One of the many reasons the UFC’s pay-per-view business was down in 2011 was a series of injuries and illnesses that took out some highly anticipated fights throughout the year. That and other factors kept a number of fights from coming to fruition that, either at the time or heading into 2011 where fights a lot of fans were looking forward to. With that as a set up, here’s my list for the 11 biggest fights that didn’t happen in 2011:
Now, considering the year Josh Grispi wound up having in 2011, this may not seem like much of a loss, but with the featherweights initially moving over to the UFC, this was the fight that was supposed to happen at UFC 125. Considering the run of dominant stoppages Grispi had in the WEC, he was seen as an exciting challenger for Aldo, if not a dangerous one. Sure, he wound up fizzling out with one-sided losses to Dustin Poirier and George Roop, but had this fight taken place when it was supposed to, that would have been an exciting way to kick off the UFC’s Featherweight Championship to start the year.
(10) Nate Marquardt vs. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson
Marquardt had long been one of the best middleweights in the world, so the prospect of seeing him drop to the welterweight division for the first time against a top 10 fighter in that class was exciting. Then Johnson suffered an injury before the bout, and Marquardt himself was unceremoniously taken off the UFC on Versus 4 card the day of the weigh-ins over issues regarding testosterone replacement therapy and he was booted from the UFC. He still hasn’t made his welterweight debut, and now Johnson has moved up to Marquardt’s former weight class for a fight with Vitor Belfort this weekend in Brazil. This would have been an excellent welterweight challenge for Marquardt in his debut, but things didn’t work out on that one.
(9) B.J. Penn vs. Jon Fitch II
Penn and Fitch had a very good fight that went to a draw in February, and the rematch was planned for July at UFC 132 before both fighters came up injured. Both fighters would have had a chance to get into title contention behind the then-recently signed Nick Diaz with a win in a rematch, but the fight never came to pass. Then both fighters suffered losses before the year was out that have them in a completely different place in their careers to start 2012 than they were entering 2011.
(8) Rashad Evans vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
Evans put himself next in line for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship with a May 2010 win over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, but with Shogun out of action the rest of the year with a knee injury, Evans had the option to keep himself busy. Instead, he decided to wait out Shogun’s return. That would have been fine, as the two were matched up for a March main event, but then Evans came up with a knee injury of his own that took the fight off the plate. He’d have some other fights fall through later in the year as well, but we’ll get to that…
(7) B.J. Penn vs. Carlos Condit
When Penn and Fitch didn’t get matched up for a rematch, Penn was scheduled against “The Natural Born Killer” Carlos Condit at UFC 137. This would have been a fantastic welterweight fight to put the winner into title contention, but then Condit was pulled up after Nick Diaz’s situation, and Penn ended up losing to Diaz in a fairly one-sided beating that had him seriously considering retirement for a brief moment. Though he still fought on that card, the fight with Condit was one I was highly anticipating, and one I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see.
(6) Anthony Pettis vs. Frankie Edgar/Gray Maynard
When he landed the off-the-wall “Showtime” kick on Ben Henderson in the final WEC event to close out 2010, Anthony Pettis became one of the hottest fighters in the sport. He was guaranteed a shot at the winner of UFC 125’s Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard for the UFC Lightweight Championship, and looked to enter the organization in a big way. The problem was, there was no winner at UFC 125, as Edgar and Maynard fought to a draw, necessitating a third bout between the two. Pettis then took a fight with Clay Guida and got out-wrestled in losing a decision, and though he’s won since then, it was a major missed opportunity for the UFC during the year to capitalize on Pettis’ rising star.
(5) Fedor Emelianenko vs. Alistair Overeem
Strikeforce’s big missed opportunity was the inability to book a fight between Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem. The fight finally looked to be in line last year as the two were expected to win their Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix quarterfinal bouts in order to set up a semifinal bout against one another. Then, Emelianenko lost to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, the other half of the quarterfinals were moved to June and Overeem then moved to the UFC after defeating Fabricio Werdum. A fight between “The Last Emperor” and Overeem would have been one of the biggest heavyweight fights that could have been put together outside of the UFC, and the inability to ever get that fight booked is a black mark on Strikeforce’s pre-Zuffa run.
(4) Brock Lesnar vs. Junior dos Santos
The other major heavyweight fight that didn’t happen this year was former Champ Brock Lesnar against now-Champ Junior dos Santos. The two coached the 13th season of The Ultimate Fighter against one another, and were slated to meet at UFC 131 in June. However, Lesnar’s diverticulitis returned, and he was forced out of the bout. Dos Santos then met Shane Carwin, battered him for three rounds to earn a shot at Cain Velasquez, and captured the belt later in the year. But with Lesnar losing to Overeem in his eventual return to close out the year and then retiring, this is a fight that will not ever happen. It could have been an even bigger star making fight for dos Santos into his bout with Velasquez than the Carwin fight was, but unfortunately it just didn’t happen.
(3) Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II
Now, this one was derailed in late 2010 with Sonnen’s suspension, but the immediate rematch between the two fighters of their epic UFC 117 encounter was originally planned for Super Bowl weekend 2011. Considering it’s still a huge fight that could happen in 2012, it may not be a lost cause entirely, but the fight was still missed in terms of pay-per-view business and immediate hype in 2011.
(2) Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz/Carlos Condit
UFC 137 ended up being a massive clusterf*** of an event, and it led to two major Welterweight Title fights not happening as planned. First up, the GSP-Diaz fight fell apart because Diaz no-showed press responsibilities, putting Condit into the fight. Now, prior to Diaz’s destruction of Penn that would eventually happen at UFC 137, this fight would have done similar business regardless of whether Diaz or Condit was facing GSP. Diaz, while drawing well for Strikeforce standards, was not at all a proven draw coming into the UFC, and he and Condit would have represented fairly equal challenges to GSP. However, neither fight wound up happening at all, as GSP injured his knee. Now, with GSP injuring his other knee, the fight with Diaz scheduled for UFC 143 may end up being the biggest fight that doesn’t happen in 2012, but the UFC still has a really great fight between Diaz and Condit lined up for the Interim belt this year.
(1) Rashad Evans vs. Jon Jones
This continually brewing grudge match was lined up twice in 2011, falling apart for injury reasons on both occasions. When Jones replaced Evans to face “Shogun” Rua for the title in March, and then said he’d be willing to fight his teammate if the UFC asked it of him, it caused a rift that led to Evans leaving Greg Jackson’s camp. The “friendship” the two supposedly had quickly unraveled into a string of insults and negativity flung between the two, and the UFC hoped to get them in the cage at UFC 133 to capitalize on the real life tension. However, Jones suffered a hand injury in the Rua fight that doctors told him would require surgery, and he wasn’t able to commit to the early August return. Evans then took a fight with Phil Davis, which turned into a fight with Tito Ortiz when Davis also suffered an injury. Jones was eventually told by the surgeon scheduled to perform a procedure that he wouldn’t require surgery, so he returned against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in September. With both winning their fights, the UFC then targeted the two of them for a bout at UFC 140 in Toronto. Jones claimed Evans requested the date, leading him to commit to the date himself, but this time it was a hand injury to Evans that kept him out of such a quick turnaround. Because of that, Jones took on – and defeated – Lyoto Machida, while Evans once again found himself matched up with Davis later this month. This fight might finally happen in 2012, but the fact that it didn’t in 2011 was a definite missed opportunity for a big, big business fight last year.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS FLASHBACK: 5 YRS AGO: Tito Ortiz eying July bout with Forrest Griffin or Chuck Liddell for final UFC fight (w/Penick’s Analysis)