The Greatest Fights that Never Were: Bas Rutten vs. Igor Vovchanchyn

In this feature I’ll be taking a look at a hypothetical showdown featuring two of MMA’s greats that never came to fruition. This time around I’ll be looking at a potential fight between Bas Rutten and Igor Vovchanchyn, a pair of men who for the most part of their careers completely disregarded weight class and at one time were also in possession of two of the longest unbeaten streaks in the sport’s history.

The Who:

Rutten is one of the all-time legends of the sport. One of the first highly effective strikers to also adapt his game to be a well-rounded competitor, he rose through the ranks of the Pancrase organization to capture the King of Pancrase title. He then moved over to the UFC amidst as much fanfare was possible in 1999 and became the UFC Heavyweight Champion prior to retiring. Rutten ended his career on a 22-fight unbeaten streak stretching from April 1995 to July 2006.

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Vovchanchyn could top any list of the most underrated fighters in MMA history. While Rutten was over in Pancrase, palm striking dudes into submission, Vovchanchyn was beating them senseless in bare-knuckle fights, utilizing everything from soccer kicks to karate chopping Adilson Lima in the back of the neck to become one of the most feared fighters of his generous. A vicious kickboxer who relied on his power and ability to avoid getting put on his back, ‘Ice Cold’ compiled a 37-fight unbeaten streak (including 33-fight winning streak) between January 1996 and May 2000. First through a series of European events, and then in the early days of PRIDE Igor’s next level of violence was exhibited. Vovchanchyn’s incredible streak came to a head in the finals of the PRIDE 2000 GP, but had the circumstances of that tournament been different, who knows how long his streak may have lasted

The When:

There are many times this fight could have taken place because of the extended winning streaks both fighters had. After Bas beat Masakatsu Funaki for his 12th consecutive win, he was at the height of his popularity and success in Japan. Vovchanchyn’s winning streak would have been at 13 at this point, however Igor’s lower profile wouldn’t have made this the ideal time for the bout.

The next option came after Vovchanchyn got his first high profile win by beating Gary Goodridge in rather devastating fashion in October of 1998 (winning streak – 26). At this time Rutten would have just fought his last bout in Pancrase and his unbeaten streak sat at 19. When looking at the best time for this fight from the perspective of when it would be the best fight, not the biggest, this was it. Rutten was still in moderately good health and Vovchanchyn had proven himself a top fighter. However, there is still another option for when this fight would have been at its peak popularity-wise.

The final time occurred when Rutten became the UFC champion in May 1999 but announced his intentions to drop to middleweight (unbeaten streak – 21). Let’s forget that for a moment, because four months later Vovchanchyn turned consensus #1 HW Mark Kerr into a shell of his former self. Sure, the fight went down officially as a NC, but that doesn’t tell the real story. Even better, two months after that, Vovchanchyn laced one of the most brutal KOs in MMA history when he put Francisco Bueno’s face on backwards (unbeaten streak – 34). Rutten was on top of the North American MMA world, and Vovchanchyn was on top of the sport in Japan. In terms of the size of the fight, there would be no better time for it to take place, however Rutten’s injury history was already catching up with him. If Bas were healthy, this would have absolutely been the best time for the fight, so in the alternate universe where we actually get to see this go down, Bas is healthy and the fight takes place near the end of 1999.

The Why:

During the late 90s these were the two most dominant Heavyweight fighters in the sport. Vovchanchyn is one of the most devastating punchers the sport has ever seen. Despite being restricted by Pancrase rules for most of his career, Rutten still managed twelve TKO’s. When MMA was still a Wild West of sorts, this fight would have decided the best HW in the sport even though both guys were at best LHWs by today’s standards.

Two fighters with diverse striking games who had a goal of putting as much violence as possible on their opponent, and it would decide the #1 heavyweight in MMA when that title still actually meant the best fighter in the sport. Honestly, I’d prefer to see a reason this fight shouldn’t have been made.

The How:

Aside from his early career, when “El Guapo” really had no concept of the submission game, the only weakness he ever really showed was in the wrestling game. An excellent striker who became a vicious body striker in part due to the Pancrase rules, Rutten used kicks, punches and knees to the head and body with equal effectiveness. The development of his submission game was the crowning achievement in Rutten’s career however, as he became almost as dangerous with his grappling as he was on the feet, and proficient enough in that aspect to compete with the likes of Funaki and Frank Shamrock on the ground.

We’ve already discussed Igor’s potent punching power, but his effectiveness both standing and on the ground with those punches makes them even more of a weapon. Vovchanchyn doesn’t bring the same type of well-roundedness as Rutten to the ring in terms of a submission attack, and that would likely hurt him in this fight, although his wrestling is probably a notch above Rutten’s, and his takedown defense is vastly superior to that of Rutten’s, in part because of his stature and partly because he actually learned how to sprawl, rather than just slapping on a front headlock and hoping for the best.

In the end, I actually would expect that despite these two having their base in striking this fight would end up on the mat, with Vovchanchyn on top trying to re-create his brutal beating of Enson Inoue. Igor’s positional awareness when it came to grappling was never the best, but as a result of the Pancrase style of grappling he was accustomed to, this is likely not something Rutten would be able to capitalize on. Imagine Bas’ fight with Kevin Randleman if Randleman was willing to stand up for portions and actually let loose with consistent offense throughout the fight.

The question then becomes, is Rutten’s length and superior kicking game enough to win him the fight during those striking exchanges? Personally, I don’t think it would be. Vovchanchyn is too savvy a kickboxer to stay on the outside and allow himself to be peppered with strikes. He would get in tight, work his power shots and get the fight to the floor. I know it’s blasphemy to pick against Bas, but as long as Igor would be able to avoid getting caught with a leg lock in the midst of a scramble, Vovchanchyn would likely come out the victor via Unanimous Decision, because I simply don’t see El Guapo getting finished.

Agree or disagree with this breakdown? Have suggestions for future fights to be included in this series? Let me know on twitter @bradtaschuk.