Looking Back on MMA’s Missed Opportunities Following Andy Ruiz Jr.’s Victory Over Anthony Joshua

UFC 83 Georges St. Pierre
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Andy Ruiz Jr. shocked the boxing world, putting a halt on talks of Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder. Yet another fight delayed and possibly gone. What are the MMA parallels?

The success of the Rocky Balboa film franchise revealed it’s no secret that a great underdog story sells. But in real-world boxing, it has the opposite effect. Andy Ruiz Jr., the Mexican-American heavyweight who was virtually unknown to most fans prior to taking the fight on a month’s notice, and with a much-publicized sub-par physique compared to that of his opponent, shocked the boxing world Saturday with a seventh-round knockout over Anthony Joshua.

Ruiz Jr. stepped into the ring against arguably boxing’s biggest superstar as an 11:1 underdog, and overcame adversity in the third round when he was dropped to the canvas for the first time in his career at the famed Madison Square Garden Arena in New York City. It was Joshua’s debut on American soil and was supposed to launch the Brit’s expansion into the United States market to set up what would be the sport’s biggest fight with fellow undefeated heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder.

Boxing is no stranger to marquee fights that have lost their aura; Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao is always the first fight that comes to mind for this generation’s boxing fan as the fighters waited well beyond their best days before due-date, leaving the majority disappointed with a lackluster fight. Other much-anticipated bouts prior to Mayweather and Pacquiao would never transpire and have left many disheartened with the sport built upon values categorized by the best fighting the best, which hardly seems to be the case anymore.

Heavyweights Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis never faced off professionally inside the square circle, which left some, even today, reflecting on the fight that never was during the 1990s. Mayweather and Pacquaio had its own set of circumstances that caused its expiration date to pass by while the heavyweight clash of the 90s that never was has its own. The question of will they or won’t they between Joshua and Wilder has yet to be answered, although it is obvious that the excitement that surrounded boxing’s next highly anticipated bout has been lost.

Mixed Martial Arts, in particular, the UFC, prides itself on avoiding such pitfalls, with president Dana White’s control over his fighters and promotion being one significant difference when compared to boxing. Although MMA’s biggest organization markets itself as an alternative to boxing’s flawed system, it is not free of such instances of prolonged and passed on anticipated fights.

Here are some examples of boxing’s biggest flaw crossing over into the MMA realm throughout the sport’s history:

Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva: UFC 79

After years of speculation, anticipation, and even doubt, December 29, 2007, saw arguably the biggest fight in MMA history to that point finally take place. Fans had been calling for Liddell and Silva to meet to determine the best light heavyweight in the world, and even had promotional bragging rights on the line.

Liddell was the UFC’s light heavyweight champion. Silva was Pride FC’s middleweight champion, but competed in multiple divisions and even challenged Tito Ortiz for the 205-pound crown at UFC 25. As “The Axe Murderer” and “The Iceman” dominated their respective organizations, the dream of this potential matchup gained a tremendous following. But when the two met in the Octagon, years had gone by and losses were accumulated by both, damaging the hype behind the bout.

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson would end Liddell’s title reign via first-round knockout, while Silva was viciously knocked out by Dan Henderson, which paved the way for the Brazilian to complete a move back to the UFC.

Despite the years that had passed and lack of recent success for both, UFC 79’s co-main event had the most excitement surrounding it. This in spite of an interim title trilogy bout between Georges St-Pierre and Matt Hughes to settle their own rivalry as the card’s featured bout.

The fight did not disappoint, defined as an all-time classic with numerous back-and-forth exchanges that had the sold-out crowd of 11,000 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in a frenzy. Liddell would earn the unanimous decision victory (29–28, 30–27, 30–27) but to this day, fans can’t help but fantasize at the prospect of these two MMA legends meeting with a title on the line, or at the peak of their careers.

Georges St-Pierre vs. Anderson Silva

While Liddell and Silva graced the Octagon, albeit later than most fans would have hoped for, the next three fights on this list have not and it is safe to claim they likely never will.

For years up until the recent retirement of St-Pierre, the MMA community was clamoring for a clash between the former welterweight champion and Silva, who held the 185-pound title. Without a doubt, it would have been the biggest fight in the company’s history. GSP held the 170-pound belt from 2008–2013, while Silva’s championship reign began two years prior to his Canadian counterpart, ending in the same year.

Silva began his UFC career with 16 consecutive victories, a record that still stands. The Brazilian’s record streak was filled with highlight reel knockouts on the sport’s elite. St-Pierre, after he suffered a well-documented upset loss to Matt Serra, revamped his career and returned with some of the best wrestling the Octagon had ever seen on his way to a 12-fight win streak before he picked up his 13th after a four-year hiatus.

That four year-hiatus halted any talk of a fight between two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, although the UFC did attempt to make their prospective marquee fight. St-Pierre called for more drug testing before the implementation of USADA by the promotion, as well as concerns with moving up a weight class.

Silva after suffering back-to-back losses in title bouts to Chris Weidman, would test positive twice, his second accounted for a tainted supplement and subsequently a reduced suspension.

St-Pierre’s retirement, along with four losses in the last five trips to the cage for “The Spider,” has ended any dream of a fight between the UFC’s greatest ever fighters, and a future meeting would likely have the same outcome as Liddell and Silva.

Too little, too late.