Sliding Doors: 5 Fight Outcomes That Would Have Changed the UFC Forever
Ever wonder what life might be like if a defining moment had turned out differently? If some memorable thing had been spun entirely in the opposite direction?
Surely you have. There have been plenty of movies made about such occurrences and alternate timelines and what have you, and they always seem to catch people's attention because it is generally a fun little thought exercise to consider alternative outcomes.
And where could one have more fun with said exercise than in the world of MMA, where outrageous happenings are the norm and things that would rock other sports to the core are more or less just another day on MMA Twitter for most.
What follows is a look at five UFC fights that would have changed the course of the promotion if the man who walked out victorious had lost. It's counterfactual history, nothing more than a bit of fun, but it's the exact type of exercise that can make one wonder: What would the UFC today look like if icons became afterthoughts, if legends became losers?
Take a look, give it some thought and even add your own in the comments section if you have them. After all, that's what this whole thing is about.
UFC 1: The Field Def. Royce Gracie
The brawl that started it all.
UFC 1 was total chaos, the type of thing you may still have kicking around somewhere on DVD and pop in for a lark. It had guys from every discipline wailing on one another in a bizarre, hybridized tournament of martial arts and street fighting.
And from that primordial ooze came the most legendary martial artist since Bruce Lee: Royce Gracie. Gracie set out to prove the worth of his family's form of jiu-jitsu, and he did it by steamrolling all comers with staggering ease.
But what if the field won? What if Art Jimmerson or Ken Shamrock or Gerard Gordeau managed to best the scrawny kid from Rio de Janeiro?
Well, there would have been no Gracie legacy in North America, no eventual MMA explosion and probably no UFC at all.
It's likely that no one would have had the same level of swagger and starpower, even if they had defeated Gracie, because there simply wasn't much charisma on display at the time and Gracie's legacy hadn't even begun, much less started to become entrenched in martial arts lore.
Shamrock arguably could have carried the promotion, but within a couple of years, he was off to WWE anyway, so even that isn't a foregone conclusion (and would he have even had the chance without the Gracie saga in which he partook?).
No question, if anyone at UFC 1 beats Royce Gracie, the UFC is changed forever.
UFC 66: Tito Ortiz Def. Chuck Liddell
In their first meeting at UFC 47, Chuck Liddell went through Tito Ortiz like it was nothing. For a round and a minute, Liddell poured it on his former friend with the fury of the gods, TKOing him and staking his claim as the greatest 205-pounder walking the planet.
Things probably wouldn't have changed much for the UFC if Liddell hadn't dispatched Ortiz so boldly in that first meeting, though: Ortiz would have remained the poster child for the promotion, Liddell would have continued his rise and they would have met again—probably right around the same time they did have their rematch.
That time was UFC 66, and it's the Liddell-Ortiz meeting that could have changed the face of the promotion if it had ended differently.
After losing their first meeting, Ortiz won five bouts in a row, including successes against Forrest Griffin and Vitor Belfort when those wins were still big. Going into the second Liddell bout, he'd badly beaten Ken Shamrock a couple of times to settle their feud once and for all, and a win over Liddell would have provided a few changes to the UFC timeline.
First, he would have re-established himself as the greatest light heavyweight of all time by vanquishing the man most thought to be his boogeyman. Second, it would have set up a trilogy bout with Liddell that would have been the most lucrative in the history of the promotion to that point. Third, it would have forever erased one particularly iconic UFC highlight.
There's also no telling what a win over Liddell would have done for Ortiz's ego as well, as he'd been feuding with Dana White for years and The Iceman was one of the big reasons why.
All of those factors would likely have changed Ortiz's legacy considerably and would have blazed a grossly different trail for the light heavyweight division and UFC more broadly in the latter half of the 2000s.
UFC 91: Randy Couture Def. Brock Lesnar
Imagine if the biggest star the sport had known until Conor McGregor showed up had simply never came to be. That's basically what you'd be dealing with if Randy Couture had tamed the beast that was Brock Lesnar in his early prime.
Lesnar was incredibly green, a meager 2-1 as a pro when he fought one of the sport's greatest legends for the heavyweight title at UFC 91, and despite some harrowing moments of discomfort in the realm of dirty boxing, he was simply too big, too strong and too much of a force of nature for Couture to handle.
The trouble Lesnar had inside range was indicative of the trouble he'd later have with the striking game, as Frank Mir, Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem all touched him up to varying degrees. What if Couture had done the same? What if one of those inside shots had hurt Lesnar or a flurry of them had caused him to curl into a ball and await sanctuary at the hands of the official?
Well, it's arguable the face of the biggest boom period in the history of the promotion becomes an afterthought. A 2-2 Lesnar coming off a KO loss to a guy in his 40s who gave up 45 pounds on the scale and who knows how much more in the cage would not have been very marketable.
Sure, the pro wrestling crowd would still have been interested, but it's just as likely he'd have headed back to entertain them there as it would have been that he'd have stuck it out in the real hurt business.
Regardless, given the money he made for the UFC and its generally rocky relationship with Couture, you can bet the promotion is pleased Lesnar won on that fateful night.
UFC 117: Chael Sonnen Def. Anderson Silva
UFC 117 was wildest main event in the history of the promotion, from the selling of the event to the lead-up to the bout to the fight itself.
With Anderson Silva at the peak of his power, undefeated in the UFC and having stacked most of the middleweight division in a neat pile of unconscious bodies, Chael Sonnen came along and did the unthinkable: He beat Silva up.
Verbally, mentally and physically, Sonnen was Silva's better at every turn. He made it his mission to rattle the champion in any way imaginable, fearlessly pursuing the Brazilian and aiming to take his title. When the fight happened after months of highly publicized feuding and promotion, Sonnen nearly did exactly that.
For 23:10 of their scheduled 25-minute battle, Sonnen threw Silva around and beat him up. Continuously, he took Silva down and wailed on him, sitting in guard and punching and elbowing the champion until success was all but a certainty.
Only it wasn’t.
Silva threw up a last-ditch triangle choke and cinched it in, causing Sonnen to tap and seizing victory from the jaws of defeat. It was easily the most stunning end to a UFC title fight.
If he hadn't hit that triangle, there's no telling how things might be different today. Silva defended his title three more times afterward, cementing a legacy as the best of all time that was truly established with the Sonnen win. He beat Sonnen again even more convincingly in 2012, leaving even less doubt as to his excellence.
A Sonnen win at UFC 117 would have ended the Silva run early, diminishing that legacy and perhaps sending Silva into the middle of the pack a few years early. He was, after all, approaching his late 30s at that point and would have been coming off the worst, most unimaginable defeat of his life.
Plus Sonnen tested positive for a banned substance after their fight, which would have seen him stripped of the title had he taken it from Silva. That would have sent the division into turmoil and produced a different timeline, one in which the great Anderson Silva may have been less of a factor.
UFC 194: Jose Aldo Def. Conor McGregor
If Jose Aldo had somehow managed to overcome Conor McGregor at UFC 194 you can be sure the promotion would not look the same today, a mere year and a half after they fought.
McGregor terrorized Aldo as he torched through the featherweight division, battering opponents and telling the champion he was coming. Aldo continued to reign, but their meeting felt inevitable, and when it happened, it was swift, explosive and brutal.
The Irishman dispatched Aldo in 13 seconds, a single counter cross the only thing needed to end the champion's decade-long undefeated streak. It was among the most iconic finishes ever seen in the Octagon.
And if it didn't happen? Things would be much different.
McGregor would likely not be the sport's biggest, richest star. He would never have fought his two career-making bouts with Nate Diaz. He definitely wouldn't be on his way to a fight with combat sports king Floyd Mayweather Jr. He might not have ever had the chance to fight Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title and win it.
Aldo would still be considered the undisputed champion instead of a man who was gifted a belt McGregor simply didn't want anymore, and people would wonder whether anyone alive could beat him instead of knowing someone did in the time it takes to sneeze. He might even have been able to use overcoming his greatest challenge to springboard into stardom beyond his native Brazil and add a few extra zeroes to his paycheque as a result.
Alas, that's not the case. McGregor is the king of MMA, and Aldo is the man he used to secure his crown—another example of what might have been.
Follow me on Twitter @matthewjryder.