I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - fans both casual and committed often don’t appreciate the problems a guy like UFC matchmaker Joe Silva has to deal with on a daily basis. Managing fast changing schedules, dealing with fighter egos, all while trying to put on several shows a month with compelling, interesting contests. It would be a constant headache to make fan expectation meet up somehow with the reality of the fighters, their personalities, and their situations, and to do it for upwards of 14 cards a year.
I think I’ll pass, thanks.
But what if you took out all that stressful “reality” crap? What if instead of managing schedules, dealing with injuries, and catering to fighter preference - who needs the hassle? - you could make whatever fights you wanted, based on whatever you want? What if the whole of the MMA world was your sandbox?
So that’s what this is folks - the top 5 matches I would make if for one day I was handed the keys to the MMA kingdom. Make no mistake, these match-ups have no bearing on rankings, title pictures, and on reality, I daresay. I’ll leave that to Joe Silva and Co.
So what does that leave? Five fights that won’t clear up any title pictures or answer any long-time questions, but that, in a perfect world, we would be able to see regardless. The most interesting, intriguing, well matched, exciting or downright strange fights from the mind of yours truly. So, without further ado, let‘s crank the knob all the way up to “Crazy“ with....
Lyoto Machida vs. Fedor Emelianenko
Why this fight?
Aside from Anderson Silva vs. GSP, there probably isn’t a more talked about super-fight in the MMA world right now then Brock Lesnar vs. Fedor Emelianenko.
But let’s not forget that for all intents and purposes, it’s not the most interesting fight stylistically. Don’t get me wrong, I would still be excited like a 12 year old girl at a Jonas Brothers concert for that fight. But the fact remains: in spite of his rapid growth in the sport, Brock cannot come close to Fedor in the realm of all around technical proficiency. This fight essentially boils down to one question: can Brock’s outstanding physical gifts and powerhouse wrestling overcome Fedor like it has everyone else? Either it’s Lesnar/Mir 1, or Lesnar/Mir 2.
But what if Fedor was paired up with someone who could match, and maybe even surpass his technical prowess and fight acumen? Someone like UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida.
Why Machida? Because no one could possibly predict how it would unfold, and who would control the fight. How would Fedor, the consummate intelligent fighter and ring general, deal with Machida’s unique, devastating Karate style? Make the fight at heavyweight - Machida has fought there before, and he could basically do the same training camp that he does for LHW minus the weight cutting. With Machida usually cutting from around 220-225 and Fedor coming in around 230, there would be only a negligible weight difference.
Who Takes It?
On the feet Fedor usually likes to walk his opponents down and keep pressure on them - but that could play right into Machida’s awkward, countering gameplan. Fedor is legendary for his ability to drag opponents down, especially from the clinch - but Machida is no slouch in this area either. He threw Tito Ortiz like a rag doll and wasn’t in a moment of takedown danger against him or fellow elite wrestler Rashad Evans. Fedor is the rare heavyweight who can work submissions from both top and bottom positions, but Machida is a black belt in BJJ himself and owns some slick submission wins.
The only certainty is that this fight would be a chess match for the ages between two of the most versatile and intelligent fighters to ever put on the four ounce gloves. I’ll go ahead and say Machida takes this by forcing Fedor to chase him, picking him apart with counters and keeping the Russian Sambo master from tying him up. I see a Machida jab opening a cut through Fedor‘s tinfoil skin (his only real weakness as a fighter) and a second heartbreaker loss on a doctor’s stoppage due to cuts. Why not?
Melvin Manhoef vs. Anderson Silva
Why this fight?
Both fans and fighters are constantly debating the “perfect” fighter to take on UFC Middleweight champion and P4P king Anderson “The Spider” Silva. Silva has lost by freak submission in the past - maybe it’s the slick BJJ artist who can out-manoeuvre him on the ground. Henderson was able to smother him on the ground for a whole round in their fight - maybe a good, position first wrestler can ground him out and win a decision. And so on and so forth.
I don’t know what the “perfect” fighter or gamelan to beat Silva is. I do know which one I would most like to see him face, though - a certified elite kick boxer and K-1 level badass with a size and stature comparable to Silva’s. That man is Melvin Manhoef.
Anderson Silva’s striking has looked so phenomenal in his UFC run that there is a tendency to discount any opponent against him in a stand-up battle. If anyone could truly challenge “The Spider” on the feet, it would be someone from the K-1 kickboxing league, home to some of the world’s best strikers. The upper echelon of K-1 fighters is a shark tank of elite, world class kick boxers, and Dutch Muay Thai champion Melvin Manhoef is in the top of that class. He owns wins over Mark Hunt and Paul Slowinski, and fought current K-1 World Champion Remy Bonjasky to several close decisions. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume he would be the most legitimate test on the feet that Anderson Silva has yet faced - no offense, Vitor.
Ok, so the sceptics out there are undoubtedly itching to point out that Manhoef’s MMA career is not exactly flawless. He brings precise and powerful striking - and a ground game that is, shall we say, unpolished at best. This hole in his game has left him tapping in several of his fights - but I don’t think it would matter in a match with Silva. Despite his legit black belt in BJJ, Silva never shows any real intention or inclination to take a fight to the ground. Given the choice, Anderson will always choose to fight on the feet.
Which is exactly what makes this match up so interesting.
Who Takes It?
This would be a battle of Manhoef’s power against Silva’s speed and timing. Manhoef would be happy to engage, which could leave him open to Anderson’s lightning fast counters. Anderson has knockout power in his hands and his knees, but I think Manhoef brings the more powerful punch and is the stronger fighter overall. Can Manhoef get past Silva’s seemingly impenetrable defense? Could Silva be effective up close, in the clinch with Manhoef if he does? Who is going to come out on top in the exchanges?
The only way this fight ends is with someone winning “Knockout of the Night”. I’d have to give it to Anderson Silva in a bout featuring lots of fireworks. Manhoef would bring the fire like no one Silva has yet faced - but Silva’s speed and timing is so insane that he could probably wither Manhoef’s aggressive attack to shut his lights off with a well timed shot.
So I’ll say Manhoef via flying armbar - what the hell, right?
Gegard Mousasi vs. Dan Henderson
Why This Fight?
Why Mousasi? A relatively unknown property in the MMA world, the 23 year old Gegard Mousasi shot to prominence in 2008 by winning the DREAM Middleweight world Grand Prix, tearing through proven names Denis Kang, Dong Sik Yoon, Melvin Manhoef and “Jacare” Souza to win the tournament. This year, he made his Light-Heavyweight and United States debut for Strikeforce, blowing out perennial top 10 Renato “Babalu” Sobral to win the Strikeforce 205 belt. He has shown he can finish an opponent standing or on the ground with equal proficiency, and that well rounded skillset combined with his young age means that the future is very bright for the young Armenian.
Why Hendo? Not much explanation needed here - Dan Henderson is a badass. A former NCAA champion level wrestler who has twice represented his country in the Olympic Games. A man who started his MMA career in 1997, and won his first UFC tournament the next year. The only man to find consistent, championship level success in every promotion he has ever competed in. He once beat Minotauro Nogueria at heavyweight. Simply put, one of the greatest of all time.
Why have them fight? First and foremost, this match would be the ultimate “Old Guard” vs. “New Guard” match, one of the oldest and most compelling narratives in combat sports. For me though, it’s all about the way they match up as fighters.
As in the case of Fedor vs. Machida, there’s no telling who would get the advantage, and in what area. Could Mousasi’s slick standup hold up against Henderson’s granite chin and big right hand? We don’t know much about Mousasi’s gas tank - will he start to fade if pushed by the pressure and wrestling of Dan? Most of all, who would win the mental battle - the confident, blessed with success young prospect or the battle hardened, well seasoned veteran? I would pay to find out.
Who Takes It?
Man this is tough, but if you look at it in terms of ways to win, you have to give the nod to Dan Henderson. Mousasi has proven kickboxing skills, but Henderson has a cement block for a chin and has never been KO’d or TKO’d in his 13 year MMA career. I don’t see Mousasi being the one to break that record. His best shot would be on the ground - despite his Olympic pedigree, Hendo has tapped in fights against both Nogueria brothers and Anderson Silva, showing that’s he’s not invincible on the floor. Maybe Mousasi could point fight with Henderson and try to win a decision - but that gameplan didn’t work out too well for Michael Bisping.
So I say the durable Dan Henderson takes it in a hard fought decision, imposing his will on Mousasi with his proven Greco-Roman skills and showing that’s there’s no better sport for the old lion to stay on top then in MMA.
Nick Diaz vs. Jason “Mayhem” Miller
Why This Fight?
On a list full of fights we will probably never see, this one has the best shot at becoming a reality. Nick Diaz is currently the third biggest star of the Strikeforce promotion (after Gina Carano and, presumably, Fedor) and his Ceasar Gracie fight camp dominates the promotion across all it’s weight classes. This past year has really seen him come into his own, as he won big fights in varying weight classes against the likes of Frank Shamrock and Scott Smith. He has been in limbo of late once again because of his choice of, uh, “alternative medication”, but the brash Stockton native is expected to return to ring action soon, and there is much discussion about who will be welcoming him back.
Jason Miller, on the other hand, has spent the last few years in Japan - “Bully Beatdown” excluded - fighting for the DREAM promotion and feuding with his arch-enemy du jour, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. This November, he makes his return to North American MMA to face Jake Shields in Strikeforce for the 185 lb. belt. This is a big moment for Miller, and a win in this fight combined with his exposure on MTV means he could soon find much more “Mayhem Monkey’s” jumping onto his cult bandwagon.
This fight would be exciting from start to finish. Everyone by now knows what Diaz brings into the cage with him - unorthodox boxing, world class Jiu-Jitsu, and a true warrior’s spirit - combined with a mean face, two middle fingers and the faint smell of pot. Jason Miller, conversely, brings a well roundedness, a Team Quest bred fighters mentality, and solid submission skills of his own - along with heavily dyed hair, inexplicable ring entrances, and a personality that is mercurial at best. The pre-fight shenanigans for this fight alone would be quality entertainment.
Who Takes It?
On the ground, I see this fight being a lot closer then many people might expect it to be. Diaz is a black belt under Cesar Gracie, one of the toughest and most well respect BJJ teachers today - his MMA Jiu-Jitsu is some of the best in the sport (anytime you win via Gogoplata you should get some kind of trophy). But Miller also owns a black belt and is no slouch in that department either. Just look at his first match with “Jacare”, who is one of the best no-gi grappler in the world today. Sure, he was on the defensive 90% of the time and fought off about 400 straight submission attempts - but the fact that a grappler like Ronoldo Souza couldn’t pull the trigger against him is quite a credit unto itself.
Evenly matched on the ground, this fight would be won on the feet - where I feel Diaz’s range and power would both bully and beat down Miller to a unanimous decision.
BJ Penn vs. Kimbo Slice
Alright, so I’ve totally come off the rails here, I’ll admit it. But before you accuse me of sniffing glue or something, let me explain.
Way back in the Kimbo Slice/Elite XC days, Dana White talked down the You Tube brawler on an almost weekly basis (the irony of his current situation and remarks is lost on no one). Among the disparagements flung Slice’s way was White’s confident boast that reigning UFC Lightweight Champion BJ Penn would easily defeat the Miami street brawler. Of course, Kimbo blew up against Seth Petruzelli and any talk about the fight, speculative or not, came to an end. Slice went to the UFC, Dana lovingly embraced him and sung his praises - and life went on.
But still, the question remains - can BJ Penn beat up Kimbo Slice as White so confidently predicted? The question inherent in White’s challenge and in this fight is: can BJ’s incredible natural gifts and lifelong training in the martial arts overcome Kimbo’s raw skills and overpowering size and strength advantage? It’s what martial arts are all about - the certified street tough against the smaller, but more skilled martial arts master.
Go ahead, shake your heads - if this fight was on TV or PPV I guarantee it would shatter records. You’d all watch. Why wouldn’t you?
Who Takes It?
Honestly, as surprising as it may seem to some, I say BJ by a pretty wide margin. His boxing is skilled enough to at least allow him to hang with the You Tube brawler. On the ground, Kimbo usually looks like a fish out of water, so I don’t think BJ’s massive size disadvantage would matter much at all. Bell rings, BJ uses head movement and feints to move inside, clinches, pulls rubber guard and coaxes the tap before the one minute mark. Not even any blood for him to lick afterwards.
The only way Kimbo takes this is by challenging BJ to fight to the death then surviving until the end of the fourth round. To the death, Kimbo, to the death! And I’m not joking about this.
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