Back in 2009, when Georges St-Pierre met B.J. Penn for the second time, they were arguably the two brightest stars in the UFC's growing constellation.
St-Pierre, the UFC Welterweight Champion then and now, was well on his way to cleaning out the 170-pound division. Rush had rattled off consecutive victories over Josh Koscheck, Matt Hughes, Matt Serra and Jon Fitch to claim, then defend the belt.
Baby J, then the UFC Lightweight Champion, hadn't tasted defeat in three bouts since dropping down to dominate the 155-pounders. The Prodigy was on a three-fight win streak that had also seen him claim, then defend his belt.
Both guys were superstars, both were champions and each man appeared to be the only legitimate challenge on his opponent's horizon. They almost had to face each other lest the fans eat other in their increasingly frenzied demands.
I mention that infamous matchup because UFC President Dana White and company are steadily approaching another such tipping point.
Despite the brass's application of the brakes whenever and wherever possible, the moment when GSP must face UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva is coming. Barring a surprising loss by either pound-for-pound kingpin, simple process of elimination seems to dictate the icons would fight in late 2012-early 2013 at the latest.
Which got us thinking...
Obviously, the UFC can't arrange a superfight every year—the stars don't align that often. White, Joe Silva and the puppetmasters can, however, give the masses one or two dream matchups per annum. To prove it, here are 15 such pairings that should have any true fight fan drooling.
Just keep it off the keyboard.
Here's a nod to a few fights that just barely missed the list:
A. Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard
It was a trilogy-maker, the previous fight was an all-time burner and the UFC lightweight strap was on the line. Only the fact that it just happened this weekend keeps it in honorable-mention territory.
B. Jon Jones vs. Lyoto Machida
Again, a fantastic contest on paper between two unorthodox strikers. Unless Bones Jones decides to leverage his wrestling advantage, this could be a standup war for the ages. Or the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion could put the Dragon away in the first round.
Which is why it isn't on the list.
C. Jon Jones vs. Steven Seagal
C'mon, let's see what Seagal's really got left in the tank. Apparently, the actor-turned-coach-in-his-own-mind approached Bones Jones before the latter's title defense versus Quinton Jackson with some unsolicited advice.
Not only did the champ snub him, but he took to the airwaves afterwards to add insult to the front-kick guru's injury.
Bad move, Jonny, because Casey Ryback is waaay more than any elite band of highly trained mercenaries can handle.
And that means he just might be tough enough to take out the champ.
D. Chris Leben vs. Mark Munoz
Sorry England, I'm only kidding.
Under almost every conceivable circumstance, I would NOT want to see Chuck Liddell come out of retirement to throw leather once again.
Let's face it—the Iceman's exit from the Octagon was tough to watch. The ugly downward spiral began in 2007 with a nasty knockout at the hands of Quinton Jackson that cost Liddell the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship that he'd held for so long. The decline culminated in 2010 with a head-shaking KO at the right hand of Rich Franklin.
In between were two even more horrific knockout-losses, these two were inflicted by Rashad Evans and Mauricio Rua.
At the end of it all, any decent human-being had to fear for Chuck's safety.
One could argue the Iceman had become too enamored of the good life to train as hard as he needed to in order to stay competitive at the upper echelon of modern MMA. That wouldn't be a problem against his old nemesis Tito Ortiz.
The Huntington Beach Bad Boy and the Iceman go way back, having fought twice (2004 and 2008) with Liddell winning by KO and TKO, respectively. There's also the unsatisfying turn on The Ultimate Fighter when both were coaches and Tito eventually had to withdraw due to injury.
Liddell never made a secret of his disdain for Ortiz so, if there's any chance of one last vintage Iceman performance, logic says Tito would be the irritant to get the job done.
And even if that's all a pipe dream, Ortiz isn't quite the warrior he once was, so Chuck shouldn't be in for too much more damage.
Yeah, like you wouldn't watch.
OK, back to reality.
And this is very much that, some might even go further and say it's inevitability.
Anthony Johnson was last seen kicking Charlie Brenneman straight in the face. For some reason, Joe Rogan disagreed with the stoppage, but—with all due respect to Rogan—you don't want Rumble in there with defenseless prey and that's very much what the Spaniard was. He wasn't unconscious, but he wasn't gonna withstand the heat that Johnson can bring.
That lamb had already been silenced and all the ref did was save it from further slaughter.
However, the reason Johnson seems like an inevitable challenge to UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre's suffocating grip on the division is not the former's power, which he's always had. While the 27-year-old missed extensive time thanks to a knee injury, something clicked and he's no longer a one-dimensional striker.
As he proved against Dan Hardy, Anthony's no longer shy about deploying his dangerous wrestling arsenal when necessary. Combine that with his newfound ease with cutting weight and the result just might be the kryptonite to GSP's Superman act.
The only reason this scrap doesn't rate higher is that Rumble Johnson still needs to build his profile a bit and hone the already-sharp edges to his game.
Aside from the masochists in the room, this bout would only be intriguing if Dan Henderson were to defeat Mauricio Rua in their upcoming bout at UFC 139.
If Dangerous Dan can get through Shogun—no small feat—and UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones can get passed Lyoto Machida, their collision could be billed as a unification of sorts. Hendo is technically the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion courtesy of his victory over Rafael Cavalcante.
Obviously, Bones Jones couldn't win the Strikeforce title fighting in the UFC, but it would still be a neat little wrinkle to entertain the fans.
Toss in Henderson's defeat of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko and the fact that the former Olympian has never been knocked out, and you've got a sizzling headliner even if the action in the cage would appear to be a foregone conclusion.
Anderson Silva has been known to take a fight or two against the 205-pounders; you might recall his rude dismissal of James Irvin in a scant 61 seconds as well his bizarre stoppage of Forrest Griffin. He's still got a wee bit o' unfinished business left with the incessant Chael Sonnen, but after he puts a more emphatic end to the wrestler's shenanigans, he'll be presiding over a thoroughly gutted middleweight division.
And if the Spider fancies another jump to the light heavyweight waters, who better to test him than his old Pride stablemate Quinton Jackson.
That foot you see there belongs to Jon Jones and it's kicking the title contention right out of Rampage.
From this point forward, the big fella seems more interested in big names and big paydays than he does competing for the hardware. Can you really blame him? Quinton's getting on in age and has put even more miles on his legs than the odometer would imply, plus he's already been a champion.
So if the glam and green is all he's after, he's a match made in MMA heaven for the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Sure, Anderson Silva would likely destroy the more one-dimensional Jackson.
But can you imagine Rampage selling this baby?
Oh yes, people would watch. People would most definitely watch.
Amongst hardcore fans, this contest would rank a lot higher UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo is a very bad man.
It's been sort of tough to tell since Junior came over from the WEC, because both Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian have given him a stiff challenge. But consider that the Machine was fighting in front of his home crowd, Aldo was making his organizational debut and Hominick still only survived because he might not be human.
That hematoma he suffered will be a staple of mixed martial arts lore until the sun engulfs the solar system—only a tiny percentage of the mortal population would've continued to place themselves in harm's way with that second head growing in their foreheads.
Mark just happens to be in that rarefied group.
Meanwhile, KenFlo is an enormous 145-pounder. Aldo's a big one, but Kenny's gigantic, having fought as far north as middleweight. He gave the Brazilian a good challenge, but Aldo was never really in danger. Even more impressive was the fact that Jose didn't beat Florian by avoiding KenFlo's size and strength.
Junior out-quicked his American adversary, but he also out-muscled him at times. He resisted takedowns and didn't shy away from the clinch.
Likewise, the debate over UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar's true merit will continue because that just seems to be his lot in life, but it shouldn't. The Answer might not be the sexiest fighter, but he's got an iron chin and even more durable heart.
Plus he's a small 155-pounder which makes him a natural foil for Aldo, given he could take Junior on at 145-pounds and the limit might even work to his advantage.
Seeing these two waterbugs move around the Octagon would be incredible and it's not that crazy of a notion.
Alistair Overeem and Junior dos Santos are arguably the world's most devastating strikers at 265-pounds.
There's no argument regarding the Reem—winning the K-1 World Grand Prix is conclusive proof that your fists, knees, elbows and shins are not to be trifled with by the sane. The Dutchman is simply that dangerous on his feet.
On the other hand, Cigano has yet to convince some in the jury, but his beatdowns of Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin in addition to his brutalization of Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Mirko Filipovic, Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga are leaving precious little room for doubt.
In other words, this would almost certainly be a standup war for the ages.
The prospect of these two behemoths taking target practice on each other is so tantalizing, JDS doesn't even need to take the UFC Heavyweight title from Cain Velasquez to earn the No. 9 slot. Granted, if he does get the strap, we'll have to give this matchup a considerable bump.
I might have this one a little too high, but call me a sucker for any scrap featuring Jon Jones opposite a sincere challenger.
And Phil Davis could ultimately be just that.
Both Bones Jones and Mr. Wonderful have some work to do before they could possibly meet—the champ has to take on Lyoto Machida at UFC 140. After that, he'll probably have to dispatch of Rashad Evans (if Davis doesn't beat him to it) given their now-notorious beef.
In the other corner, Davis needs to continue improving his striking so that it's on par with his superlative wrestling and grappling games.
If everything works out according to plan, a meeting between Jones and Davis is inevitable. At this point, it looks lopsided because of Jon's substantial advantages on his feet. However, Phil has the physical tools to improve by leaps and bounds in a very short time.
When all is said and done, this burner could be the best tussle on the list.
Not right now, though.
We've already sung the praises of Alistair Overeem so let's just remind everyone—he's a really gnarly striker.
But he's also susceptible to being taken down and that just happens to be Brock Lesnar's specialty. So if it's true that styles make fights, this scrap could be a very interesting one. Will Lesnar be able to wade through the salvo of fists and knees, and put the Demolition Man on his back?
Or will the Reem catch the Vanilla Gorilla and do what Cain Velasquez did, but Shane Carwin couldn't?
Well, we're gonna find out as this puppy is slated for UFC 141.
Which only adds more intrigue because it will be Lesnar's first action since his second slow dance with diverticulitis. If the big man is healthier than he's ever been, we might see a Brock we've never seen. One that certainly wouldn't be afraid to engage a la Overeem's last opponent (Fabricio Werdum).
When these two large, angry men charge out of their corners in Las Vegas, expect fireworks.
This really needs no explanation.
Jon Jones is the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and has been running through the competition. Rashad Evans is the former light heavyweight champ and thinks the belt is rightfully his. Bones and Suga used to be training partners under MMA guru Greg Jackson, but the pair parted ways after Jones got the belt and Evans became the No. 1 challenger.
Then, an injury that Evans and his faithful dispute sidelined Jones, an injury that nobody disputes sidelined Suga and a war of words replaced the physical one that we were supposed to get.
It's now been over six months since this whole charade started and the animosity only seems to be getting worse.
Eventually, these two MUST do battle and there will be no love lost in the meantime.
Which means the anticipation will only grow.
Chael Sonnen can call out Anderson Silva all he wants. He can carry on claiming he is the real middleweight champion, that it's some perversion of common sense that he lost his UFC 117 tangle with the Spider and all the other tripe he's been spewing, but a few things remain indisputable:
1. Sonnen was the one who looked like he got thrashed at the end of that fight.
2. Sonnen followed his game plan almost perfectly and still lost.
3. Sonnen talked the talk leading up to that memorable night, but when he tapped in submission to the real champ, he failed to walk the walk.
None of that bodes well for a possible rematch, but that's not stopping Chael (shocker).
You can forget that WWE-esque promise to leave the UFC if Silva beats him in a rematch, that's just noise. But disrespecting Anderson in front of a packed house at UFC 136 and all those redneck insults about Brazil? Yeah, I think that will pique the Spider's interest.
Either you agree with Sonnen or you despise him, but it doesn't really matter as far as this dream fight is concerned. Because both camps will slap down their $50 for a chance to watch it.
Again, a champion with skeptics is giving them less and less reasonable ground on which to stand.
UFC Heavyweight Cain Velasquez had his share of detractors—myself included—when he was seemingly gifted the shot at the belt at UFC 121. At the time, the best win he had was over a fading Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, a blemish made all the more ugly by the presence of Junior dos Santos off in the shadows.
Of course, Velasquez went and throttled then-champion Brock Lesnar to claim the title. Now all those knockouts on Cain's resume seem to be a lot more intimidating. Not to mention his All-American wrestling pedigree that the Arizona State Sun Devil boasts.
And there's the little matter of his incomparable cardio.
For the slower members of the audience, I'm trying to say Cain Velasquez is a handful. For anyone.
That includes Junior dos Santos (of whom I'm a huge fan) on November 12, at the inaugural UFC event on FOX.
Should the 265-pound kingpin survive his date with JDS and should Alistair Overeem—the true Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion—turn back Brock Lesnar's challenge at UFC 141, a clash to unite the heavyweight clans would be epic.
Remember, these are dream fights.
In this dream, Jon Jones—already proving to be too much for his contemporaries at 205 pounds—has cleaned out the light heavyweight division. That would mean thumping Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson, Phil Davis, maybe a rematch with Mauricio Rua and toss in a wild card like Alexander Gustafsson. Sounds like quite an undertaking, and it is, but figure some of these beasts will knock each other off and it suddenly doesn't seem so crazy.
Which is good news since the other side of the equation is simple.
Brock Lesnar—still the sport's biggest draw despite the hiatus and the absence of the jeweled strap, even if some don't like to admit it—would have to drop out of sincere title contention. That's a very real possibility given the ease with which both Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez batted him about the cage.
Maybe the Minnesota Mountain comes back stronger than ever (yikes), but maybe he remains just good enough to stay on the fringe of the heavyweight title picture.
Then, a pseudo-gatekeeper role in welcoming Jones—no run-of-the-mill newcomer in this scenario—to the heavyweight division makes good sense.
By the time any of this is feasible, Jones would be a pretty big deal, himself, and Brock would be on his way out. So pitting the two mega-attractions against each other would be a symbolic passing of the torch as well as a spectacle for the ages.
C'mon, you knew this was coming.
The comparison you're beginning to hear more frequently is that Jon Jones is like a bigger version of Anderson Silva. It's not totally accurate, since Bones is a wrestler and the Spider sports the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, but as far as rough parallels go, it's pretty fair.
Both are highly creative, highly accurate and powerful strikers who are dangerous (in different ways) on the ground.
The UFC Middleweight Champion Silva is far more accomplished and equally more experienced than the younger UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jones, but Jon is significantly bigger, even after stories of Anderson walking around at 225 pounds when not training for a fight are taken into account.
On paper, it would be another passing-of-the-torch contest with the former pound-for-pound superfreak (Silva) giving way to the new one (Jones).
In reality, though, this fight ain't gonna happen.
Jones has enough on his docket at 205 pounds to keep him occupied for a couple years and Anderson Silva is 36. Barring something totally unforeseen, that math doesn't work.
But a guy can dream...
The two men sitting side by side in the middle of that picture are the two most dominant UFC champions currently wearing the hardware.
With all due respect to UFC president Dana White and UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar, they are also the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Depending on your particular bias, you either believe UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva is the greatest fighter on the face of the planet or you believe the same about UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre.
There aren't too many third answers that anyone takes seriously.
The middleweight Spider hasn't lost since January of 2006, which was a disqualification in a fight he was dominating. You have to go all the way back to December of 2004 for Anderson's last real defeat. Rush St-Pierre hasn't dropped a bout since his notorious upset at the hands of Matt Serra in April of 2007 and the only other loss of GSP's career (spanning 24 fights and 10 years) came in October of '04.
Silva has defended his title nine times against nine different challengers; St-Pierre has defended his belt six times against six different challengers.
So this dreamiest of dream fights is also one of the most likely to actually happen.
The French-Canadian has a few more pelts to hang on his wall before he'll make the jump to 185 pounds, but with a few more wins, that day is coming.
And when it does, Anderson Silva should be waiting for him.
Much to every true fan's delight.