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Champions, superfights and promises unkept

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

On Dec. 8, Juan Manuel Marquez landed one of the most devastating punches boxing has ever witnessed, a savage, perfect right hand that simultaneously flattened Manny Pacquiao and crushed forever the possibility of the mother of all mega-fights. A proposed bout pitting Pacquiao against Floyd Mayweather in a matchup of box-office heavyweights had been the subject of attention for years, and for good reason. It would have produced an obscene amount of money.

Just days before Pacquiao's loss, his promoter Bob Arum claimed that Mayweather would have received a $100 million purse while Pacquiao would have made $80 million. Whether those numbers were accurate or an exaggerated account of promoter hyperbole remains the subject of debate, but even if they were a few million off, it is widely accepted that both stars would have received one-night paydays that would dwarf the annual earnings of nearly every sports superstar on earth. Yet for various reasons, the fight was never made.

Boxing's inability to make the fight had always been a source of criticism from UFC president Dana White, a noted fan of the sweet science who has been fond of reminding observers that in his combat sport, he has always put together the fights that fans want to see. Hours after Pacquiao's loss, his Zuffa partner Lorenzo Fertitta sunk the dagger in his place, tweeting "Gotta strike when the iron is hot boxing. Lost Manny/Floyd 4ever," before closing with hash tags mentioning two proposed UFC superfights, a bout that would pit welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre against middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva, and another that would place Silva against light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones.

Yet within days of that tweet, White poured cold water on the idea of the former when he told the media that St-Pierre was likely to fight Nick Diaz.

Meanwhile, Jones is already locked in to fight Chael Sonnen, but not until April, meaning that Silva is out in the cold for either of his big paydays. By extension, the fans are denied as well.

"Get over it," White said last Saturday night after his superfight deflated. "We thought it might happen and then it didn't. If that f---ing hurts your feelings, too bad."

Well, how very Bob Arum of him.

At some point, White and Fertitta need to take their own advice and make the fights that they continue promising. It's not about hurt feelings, but about what they have promised and yet to deliver. The genesis of a St-Pierre vs. Silva superfight, for example, isn't even a new one. It dates back several years, to the spring of 2009, when the UFC first entertained the idea of filling the massive Rogers Centre. At the time, St-Pierre was re-establishing himself in his second reign as champion, so the conditions simply weren't right. If he was going to do such a thing, he said then, he would want to move up in weight class completely, and would need extra time to put on muscle. That explanation seemed fair enough, and the idea went on the back burner.

In the time since then, Silva had exerted complete control of his weight class, and St-Pierre has nearly cleaned out his division as well.

When Silva moved up to light heavyweight to decimate Stephan Bonnar at UFC 153, he didn't just win a fight; he put their timelines in sync. St-Pierre was due to fight just one month later, and a win over Carlos Condit seemed like a perfect setup.

White stoked the fires by outright promising it in the wee hours after St-Pierre win's, even flouting his questioners in the process.

"I love when you guys ask me that this guy isn't sold, this guy doesn't seem like he wants to do it," he said then. "They will fight and yes, it'll probably be in May or around May."

It didn't even take a month for us to find out that, no, they won't. At least not now. St-Pierre will fight Diaz and Silva may soon face Michael Bisping, and then we'll restart the clock on public speculation.

All of it has been public, and as a result, there are increased expectations. After criticizing boxing for all these years for their matchmaking failures, White can't just expect a pass if neither fight materializes.

To his credit, he is still saying that the superfights will still happen. As he tells it, he felt obliged to grant St-Pierre his wish to fight Diaz because GSP rarely asks for anything while always being an accommodating employee. After that, it's game on. But as we learned from Pacquiao-Marquez, the draw of a superfight can be destroyed with a single strike. This chance may not come again. St-Pierre could lose. Silva could lose. Either or both could get injured, or decline the fight, or retire. There are a host of variables that must be discussed, debated and resolved. And that means it's no more a sure thing now than it was a few years ago, when the idea first arose.

The best available window for a superfight just passed. The longer the wait, the more unlikely it becomes. Dana White is unarguably one of the top combat sports promoters ever, and he's noted that boxing's inability to make mega-bouts is one of its biggest problems in broadening its audience. Meanwhile, he says that he makes the fights the fans want to see. It's time for him to follow his own advice or risk the same outcome that boxing just suffered, a superfight that never happens.