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Cautious Sonnen vs. Silva enthusiasm: History of cursed UFC Ultimate Fighter (TUF) coach fights that never were

Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva were recently announced as coaches for the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Brazil, which is a match-up many fans are eagerly anticipating. However, over the years a number of TUF coaches have failed to actually make it to their planned fight. Here is a look back TUF fights that never were.

Brock Lesnar (L) vs. Junior dos Santos on TUF 13. Remember when this was a real thing?
Brock Lesnar (L) vs. Junior dos Santos on TUF 13. Remember when this was a real thing?

Say what you will about Chael Sonnen, but the man certainly knows how to spark interest from mixed martial arts (MMA) fans.

When news broke earlier this week (Oct. 21, 2013) on FOX Sports Live that Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) brass had selected rivals Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva to serve as coaches on the upcoming third season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) "Brazil," fans immediately began buzzing over the possibilities.

What happens if a Brazilian fighter on Sonnen's team takes umbrage at some of the, shall we say, less than flattering remarks the outspoken moneyweight has made about that proud nation in the past?

Will the "American Gangster" really need to be flanked by a Secret Service-like security detail whenever he decides to go out for a steak dinner at night?

Is Silva going to rant and rave in the style of a 1980's pro wrestler about such refined topics as sucking the "butt face" Sonnen's blood, while rocking out to some totally dudical metal riffage, each time he does a confessional?

It seems inevitable Sonnen and Silva's eventual fight will be a financial success. After fans in both Brazil and USA soak-in 12 weeks or so of what promises to be Chinese New year-level fireworks on TUF Brazil, they're going to be itching to see these two bitter rivals lock horns.

That is, of course, if the fight actually happens.

Over the course of TUF's nearly nine-year history, the coaches' fight coming to fruition hasn't always been a guarantee. In a sport where injuries suffered in training are, as Bone Thugs N Harmony once sang, an everyday thang, it's impossible to state with 100-percent certainty whether any match will take place up until the fighters actually get inside the cage (as the case of Tim Means pulling a Three Stooges and KO'ing himself in the sauna so emphatically proves).

And Silva is already dealing with a bum back.

In the interest of not counting our revenue until the pay per view (PPV) buy rates have come in, let's take a look back at some of TUF coaches' fights that never were.

Matt Serra vs. Matt Hughes

The rivalry between Hughes and Serra was as much a conflict between two diametrically opposed lifestyles as it was a beef between two individuals.

In the one corner you had the F-bomb dropping, pasta-chomping Serra: a scrappy New Yorker who sounded like a potty-mouthed version of Mr. Rogers when he coached his fighters at Octagon side.

Hughes was his polar opposite: a clean cut, Bible-thumping country boy who came across like the egoistical captain of the high school football team. Who can ever forget the classic scene on TUF season 2 when Hughes' team was stumped as to which character he most resembled in a Biblical parable he forced them to read during practice, and the former welterweight champ filled them in, proudly declaring, "I'm the Queen!"

Serra and Hughes were originally scheduled to face one another at UFC 79 after the conclusion of TUF season 6.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Serra injured his back training for the fight and was forced to withdraw.

Over 19 months had passed since TUF 6 when the two finally got it on at UFC 98. By that time, the U.S.S. Money Match Up had already sailed out of harbor, leaving these two stranded on the dock staring wistfully at all the long green blowing in the ship's wake.

Hughes ended up taking a unanimous decision over Serra at UFC 98 in a bout that won "Fight of the Night" honors.

There was no word on how Serra dealt with the loss, but I'm willing to bet it involved a $60,000 bonus check and some cannoli. Lots and lots of cannoli.

Quinton Jackson vs. Rashad Evans

Jackson vs. Evans is the biggest drawing non-title PPV headliner in UFC history, doing 1,000,000 buys at UFC 114. Getting there, however, was a long and winding road for the two trash talking light heavyweights.

Jackson and Evans took beef to a whole new level as coaches on TUF season 10, which featured an all-heavyweight cast.

Among the fighters on the show was Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson, an utterly talentless backyard brawler who, in a tour de farce of smoke and mirrors that would make any shell game huckster green with envy, a tracksuit-clad shyster named Gary Shaw had helped build into one of the biggest superstars in MMA.

Kimbo's involvement in the show helped TUF 10 draw monster ratings, which meant there were a lot of eyeballs on each of "Rampage" and Evans none too infrequent shouting matches. As a result, a huge number of fans were primed to see these two finally get inside the Octagon and put their fists where their mouths were.

Unfortunately, Jackson peaced out on his scheduled UFC 107 match up against Evans to instead film the roll of B.A. Baracus in the A-Team movie.

At the time White was livid, but it ended up working out all for the best in the end. Thanks to three weeks of absolutely blistering verbal back and forth on the UFC: "Primetime" series, Rampage vs. Rashad ended up making White and UFC a gripload of money.

As for the fight itself? The less said about that anticlimactic stinker, the better.

Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell III

For longtime MMA fans these two need no introduction, but for neophytes out there it's worth taking a second to briefly review how important both men were in UFC history.

Ortiz's contributions may be downplayed by ZUFFA thanks to his tumultuous relationship with UFC President Dana White, but during the lean years before the first season of TUF brought MMA to the mainstream consciousness, and consequently saved then-struggling UFC, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" was the company's top star.

One of the coaches on the landmark first season of TUF, and the first fighter to resonate with the promotion's new audience, Liddell succeeded Ortiz as the most recognizable name on the UFC roster.

How big of stars were Ortiz and Liddell? When they fought for the second time, at UFC 66, they drew a monster 1,050,000 PPV buys (according to MMA That was a new record at the time and is still one of the biggest buy rates in UFC history.

When the two men reprised their rivalry over three years later to serve as coaches on the eleventh season of TUF, things had changed.

Liddell was no longer the top dog in the UFC's light heavyweight division. The "Iceman's" once iron-clad chin had seemingly thawed over night, causing his record to drop to a downright depressing 1-4 since his victory over Ortiz at UFC 66.

Ortiz may not have been getting knocked out left and right like Liddell, but he was a dreadful 0-3-1 since UFC 66, causing many to speculate he was shot as a fighter.

Which is probably why it didn't come as much of a surprise when Ortiz pulled out of his fight against the Iceman at the eleventh hour due to a severe neck injury. This led to White and UFC slotting the company's ultimate utility man, Rich Franklin, in as a last-minute replacement against Liddell.

"Ace" ended up knocking the Iceman out in the first round, and with that, the career of one of UFC's most memorable figures came to an unceremonious end.

Brock Lesnar vs. Junior dos Santos

At the time, it was a bombshell announcement when Lesnar was announced as one of the coaches of TUF season 13.

Not only was the recently dethroned UFC heavyweight champ the biggest PPV attraction in the business, he was also a notorious misanthrope. If there was anything Lesnar hated more than being around other people, it was being away from the backwoods of Minnesota he called home. Watching a cranky Lesnar melt down in real time sounded like a surefire recipe for television gold.

Instead, fans got a relatively tame season where the taciturn Lesnar was the picture of civility when interacting with fellow coach Junior dos Santos. The perpetually smiling JDS was such a nice guy even Lesnar couldn't be ornery with him.

Although the season may have been rather dull in the drama department, the title eliminator match up between the two coaches set for UFC 131 was certain to make up for it.

That is until Lesnar was forced to pull out of the fight after suffering another bout of diverticulitis, the disease that almost ended his career a year and a half earlier.

JDS instead faced Shane Carwin, and crushed him over three rounds to win a shot at then-champ Cain Velasquez. The rest, as they say, is semi-recent history.

Urijah Faber vs. Dominick Cruz

Faber and Cruz were coaches on the fifteenth season of TUF, which had the added wrinkle of being the only show filmed live in real time.

Thus the world got to see Cruz break the news to his team that he had recently suffered an ACL tear just hours after it was filmed.

This 86'd the big bantamweight title bout between Faber and Cruz that was planned for UFC 148. It was announced live on the show that Faber would instead face up-and-comer Renan Barao for the interim bantamweight belt (the bout was later moved to UFC 149).

Barao won that match and is still holding the interim bantamweight title some 15 months later, due to Cruz re-tearing his ACL in rehab and requiring even more time out on the shelf.

Roy Nelson vs. Shane Carwin

For some reason, the Team Nelson vs. Team Carwin themed sixteenth season of TUF didn't catch on with the public. I'm not sure what it was about watching a soft spoken, charisma-deficient civil engineer coach against a portly loudmouth who looks like he's wearing a mud-splattered otter's den on his face that people didn't find appealing, but the results speak for themselves: season 16 did the lowest ratings in TUF history at the time.

But, oh, what great television those fans who gave up on TUF 16 missed. Few of the dozens of people who saw it will ever forget the heart-string tugging sight of Michael Hill hugging it out with Julian Lane and assuring his spikey-haired compatriot that he would, indeed, "Let him bang, bro."

Powerful stuff.

Then there was the epic 400 meter race between Nelson and Carwin in the coaches' challenge. "Big Country" put in a herculean effort that brought to mind Aesop's fable of "The Tortoise and the Hare." Unfortunately for the man with the most prodigious mullet in MMA, slow and steady wasn't enough to win the race that day. The former college athlete, Carwin, was the faster man, leaving Big Country to gallantly saunter across the finish line at a leisurely pace.

Alas, the foot race was to be the only athletic clash between the two behemoths. Carwin was forced out of their fight due to a severe knee injury and Big Country instead fought -- and TKOed -- Matt Mitrione in TUF 16 finale.

Carwin never fought again, and retired from the sport due to chronic injuries just months later.

Wanderlei Silva vs. Vitor Belfort

Silva and Belfort were the coaches on the original season of TUF Brazil. I'd like to tell you all about their rivalry on the show, but to be 100-percent real, I tapped out after two episodes.

I'm not going to front, it was the subtitles that did me in.

What I can tell you is the show was a runaway ratings success in Brazil. Much like TUF season 1 in the United States, TUF Brazil was instrumental in making UFC wildly popular in the South American country.

So imagine what a major letdown it was for Brazilian fans when, after they had already invested 13 weeks in watching Silva and Belfort's rivalry play out on TUF, it was announced the Young Dinosaur couldn't compete due to a broken hand suffered in training.

His replacement? None other than ZUFFA employee of the decade, Rich Franklin.

"Ace" faced Silva at UFC 147 at Mineirinho Arena in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in the main event of a show that did a mere 140,000 PPV buys, one of the lowest numbers of the modern era.

Ronda Rousey vs. Cat Zingano

With the rivalry between Rousey and fellow coach Miesha Tate currently breathing new life into TUF, it's easy to forget Tate wasn't supposed to be there in the first place.

Zingano beat Tate by third-round TKO at TUF 17 finale back April, in a fight that was supposed to determine the women's bantamweight No. 1 contender and next TUF coach.

Then "Alpha" blew out her ACL and had to pull out of the coaching gig.

Instead, Rousey's longtime rival took her place both on the show and in the upcoming title match at UFC 168, an event already being forecast as the biggest of all time by Dana White.

Who says the spoils always go to the victor?


Well Maniacs, I hope this short trip down TUF memory lane has taught us all a few things. To wit:

  1. When it comes to MMA fighters, spinal columns and knee ligaments are about as durable as porcelain dolls set out in the streets of Pamplona during the Running of the Bulls.
  2. If you're a fight promoter, you want guys like Rich Franklin on your roster.
  3. Big Country is likely not the next Usain Bolt.
  4. There is simply no guarantee a TUF coaches' fight will take place until the fighters actually step foot inside the Octagon.

Here's hoping Silva and Sonnen -- neither to be mistaken for spring chickens -- train in bubble wrap on TUF: Brazil, and in the weeks leading up to their scheduled fight. This is one match up it would be a real shame to see cancelled.

For more on how this match-up came together click here.

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