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The Myth of the MMA “Super Fight”

By Ryan Anderson

When I was a kid, my favorite video game was Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. What I loved most about the game was progressing through the rogue’s gallery of fighters and finally becoming champion, because it was only after you became champion that you got to greatest aspect of Punch-Out: The “Dream Fight” with Iron Mike himself. It was the original superfight before the term superfight ever existed.

The recent announcement of the boxing “Super/Dream Fight” between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather finally happening (albeit 5 years too late) has once again gotten us MMA fans talking about what our equivalent could be, and on top of that, what actually makes a fight a “Super Fight” and not just a big fight, championship fight or other random main event.

In our modern take on the English language, we love to over use the adjectives and super is one of the common offenders. But it may help to understand the actual dictionary definition of the word super when applying it to our definition of the Super Fight. According to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, super is defined as anything “exhibiting the characteristics of its type to an extreme or excessive degree.” This means it has to be rare and noticeably superior to your everyday example — think of Superman, the Super-Bowl and of course the Superplex. In MMA terms, a “Super Fight” has to be a greater spectacle than a Demetrious Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso flyweight title main event.

Unlike Dana White, who believes that the next PPV’s main event is the greatest fight in MMA/UFC history, I believe that there are certain criteria to be meet for a fight to be considered a Super Fight.

The first criteria is that the fighter’s involved must be at their peak or at least very close to the prime of their greatness, as fighters and preferably be a champion at the time. Placing two former champions in a fight, 5 years after either one was a champion does not count. The idea is that you have two fighters on the current and coveted pound-for-pound list, either in separate divisions or in rival organizations, square off and see who is the better fighter.

The second criteria for a Super Fight would be that the fighters involved need to have some name recognition. Casual fans of MMA should have some basic knowledge of the fighters involved, and a champion vs. champion fight between Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and Bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw is not going to resonate with casual fans. (Sorry if it seems like I am picking on “Mighty Mouse” again.)

The third and final criteria in making a Super Fight is that there has to be some novelty to the fight. It has to be a fight that takes some work to setup — getting two champions in line for a showdown or working out politics between two organizations. It has to be a fight that you have real doubts would ever happen, a fight between two fighters in the same division and in the same organization does not have the same obstacles as our criteria. The fight has to be special and make fans discuss it freely.

With the criteria set for what makes a fight a “Super Fight” I feel that there has only been one true “Super Fight” in MMA history. But first I want to recall a few near misses.

The first near miss would be the failed attempt of Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva in the Pride 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix. Though Chuck was not champion at the time, he was one of the UFC’s biggest stars and the UFC’s official representative at the Grand Prix. At this time, Silva was the Pride Middleweight Champion and one of the most feared fighters in the world. But alas, the Super Fight was not meant to be thanks to Rampage Jackson knocking out Liddell in the semi-finals. When Chuck and Wanderlei finally met at UFC 79, it was an entertaining match no doubt, but lacked the specialness of a Super Fight. We got two former champions, past their prime, slugging it out. It was a good fight but 4 years too late.

The second near miss that comes to mind is the proposed fight between Randy Couture and Fedor Emelianenko in 2008. Unfortunately, the UFC decided that if the could not exclusively promote this fight and reap all the profits for themselves, then no one could and promptly sued Couture. Eventually, Randy rejoined the UFC and was fed to Dana White’s cash cow, Brock Lesnar. If Dana could have let go of a little bit of control for once in his life kept his ego in check, he could have had his Super Fight in 2008.

No list of missed Super Fight opportunities would be complete without mentioning Anderson Silva. There was hardly a Silva fight that went by without the question of a proposed fight with then-welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre being mentioned, although it seemed like Anderson Silva and the fans were far more interested in this fight than GSP or the UFC ever were. With the semi-retirement of GSP and the recent PED issues of Silva, sadly this fight looks off the table.

For all of Anderson Silva’s zeal to fight GSP he showed great restraint for another proposed Super Fight involving himself and Light-Heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Anderson Silva flirted with the Light-Heavyweight division 3 times. Of those 3 fights, the best fight and closest to a super fight we got was his one-sided beat down of former Light-Heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin in 2009.

So this leaves us with just one example of a Super Fight in modern MMA history, the 2009 Welterweight title fight between champion GSP and then Lightweight champion B.J. Penn. This fight meets all the criteria of a Super Fight, two champions from separate divisions, known fighters to casual fans and the novelty factor. The fact that these two fighters fought a close split decision, going to GSP, three years earlier; helped build intrigue for this fight and make it a Super Fight.

Enough about missed opportunities, what are 3 potential Super Fights that can be made today? And what is the likelihood that they will happen before we are old and gray?

The “Keep Dreaming Super Fight” goes to Ronda Rousey vs. Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino
This potential Super Fight has two champions from rival organizations in the primes of their careers. Rousey and Justino are without a doubt the two biggest stars in women’s MMA, and to top it off, we have lots of bad blood and a stated desire to fight. Yet it appears that this fight will never happen, with the biggest obstacle coming from Cris Cyborg’s camp. Cyborg’s inability to make the 135-pound bantamweight limit alone will likely keep this fight from ever happening.

The “Maybe if the Stars Align Super Fight” goes to Jon Jones vs. Cain Velasquez
Here we have two dominate champions who have seemingly cleaned out their respective divisions. On top of that, we also have Jon Jones’ repeated flirtations with moving up to the Heavyweight division at some point. Again, we have two champions and two regulars on the pound-for-pound list.

But I fear this fight will never happen. The only real obstacle preventing Jon Jones finally moving to the Heavyweight division is Rumble Johnson, who will get his shot at the title at UFC 187 on Memorial Day weekend. For Velasquez, the biggest obstacle is his own health. It appears that Cain Velasquez will never be able to string a series of fights together without some serious injury occurring.

The “It Better Happen or I am Going to Quit Watching MMA Super Fight” goes to Anthony Pettis vs. Jose Aldo
What this Super Fight has going for it above all the rest is that for a brief moment in 2013, this fight was actually booked. Now that Pettis has won the lightweight title, this sets up a champion vs. champion Super Fight scenario. All we currently need for this fight to finally happen is for Pettis to defeat Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 185 and for Aldo to defeat “the twinkle in Dana White’s eye” Conor McGregor at UFC 189. This fight would possess arguably the UFC’s two most gifted athletes and the UFC’s two most creative and dynamic strikers, so what’s not to love? The biggest obstacle for this Super Fight ever happening is the ever-present danger of injury. While both of these fighters are not as injury prone as Velasquez, you won’t ever see them fighting more than twice a year at the very most. Unfortunately, neither of these fighters is built with Donald Cerrone’s durability.

Maybe one day, Dana White will actually come through on his promise of giving the fans fights they ask for and not just stating that every PPV main event is a fan demanded fight. UFC 183 was a good start, but we all know how that turned out. But what do you think, Nation, are there any other *true* Super Fights out there?

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