The Ultimate Fighting Championship is scrambling for a main event for the company's planned Sept. 22 show at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., after light heavyweight Wanderlei Silva told UFC president Dana White through an intermediary that he did not want to fight Chuck Liddell.
White said he had reached terms for Liddell, arguably the UFC's most popular fighter and its recently deposed 205-pound champion, to meet the Brazilian Silva in a highly anticipated bout at UFC 76.
But White said Wednesday he was told by a member of Silva's Chute Box team that Silva did not want to fight Liddell. White said the deadline for having the fight made was Wednesday.
"This is the worst news I could have possibly gotten," White said. "It's horrendous. I have been trying to make this fight for six years. I have done everything in my power I could do over the last six years to make this fight and it's still not happening. I just don't see it happening now."
The UFC has already signed two bouts for the Sept. 22 card. Light heavyweight Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, a long-time star in Japan's Pride Fighting Championship, will make his UFC debut by taking on Lyoto Machida. Diego Sanchez will also face Jon Fitch in a welterweight bout.
Neither of those is a main event-type of bout that could carry a pay-per-view card in a large arena. Given that most of the UFC's other top draws are already scheduled, White is left without a main event for a significant card.
"This just happened (Wednesday afternoon) and I'm not sure what we're going to do," White said. "We're trying to figure it out. It's not a fun time right now."
Silva, 31, hasn't fought since losing his 205-pound Pride belt to Dan Henderson on Feb. 24 in Las Vegas. He was knocked out in the third round of that bout and was stopped in the first round of a Sept. 10 fight with Mirko Cro Cop.
He's also lost three of his last five, which White conceded took some of the luster off a potential fight between the two.
White had announced that Silva and Liddell would meet during a UFC pay-per-view show in 2006, but he then was unable to finalize a deal with the then-owners of Pride. Zuffa, the company that owns the UFC, subsequently purchased Pride earlier this year.
"Look what I've done to get that fight made," White said. "I took Chuck over and had him fight in the (Pride) Grand Prix so he could fight Wanderlei. They (Pride officials) wouldn't do the fight unless we put Chuck in the Grand Prix, but then Chuck ran into Rampage Jackson and he (lost) and the fight with Wanderlei didn't happen.
"And then I bring him into the ring at one of our biggest pay-per-views, at a time when they were really in a lot of trouble, because I wanted to make that fight. It shows you how incredibly stupid those people were, because they took what could have been the biggest fight in this sport's history and blew it up."
Neither Liddell nor Silva could be reached for comment. There is a very brief video of Liddell and Silva on Silva's web site, but White was adamant that the bout that was a dream match for many hardcore mixed martial arts fans is dead, probably forever.
He said he's not certain if he'll keep Liddell on that card and match him with another opponent. A possibility would be to bring in more fighters who are under contract with Pride and have them fight in the main event.
White said he planned to go ahead with Rua against Machida and wasn't at the moment considering a Rua-Liddell bout.
"We haven’t really had enough time to figure this out because it all just came down," White said. "It's been a bad day ever since I heard that."