discussions, which is no surprise; it is the gold standard for incredible fights that should have been made yet never were.
Proof of this bleeding of boxing into MMA can be found when Lorenzo Fertitta tweeted about the topic of superfights after Pacquiao was put to sleep by Juan Manuel Marquez in their epic fourth bout in 2012.
Oh, the irony that not a single superfight has been made since that fateful night.
Of course, you will notice the absence of one fight on the list—a bout between Ronda Rousey and Mayweather Jr., simply because it will never happen and in truth has never really been addressed with any realism. There seems little merit in talking about it again; there are far too many variables involved to debate the outcome in anything that resembles a concise manner.
And anyone who has read my work before knows just how long-winded I can be without due cause.
Thus, I present to you a list of superfights and predictions of victory, as honestly as I know how. I have no doubt this will not end any debates, nor is it meant to. After all, no one has the last word in the hypothetical.
Chris Weidman vs. Jon Jones
Probability of Realization: 25 percent
Weight Class: Light heavyweight
Pay-Per-View Projection: 1.1 million buys as card headliner (on a very stacked card)
Why It Hasn't Been Made Yet: No one has really been thinking about it.
Of all the superfights possible, this is perhaps the one that is discussed the least for obvious reasons. Chris Weidman just hasn’t been around long enough to establish himself as a fighter who—like his predecessor Anderson Silva—is so damn good that he can face just about anyone and any style and trump them all with ease.
Thus far, we know Weidman is a near-perfect foil for Silva, but being the exception to the rule does not make one a ruler—not like Silva was.
Should Weidman run amok over fighters like Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort, dispatching them with ease, then suddenly this fight would become much more compelling or at least marketable.
He is a very likable young man who does not shrink when the rubber meets the road. His personable demeanor could be the perfect starting point to build up hype behind such a bout: the workman (the everyman) in Weidman versus the diva in Jon Jones.
By the time Weidman has a few more title defenses under his belt, Jones could be poised to break Anderson Silva’s title defense record; pitting him against Weidman in a champion vs. champion bout could find a lot of momentum due to the historical aspects to be had.
However, unless Jones suffers a sudden diminishing in talent, training and dedication, Weidman is honestly just a very hardworking middleweight against the greatest light heavyweight in history.
No matter what fans think of Jones, he is an incredible talent who is in his prime, has a youth advantage and is the much bigger man who is better than Weidman in all the places Weidman is great.
Weidman would be forced into going for takedowns, given that he doesn’t have the reach needed (like so many past opponents of Jones) to contend with the light heavyweight champion on the feet.
Unlike his fight with Alexander Gustafsson, Jones wouldn’t be taken down so easily because he wouldn’t be giving up his limbs for an easy grab. Jones knows how to prepare for an opponent and would be ready for the classic wrestler in Weidman—a style that Jones has annihilated many times in the past.
Weidman would probably see his takedown attempts stuffed. Jones would control the action in the clinch and use his incredible leverage to toss Weidman around as he has so many others.
After that, it becomes academic.
Prediction: Jones via submission in Round 2
Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz
Probability of Realization: 15 percent
Weight Class: Middleweight
PPV Projection: 1 million buys as card headliner (on a strong card)
Why It Hasn't Been Made Yet: Never seemed viable while Silva was champion.
I’m a big fan of Nick Diaz the fighter, and no one is probably surprised by this admittance. He comes to fight, is always equal to fighting with the full measure of his pre-fight angst and is honestly thrilling to watch because he’s so aggressive that he’s open to being countered to death by the right guy.
I’m also a big fan of Anderson Silva, simply because he’s a quiet killer; he knows the significance of his place in history, and since it is honestly breathtaking, he takes a deep breath before saying anything negative about his opponents. That is the kind of restraint you want from your legends.
If one goes by accepted wisdom, this really isn’t a superfight since Silva is no longer champion and Diaz's run as a Strikeforce champ ended long ago. But titles alone do not legends (or superfights) make. Like BJ Penn has said: “The belt is just an accessory,” and he is exactly right. The belt is for the fighters, but the fight is for the fighters and the fans—the fight is legend.
A bout between Silva and Diaz is, for now, as close as MMA will get to Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Jake LaMotta, and that makes it super in every way the word is used for the sport.
Sadly for Diaz, he doesn’t possess the kind of mettle that LaMotta oozed from his pores, but that is not a knock against Diaz. LaMotta was a superfreak in so many ways, especially in his ability to take unending punishment with a smile.
This would be a great fight for as long as Silva could endure the taunts of “Stockton, motherf--ker” or “Come on, b--tch!” that flow so freely from Diaz.
Once Silva tired of this, Diaz would go down and go down hard.
But when you consider that Diaz doesn’t lie down for anyone, you can see just how honest and glorious his fall would be—defiant all the way.
Prediction: Silva via KO in Round 3
Ronda Rousey vs. Cyborg
Probability of Realization: 10 percent
Weight Class: Bantamweight or catchweight at 140 pounds
PPV Projection: 1 million buys or more as a card headliner
Why It Hasn't Been Made Yet: There is not a single good reason.
At a certain point, fights are either made because they serve the sport, or they don’t; as always, it is the question that drives us as fans, and the sport does indeed serve us. We pay for it, time and again, and we pay for the answering of said questions.
That has always been the case and is especially so in the case of Ronda Rousey vs. Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.
Why this fight has not been made is utter foolishness. It should and could have been made by now, many times over.
After all, the willingness has been there on the part of both fighters. During the UFC 151 fiasco, Rousey addressed the point, albeit via proxy (h/t MMAWeekly.com) due to Jon Jones' unwillingness to fight Chael Sonnen on short notice.
If Dana called me right now and said, ‘We need you to go in the back and fight Cris Cyborg with a 40-pound weight deficit and all you guys get is duct tape on your hands.’ I’d be like, ‘Can I be there in 10 minutes to stretch first?’
Cyborg, for her part, has jumped over one potential hurdle to the fight by severing her relationship with former manager Tito Ortiz. Furthermore, she said she would fight Rousey, anytime, any place, for free, as per her statement to AXS TV (h/t Jesse Holland of MMAMania.com).
This is a fight that women's MMA needs for the simple fact that it proves the sport is about answering the question. Now, all that is left is for Dana White to prove he is about the same thing.
It’s not about what he should or should not do; it is all about what he has proved that he can and will do if he wants a fight badly enough. If he is honestly serious about WMMA and believes in the ladies, it is high time he create a 145-pound weight class, and Cyborg would be a natural for the champion.
If he’s unwilling to do that, she is willing to attempt to make either 140 for a catchweight bout or 135 for the Invicta title. If she is successful in the latter, the UFC could stage a champion vs. champion bout at 135.
This is really a low-hanging fruit that is ready to be plucked, and White needs to grab it.
So, who wins?
This prediction to this question was easier a year ago than it is today. Back then, it was “Rousey by armbar” in Round 1. Now, after Miesha Tate made it all the way to Round 3, things have changed.
Cyborg is a terribly strong woman who is equally violent and better than anyone Rousey has ever faced in the cage. The Brazilian's power and ferocity are shocking.
Rousey still has a decided advantage on the ground; that is one aspect of this fight that is never going away. But her manner of closing the distance is far from a fluid mechanism; she will be trying to force herself into a terrain that she is ill-suited for when considering that Cyborg is so strong and capable of imposing punishing strikes in a manner well-suited for the distance.
If Rousey can survive those situations and get the fight to the ground, she has a good chance, for as long as Cyborg proves clueless at avoiding submissions. Sadly, given the recent successes of past Rousey opponents, Cyborg has a lot to build upon in training.
And my god is she powerful.
We’ve seen lesser fighters survive on the ground against better grapplers in the past (and even defeat them), based upon pure power and savvy before, especially when strikes are allowed; one example is Fedor Emelianenko besting Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, but there are others as well.
Georges St-Pierre bested BJ Penn, Randy Couture survived on the ground against Big Nog, and Dan Hardy survived against St-Pierre. The list goes on and on.
MMA is still a game of many levels; as simple as Rousey has made it look in the past, against Cyborg it figures to be a much more involved affair.
Given that each round begins standing and that Cyborg has proved she has the power to turn a fight in her favor with a single strike, the odds are shockingly even. That's proof positive that this fight is needed more than ever.
Prediction: Take your pick: Rousey via submission late in Round 4 or Cyborg via TKO in Round 4. My pick is the latter after an incredible fight that is a clear nominee for Fight of the Year.
Rematch Prediction: Rousey via submission in Round 3.
Georges St-Pierre vs. Anderson Silva
Probability of Realization: 10 percent
Weight Class: Middleweight or catchweight
PPV Projection: 2.3 million buys as card headliner (on a very stacked card)
Why It Hasn't Been Made Yet: St-Pierre didn’t want to surrender such a size advantage sooner than he was ready to, and Dana White couldn’t force the fight.
For a very long time, since 2010, fans of the sport and of both Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva have long wanted to see the two best (and back then, they were the best) pound-for-pound fighters in the sport meet in glorious combat.
Fans of Silva predicted an utter destruction of St-Pierre. They said he was just too skilled in all the important ways and had so many ways to win that the Canadian wouldn’t know what hit him until he saw it on the overhead monitors after the bout.
Fans of St-Pierre said he would be able to do what Sonnen did but with greater success. They pointed out that his submission skills were far beyond those of Sonnen and that Silva was still basically susceptible to the same elite-level takedown game that he always had been. Thus, St-Pierre, with his athleticism, youth, strength, timing and takedown ability, would put Silva on his back and keep him there until the judges were left to render a decision that left no doubt as to who was the best.
Now that Silva has lost his title and St-Pierre has taken some time away from the sport, we are left to ponder this bout with odd detachment. This fight could be made if St-Pierre returns; a victory over Silva would let him walk away from the sport with the rarest kind of win—that which grants total authenticity of his legacy thanks to beating a larger man.
However, the odds are that St-Pierre will not return. He left the sport on top, and as an avid student of the game, he knows every day he spends on the sidelines is a day he loses advantage.
So, if they did meet in the cage, who would win?
First of all, like a Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight, a St-Pierre vs. Silva bout today or in the future is really far too late for any serious validation of either man over the other. Their best days are behind them, and that is not what these kinds of fights are about.
That being said, when looking at the strengths and weaknesses of both men, Silva eventually wins this fight. It’s not just that he’s the bigger fighter with the longer frame; he’s also the more unpredictable fighter, which goes a long way in this sport.
As often as Silva has been taken down by strong wrestlers, he’s also shown improvement in stopping takedowns. He knows how to adjust, and against St-Pierre, he wouldn’t be faced with an opponent who is willing to take the necessary risks in order to go for the stoppage.
This allows a fighter like Silva a great deal of leeway in a five-round fight—far too much for a fighter like St-Pierre to contend with for so long. Silva wouldn’t stop all the takedowns, but he wouldn’t have to; he’d just have to stop enough of them in order to keep St-Pierre standing in front of him for a little while.
Prediction: Silva via TKO in Round 3
Jose Aldo vs. Anthony Pettis
Probability of Realization: 70 percent
Weight Class: Lightweight
PPV Projection: 1.3 million buys as card headliner
Why It Hasn't Been Made Yet: Bad luck and circumstance.
Of any superfight to be had, a bout between Jose Aldo and Anthony Pettis is clearly the most realistic and probable. In addition to that, it is also the best due to the natural way it could come about.
Aldo has ruled his division for some time and is looking to move up and conquer new lands. That puts him in direct striking distance of Pettis and the lightweight crown.
It’s simple and easy and speaks to the great tradition in combative sports of champions moving up in weight in order to test themselves.
Then, there is the fight, which is fantastic. This is the Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales of MMA: a fight between two daring, young, explosive and hungry fighters who really are so much better than everyone else in their weight classes.
A great deal was made of Renan Barao prior to his lopsided defeat at the hands of TJ Dillashaw—so much so in fact that it seemed like everyone had forgotten just how incredible Aldo is.
To be honest, Aldo is a nightmare matchup for anyone he faces. He’s perhaps the fastest fighter in MMA today, bar none; he’s also incredibly skilled, has true KO power, is well-conditioned and has the poise and timing usually reserved for veterans.
If anyone could prove to be a true foil for such a formidable opponent, it is the equally dangerous Pettis, who executes high-risk, unorthodox maneuvers with a fluid ease that is nearly ridiculous.
Like Aldo, Pettis is highly skilled, has true KO power, is well-conditioned and utilizes great poise and timing. The difference between them seems to be that Aldo is faster and Pettis is more creative, adapting to the unknown with a greater unknown.
This is a fight that fans dream about: the methodical and irresistible attacks of Aldo versus the improvised wrecking machine that is Pettis.
Both men would get hit, and both men would likely be hurt; with so many weapons on the table, it’s almost impossible that either man would walk away unscathed.
The difference is found in the speed of Aldo, which allows him to land chopping leg kicks and two-punch combinations while darting out of harm's way from the counters of Pettis.
Of course, Pettis would have no small amount of success by landing strikes as he works Aldo against the cage with his unappreciated cage generalship. In the end, once the leg kicks begin to add up, the movement of Pettis would lessen, and he would become a more stationary fighter.
Prediction: Aldo via unanimous decision
Anderson Silva vs. Jon Jones
Probability of Realization: 0 percent
Weight Class: Light heavyweight
PPV Projection: 1.5 million buys
Why It Hasn't Been Made Yet: Silva didn’t want to lose, and Dana White couldn’t force the fight.
It’s the superfight that many fans thought was just around the corner: Anderson Silva vs. Jon Jones.
When he was middleweight champion, Silva had fought at light heavyweight on three different occasions, each time looking like every bit the monster at 205 as he did at 185.
So, pitting him against the young Jon Jones seemed quite viable, but it never happened for a few key reasons.
Silva knew the style matchup was an utter nightmare due to Jones' size and natural talents; in many ways, what Silva was to striking, Jones was to explosive takedowns and dominant wrestling.
Then, there was the matter of Jones not being the kind of man to pick a fight with a smaller opponent—especially when said opponent had proved to be so dangerous over the years. It was a matter of the great reward not being worth considerable risk on both sides.
So, naturally, both men became friends early on in the reign of Jones, and who could blame them? There is enough hostility in the world of professional MMA without looking into other weight classes for more danger.
Over time, both men began to warm to the potential clash but not so much that they pushed to make it happen. Then, of course, there was Silva’s admittance that he would lose a fight with Jones (h/t Dave Doyle of MMAfighting.com) at 205.
“Jon Jones, in his class, is the best,” Silva said. “If I fight Jon Jones, I don’t think I’m going to win.”
If there is any way to throw water on a fire before it starts, that’s the way to do it.
So, we are left with the question, even now.
Silva was right in his assessment of the fight; his only advantage over Jones in a bout at light heavyweight (the only place where the fight would have occurred) is experience, and that experience has taught him that certain matchups are just bad.
Jones would have the advantages of size, youth and incredible grappling at his disposal—tools he has used to clean house at 205 in a way not really seen since Silva did the same at 185.
What Sonnen was able to do to Silva in their first fight would seem like heaven compared to what a motivated Jones could do to him. Obviously, Silva would have a chance to catch Jones coming in for the clinch, but it’s a slim chance at best.
Once they locked up, Silva would be going down, and from there, Jones has all the advantages in spades.
Prediction: Jones via TKO in Round 3 (ground-and-pound)
Jon Jones vs. Cain Velasquez
Probability of Realization: 20 percent
Weight Class: Heavyweight
PPV Projection: 1.25-1.5 million buys as card headliner
Why It Hasn't Been Made Yet: Jones wants to break Silva’s 10-defense record first.
If there has ever been a fight that puts Jon Jones in the position of putting his money where his reputation is, it would be a bout with heavyweight machine Cain Velasquez.
Against the heavyweight champion, Jones would be facing a tireless wrestler who is seemingly limited in his tools but only so much as he has never needed to use anything but the basics to beat the hell out of damn near everyone he has faced.
Yet, when you take away the limitless cardio and the way his wrestling chops have enabled him to use his strikes like a heavyweight version of Julio Cesar Chavez, all that remains is a style that Jones has defeated (many times with shocking ease) several times.
But Jones (and his fans) doesn’t get to nullify any of those things because Velasquez brings them into the cage to augment his style of classic wrestling every time he fights.
But would it be enough?
To be fair, while Jones has never faced a fighter like Velasquez, the same can be said of the heavyweight champ. This fight could be made or scrapped depending on how Jones does in his fight with Velasquez stablemate Daniel Cormier.
Both Velasquez and Cormier represent the best wrestling in the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions, save for Jones. If Jones dominates—or at least neutralizes—the takedown game of Cormier, suddenly a fight with Velasquez is a lot closer to being made than ever before.
In addition, one should also look at the size difference between Jones and Velasquez. Even though the fight would be at heavyweight (and that is where it must be, with the crown on the line), Jones would enjoy a height, reach and length advantage. The latter is terribly important due to how freakishly easy Jones can manipulate leverage to his advantage—no matter who he faces—when he is the longer lever of the two.
Jones has a lot of detractors (perhaps more than any other prominent fighter in the sport), but no matter what they say, the facts are that a fighter with even a meager length advantage has the upper hand in grappling if he knows how to use it well. Jones has more than a meager length advantage and knows how to apply it on an expert level.
There is perhaps no one in MMA who knows his own body as well as Jones—no one so attuned to what he can do with his form.
If Jones were to fight Velasquez and came into the bout as confident as he has in so many other fights, fans of Velasquez should prepare themselves for the sight of the heavyweight champion having his legs swept out from under him and flying through the air before landing hard on the mat. This is not praise for Jones so much as it is an observance to the constants of leverage and timing, to which all fighters are subject.
Of course, fans of Jones should also ready themselves to the sight of Velasquez shaking all that off, forcing himself back up and attacking again as if nothing ever happened.
Velasquez is a constant storm; it’s really scary just how dedicated to the fight he is. There is no weakening of his spirit or diminishing of his confidence; he simply comes forward and keeps coming forward, no matter what adversity comes his way in reprisal.
I wonder how Jones would deal with that at heavyweight.
To be honest, I think Jones would adapt shockingly well. The truth of the matter is that he would be a huge underdog in such a bout, and thus all the pressure would be off his shoulders. The burden of proof, so to speak, would fall to Velasquez.
In a situation like that, Jones would be in the position of spoiler. That role has empowered many fighters in the past to compete at their best, because the expectations of them were so shockingly disproportionate to their skills.
We saw this proved true recently when Marcos Maidana fought Floyd Mayweather. Maidana flurried much yet landed little of consequence, but since Mayweather is rarely hit at all, everything Maidana landed seemed bigger than life.
I think both men would look great in this bout, with each enjoying moments of dominance that spoke to the best aspects of their game.
But after five hard-fought rounds, I think the judges award Jones with a split-decision victory, perhaps (just perhaps) giving too much benefit to the ways in which Jones defied conventional wisdom against the heavier man—perhaps giving too much value to his blows landed and takedowns achieved.
Prediction: Jones via split decision
Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao
Probability of Realization: 20-30 percent
Weight Class: Up for grabs
PPV Projection: Mind-blowing; 3 millions buys or more (biggest PPV ever)
Why It Hasn't Been Made Yet: Neither fighter wants the bragging rights bad enough to meet in the middle, which is the true shame and the one point that the world of MMA needs to learn from.
When Juan Manuel Marquez landed that counter right hand that sent Manny Pacquiao crashing face-first to the canvas, it instantly went down as one of the best one-punch rallies the sport of boxing had ever seen.
It also sent shock waves through the MMA community, as evidenced by the tweet from Lorenzo Fertitta—the boss of the big boss of MMA, Dana White.
Like it or not, boxing and MMA will always be linked; they are the only two true combative sports out there that are clearly established as legitimate and potentially lucrative professions for such athletes.
And in terms of superfights, none would be bigger than Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. You could put any two MMA superfights on the same card, and they would still not generate the pay-per-view buys that a boxing card with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao would generate.
It’s the current gold standard for the term, and everyone in the world of MMA would be watching, which is why we are talking about it now.
Mayweather vs. Pacquiao would be the ultimate clash of styles if it happened today or tomorrow; the rub is that it would not answer the question of which fighter was truly the best since it is happening four years past the prime of both fighters.
If Mayweather and Pacquiao had been born in the early 1930s and became professionals in a natural progression, they would have been fighting in the late '50s and would have already battled three or four times by now.
Back then, the sport of boxing demanded more of its fighters. The only real bragging rights worth a damn were found in the ring—a lesson the sport of MMA, which is still young and in its '50s era could learn from.
Sadly, if both met today, it would be a degradation of the pure signal—a hollow semblance of the great fight we could have seen in 2009 or 2010, had they been willing to make a fight for the sake of boxing instead of themselves.
As usual, styles make fights.
As hated as Mayweather is, he is the purest personification of an incredibly talented fighter focusing his skills and talents via technique, which is why he wins this fight time and again.
Pacquiao is a very fast, aggressive and technical fighter who has true power in his punches; he would land more blows than anyone else ever has, and he would do damage.
But for his fans, the sad fact is that Mayweather, a devout student of the game (and a lover of the game, to be sure) would be expecting this. He is the personification of skill, talent, poise and dedication all used as fuel for a near-perfect technique.
And as a counterpuncher, he has no peer in the sport today.
Like Marcos Maidana, Pacquiao would win some rounds by crowding Floyd against the ropes and throwing punches in bunches, outworking his opponent. Also like Maidana, Pacquiao would be missing far more punches than he landed, and in transition Mayweather would be landing his blows with shocking speed and accuracy.
That last point is one to remember; as fast as Pacquiao is, Mayweather is faster and honestly far more accurate.
One judge would favor the aggression of Pacquiao, giving him credit for blows he did not honestly land, but the other two would get it right.
Sadly, it still wouldn’t answer the question of who is best, because it is just too damn late.
But sometimes it really is a case of “better late than never.” This fight is suddenly back in consideration given that Oscar De La Hoya, a true boxing fan, seems committed to working with former promoter Bob Arum to make the bout happen for the good of boxing. This is terribly rare considering all parties involved, but the “Golden Boy” has the clout and checkbook to make things happen.
Hopefully, the world of MMA does better than waiting on promissory notes and instead banks on the authority the tweet of Fertitta seemed to imply.
Prediction: Mayweather by split decision.