After watching UFC 79 and hearing all of the discussion about how Matt Hughes and Matt Serra were originally supposed to fight but Serra pulled out with an injury, I got to thinking. It wasn’t the first time that a situation like that occurred.
So I sat down and did some research. There were actually a good number of fights in the UFC that were signed and slated to happen but ended up not taking place for one reason or another. The final number was a lot higher than I expected so I went ahead and narrowed the list down to the fights that would have been the best if they were to happen at the time.
So here they are. I’ve sorted them starting with the most recent and excluding Hughes-Serra. Each instance is pretty interesting.
Evan Tanner vs Jeremy Horn (UFC 59): The two long-time MMA veterans were set to clash at UFC 59 in what was unofficially an “elimination” bout for the two of them. Horn had split his two return bouts in the UFC while Tanner had lost two straight, including his middleweight title. The bout would have been an interesting chess match between two slick grapplers but Horn ended up pulling out after injuring his back during training. Justin Levens replaced Horn and Tanner went on to submit Levens in the first round of their bout. Horn was released shortly after defeating Chael Sonnen at UFC 60.
Matt Hughes vs Karo Parisyan (UFC 56): After losing to Georges St. Pierre at UFC 46, Parisyan went ahead and racked up three straight wins over Nick Diaz, Chris Lytle, and Matt Serra to earn a title shot against then-champion Matt Hughes. The anticipated welterweight showdown was set to headline the event until Parisyan was forced to pull out of the fight after suffering an elbow injury during training. Joe Riggs stepped in for Parisyan and ended up failing to make weight, costing him his shot at the title. Hughes would go on to submit Riggs in a non-title bout and wouldn’t defend his belt again until UFC 63, making it over a full year since the welterweight title was contested. To this day, Parisyan is still yearning for another shot at the title.
Rich Franklin vs Matt Lindland (UFC 56): Hughes-Parisyan wasn’t the only fight that didn’t take place at seemingly doomed from the start UFC 56. Newly crowned middleweight champion Rich Franklin was all but set to face Matt Lindland in his first title defense. Lindland defeated Travis Lutter at UFC 54 and was named the number-one contender to Franklin’s belt at the post-fight press conference for the event. Shortly after, Lindland was released from his UFC contract due a violation of his deal. Lindland apparently carried an illegal sponsor on a shirt worn during the event. Franklin would go on to face Ultimate Fighter contestant Nate Quarry and we all know how that went.
Patrick Cote vs Lee Murray (UFC 52): Let’s just say that this one would have been a war on the feet. Cote and Murray were set to clash in a middleweight contest at UFC 52 until Murray was unable to make it to the event due to passport problems. Joe Doerksen replaced Murray at the last minute and ended up submitting Cote with a rear naked choke. So where are they now? Cote has overcome an 0-4 start in the UFC to win his last two fights in impressive fashion. However our friend Lee Murray is currently serving a prison sentence in Morocco in connection with the biggest bank robbery in the history of the United Kingdom.
Ken Shamrock vs Ian Freeman (UFC 43): After Shamrock lost a dramatic grudge match to Tito Ortiz at UFC 40, he signed on to face Ian Freeman at UFC 43. What would have been an interesting matchup between two powerhouse technicans ended up being scrapped after Shamrock hurt his knee in the weeks leading up to the bout. Shamrock’s Lion’s Den training partner Vernon White stepped in as a replacement opponent. He and Freeman ended up fighting to a draw.
Evan Tanner vs Vladimir Matyushenko (UFC 38): Tanner shows up for the second time on our list after being scheduled to take on “The Janitor” at UFC 38 in England. Both had been dispatched by then-light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz the year prior. Tanner had won two straight fights since the loss to Ortiz and a win over Matyushenko would have put him right back in line for another shot at the belt. It would have been fun to see the two “ground and pound” specialists go at it but Matyushenko ended up becoming injured during training and pulled out. Matyushenko was replaced by Rings veteran Chris Haseman who went on to lose a unanimous decision to Tanner in his one and only UFC appearance.
Tito Ortiz vs Vitor Belfort (UFC 33): We all know that Ortiz ended up beating Belfort at UFC 51 but what would have happened if an emotional problem-free Belfort on the roll that made him famous locked horns with the seemingly unbeatable at the time Ortiz? It would have been a fight for the ages and it almost happened at UFC 33 until Belfort ended up breaking his arm three weeks before the event. Vladimir Matyushenko stepped in to face Ortiz for the title and ultimately lost a decision to the champ.
Randy Couture vs Mark Coleman (UFC 17): Now we’re going way back. It was a three-man show for the UFC’s heavyweight title at the time. Maurice Smith beat Coleman at UFC 14 to win the belt. Couture then decisioned Smith at UFC Japan to take the belt from him so it became Coleman’s turn. The showdown between the two renowned wrestlers would have been an epic but Couture pulled out after injuring himself during training. Couture then ended up leaving the promotion due to a contract dispute weeks later. An unknown Pete Williams stepped in and proceeded to put Coleman to sleep with a highlight reel head kick that we’ve all come to know.
Honorable Mentions: Ken Shamrock vs Tank Abbott (Ultimate Ultimate 1996), Tito Ortiz vs Guy Mezger (UFC 50), Frank Mir vs Andrei Arlovski (UFC 51), Don Frye vs Kimo Leopoldo (Ultimate Ultimate 96)
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