The subject of Dream Matches has long been debated across a wide spectrum of sports.
Who would have won if Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali had fought in their prime? (Other than whoever was promoting it $$$)
What if The Undertaker had gone one-on-one with Sting in a wrestling ring?
Imagine if Red Rum had raced Black Beauty.
While there’s no way of knowing the outcome of these hypothetical scenarios that we torture ourselves with, it is a much healthier pastime to instead debate what these Dream Matches would have been.
Here is my Ultimate UFC Dream Card, the fights I, personally, would most like to have seen.
Middleweight: Royce Gracie vs Demian Maia
This is one for the grappling purists.
Royce Gracie is the man that brought Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to Mixed Martial Arts; the godfather of combat sports; the victor in the very first UFC Tournament in 1993.
When Royce Gracie stepped into the cage at UFC 1 almost thirty years ago, he looked unassuming. Some of the fighters in the very first tournament hosted by new promotion the Ultimate Fighting Championship were absolute units. Seriously, Google ‘Teila Tuli’. Yep.
Yet here was Royce Gracie, this Guy in a Gi (good name for his autobiography), that was bewildering his opponents with this never-before-seen martial art. Gracie submitted his three opponents – one of them being Ken “looks like he’s made of luncheon-meat” Shamrock – in a combined time of 4 minutes and 59 seconds, to win the one-night tournament.
Then at UFC 2, he did the same.
At UFC 3 he submitted Kimo “genuinely might be the scariest looking man in the actual world” Leopoldo, and then went ahead and won the entire UFC 4 tournament, because… why not?
In fact, Gracie went 11-0 with eleven submission wins and three UFC Tournament victories before fighting Shamrock to a draw after a mere 36 minutes in 1995 and then retiring from MMA for 5 years.
The Brazilian returned intermittently across the intervening years – much as I am sure his hairless namesake did as fashions constantly changed – but he never really found the success that saw him become a legend in the sport and the inaugural UFC Hall of Fame inductee.
Like Gracie before him, fellow countryman Demian Maia went 11-0 in his professional MMA career before his record saw its first blemish. Maia notched up six straight victories on his route to the UFC, before submitting Ryan Jensen, Ed Herman, Jason MacDonald, Nate Quarry, and Chael Sonnen in his first five UFC bouts.
Maia was brought down to earth with a short, sharp jab by Nate Marquardt in his next fight, losing by KO in just 21 seconds, a move which leads Maia to perfect his stand-up techniques and all but stop training Jiu-Jitsu completely.
Throughout his 14-year career with the world’s premier MMA organization – that saw him challenge for both the Middleweight and Welterweight Championships – Demian Maia was regularly referred to as the best grappler in the business.
Add that to the fact that Maia has gone on record as saying that Royce Gracie was the man that inspired him to start training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and you’ve got your promo right there:
“Two of the greatest Jiu-Jitsu practitioners ever. The 5th Degree BJJ Black Belt Demian Maia, a man who has never been submitted in professional combat, takes on his idol, the man who started it all; UFC Hall of Famer and 7th degree Black Belt Royce Gracie.“
Light Heavyweight: Jon Jones vs Chuck Liddell
This may be a personal one for me. Yes, it has been talked about a lot in “Dream Match” discussions as it essentially pits the two greatest UFC Light Heavyweight Champions of all time against each other, but it feels self-indulgent as one is my favorite fighter of all time and the other… is most definitely not.
Before his chin sadly gave up on him and went to live on a farm in the country where it could run around and play in the open air with all the other chins, Chuck Liddell was the meanest son-of-a-sausage in MMA.
Not just the meanest, but the coolest, too (can you tell I’m quite fond of him?) and his coolness garnered him the nickname “The Iceman”, which is without a doubt one of the very best nicknames ever… although Ken Shamrock’s one about luncheon meat is pretty cool.
Liddell’s main attributes were his hands. Those lovely, lovely hands. On his way to the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, Liddell defeated a plethora of the very top guys at 205-pounds, then won the belt and continued to smash almost everybody in his way.
Notable names on The Iceman’s Resume (good name for his debut heavy-metal album) include Vitor Belfort, Alistair Overeem, Wanderlei Silva, and double victories over both Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture.
Chuck Liddell had great wrestling, but he wouldn’t use it to take his opponents to the ground and dry-hump them for fifteen minutes; he’d use it to stop them from doing that, so they could stand up and bang with him.
This is why he’s the perfect opponent for Jon Jones.
Whether you’re a fan or not, you have to admit that “Bones” is one of the very best to ever do it. He is an unrivaled talent; his athleticism, his versatility, and his bloody long arms and legs have made him a puzzle that his opponents have yet to work out.
He is undefeated… I mean, technically, if you look at his MMA Record, there is a loss to Matt Hamill on there, but if you watch the fight, you will never see anyone get beaten as badly as Hamill did. Jones was disqualified for using illegal “12-6” elbows, which he probably didn’t realize were illegal being – quite astoundingly – just eighteen months into his professional career.
Jones’ progression was scary. He started finishing guys for fun. Slicing his way through the division until finally becoming the youngest ever UFC Champion at the age of 23. From there, he just kept getting better and better, going through former UFC Champions like they were condoms in his glovebox.
But could Jones defeat a 20-3 Chuck Liddell from 2006? Could Jones get Liddell down? Could he pick Chuck apart on the feet? Could he break that granite chin (RIP)?
Could that Chuck Liddell become the first man to legitimately beat Jon Jones? Could he sprawl and defend the takedown? Could he rough Jones up against the cage for a TKO win?
In reality, there’s no love lost between these two men, as they have shared more than a few jibes back-and-forth over social media in the past… people using social media to argue? That must be a first. So, it feels like this one, in particular, is the ultimate Dream Fight in what is historically the most stacked division in the company’s history.
“Two titans at 205. Two versatile strikers with an excellent ground game. Two incredibly violent individuals… one King of the Light Heavyweight Division.”
Lightweight: Conor McGregor vs BJ Penn
It may be difficult for any relatively new UFC fans to imagine, but BJ Penn was one of the greatest to ever… I was going to say ‘lace-up his boots’ but obviously, that’s a football metaphor… take his boots off?
Between his professional debut in 2001 at UFC 31 and becoming the first-ever person to stop the ultra-durable Diego Sanchez at UFC 107 in 2009, BJ Penn’s record spoke for itself.
Sure, he had a handful of losses on there; a razor-thin Split Decision to one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time Georges St-Pierre and a decision to a future UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida that outweighed Penn by 30 pounds.
But apart from a Majority Decision loss to the much more experienced Jens Pulver in just his 4th professional fight, Penn was undefeated at lightweight by the end of 2009. It was his division.
And it’s this BJ Penn that I want on this Dream Card.
This BJ Penn was ruthless. He was the undisputed King at 155-pounds. He’d beaten legends like Caol Uno (in 11 seconds), Matt Serra, Takanori Gomi, Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, and got his revenge in a rematch against Pulver. This is not to mention notable wins outside of lightweight to Renzo Gracie and UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes.
Now, as far as resumes in the UFC’s lightweight division go, Conor McGregor does not have a very good one… despite, quite peculiarly, being a former champion.
In fact, his UFC Lightweight Championship win against Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in 2016 is his only win at 155-pounds in the promotion. “The Notorious” went 7-0 at featherweight and 2-1 at welterweight, but his victory against Alvarez is his only W at lightweight… his other fight being that loss to Khabib Numagomedov.
However, despite his lack of victories at lightweight, I do feel that it’s the right division for McGregor. Sure, he had all his success and best performances at featherweight, but after not competing at that weight for 6 years, and knowing how emaciated he looked at the weigh-ins, I think lightweight is the optimum division for Conor.
BJ Penn was heralded as having the best boxing in MMA for a long time, and before his loss to Frankie Edgar in 2014, had never been stopped with strikes in 27 fights.
McGregor’s stand-up speaks for itself, and the technical war that a BJ Penn circa 2009 and Conor McGregor pre-Nate Diaz loss would have had, would be completely wild. Plus, the trash talk would be pretty decent too…
“Two of the most gifted stand-up fighters in the sport’s history; the legendary BJ Penn, long-time king of the lightweight division, takes on the sport’s biggest ever star, Conor McGregor, a man that picks which round he finishes his opponents”. I have given myself goosebumps.
Before announcing the main event (yeah, as if Conor McGregor would ever not be the main event), I’d like to throw out some Honourable Mentions for fights that very nearly made it in, but were just pipped to the post.
Light Heavyweight: Anderson Silva vs Jon Jones
Prime Anderson Silva, circa knocking out, destroying and embarrassing former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Forrest Griffin in 2009, against Jon Jones circa knocking out, destroying and embarrassing former UFC Middleweight contender Chael Sonnen in 2013. A battle of two untouchable enigmas. Goodness, this would have been epic.
Heavyweight: Brock Lesnar vs Fedor Emelianenko
A clash between the greatest heavyweight of all time… and Brock Lesnar. If we can believe UFC President Dana White, this fight was very nearly on the cards at one point, and what a spectacle it would have been, not to mention probably the biggest moneymaker in MMA history.
Catchweight 177.5 lbs: Anderson Silva vs Georges St-Pierre
It’s probably the most talked-about Dream Match in the sport’s history, it’s been scrutinized, imagined, debated, and argued about… and the worst thing is, it could have happened!
The two pound-for-pound greatest. Two dominant champions that define their respective weight classes, each holding the record for title defenses.
Anderson Silva held the UFC Middleweight Championship for an unrivaled 2,457 days, amassing 10 title defenses, which doesn’t include his non-title win over Travis Lutter who failed to make weight.
Georges St-Pierre held the UFC Welterweight Championship for an almost unrivaled 2,064 days, amassing 9 title defenses.
These two had parallel success, going a combined 24-0 during their heydays between 2006 and 2012.
Take all this into account and add the fact that Silva had fought at Welterweight prior to coming to the UFC, and GSP – one of the bigger welterweights at the time – eventually went on to come out of retirement in 2017 and win the UFC Middleweight Championship, and you just want to scream into a mirror until the voices in your head stop, because you’re so damn frustrated, arrrrgggh!
GSP’s grappling was second to none. His stand-up technique was heavily refined towards the latter part of his career too, a perfect example of this would be the clinic he put on against Josh Koscheck in their second encounter.
Silva’s striking was obviously some of the most elite to ever be seen (watch what he did in the aforementioned clash with Forest Griffin), but he did struggle when it came to strong wrestlers like Chael Sonnen. I mean, yes, he did finish Sonnen twice, despite the American’s superior grappling, but still, it makes GSP’s takedown look pretty dangerous for Silva.
GSP has been hit before, and getting hit by Anderson “The Spider” Silva is very different than getting hit by 5’6 former lightweight Matt Serra – who knocked GSP out in probably the biggest upset in UFC history. St-Pierre has also struggled in stand-up with the likes of BJ Penn and Carlos Condit, the latter dropping GSP in their 2012 title showdown.
If GSP can keep it on the ground, he can rough up Silva, maintain top control and win a decision as long as he can avoid those long legs of “The Spider” and his world-class BJJ.
If Silva can keep the fight standing, he could pick apart GSP using his reach and superior stand-up and either outpoint him to a decision or finish him with strikes.
Whichever way you believe the fight would have gone, a one-on-one encounter at a catchweight of 177.5-pounds (which sits equidistant between their respective weights) is the Ultimate Dream Match on the Ultimate Dream Card in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The Full Ultimate UFC Dream Card
- Middleweight: Royce Gracie vs Demian Maia
- Light Heavyweight: Jon Jones vs Chuck Liddell
- Lightweight: Conor McGregor vs BJ Penn
- Catchweight 177.5 lbs: Anderson Silva vs Georges St-Pierre