Rampage looks to send UFC a message
On the surface it looks like nothing has changed. For the second year in a row Quinton Jackson is headlining the UFC’s Memorial Weekend show, traditionally one of the biggest fixtures in the organization’s calendar.
But whereas last year he was returning to the Octagon after filming “The A-Team” movie to face Rashad Evans in a heavily hyped grudge match that broke pay-per-view records for a non-title fight, this year everything is far more low key.
Indeed, Jackson was originally fighting third from the top and only the cancellation of the world lightweight title fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard and the failure of heavyweights Frank Mir and Roy Nelson to set the world on fire caused his elevation.
That’s not the only sign that Jackson’s place in the UFC hierarchy is slipping. For the second fight in a row he’s unhappy with the quality of opposition they have put in front of him. When Jackson publically called for marketable rematches against former foes Forrest Griffin, Evans and even Lyoto Machida, he was brutally slapped down by UFC president Dana White.
First, White rejected out of hand any call for a sequel to Jackson’s controversial fight with Machida, ignoring those — including Rampage himself — who thought the Brazilian karate master had been denied a victory by a bad judges’ call. Then he insisted on matching Jackson up with fringe contender Thiago Silva (who’s gone 1-2 in the past two years) only for that high-risk, no-reward match to be cancelled when Silva was caught tampering with his drug test sample. At that point Jackson tried to maneuver himself into a blockbuster sequel against none other than his “The Ultimate Fighter 10” opponent Evans, only for that idea to be shot down by a White who found their first match offensively “boring.”
Instead, Jackson finds himself squaring off against Matt Hamill, a fight that he’s admitted has left him cold. Jackson has to be careful not to underestimate Hamill, who has the style to catch an unfocused Rampage sleeping.
Against Evans, it was clear Jackson’s wrestling had lost some of its old potency, with the fight being defined by Jackson’s failure to stop Evans’ takedowns or even get back to his feet once taken to the ground. A big part of that failure was how sluggish Jackson was standing, with his striking being overly predictable and lacking intensity. This allowed Evans to successfully shoot in for takedowns whereas in his prime Jackson was able to deny wrestlers the time or the space to impose themselves on him. And that failure to cope with his opponent’s wrestling was crucial because Jackson showed toward the end of that fight that any wrestler who stands with Jackson long enough will be dropped by his big right hand.
Hamill has the wrestling to put the Jackson we saw in 2010 on his back and hold him down. Hamill showed that in his last fight where he repeatedly took down Tito Ortiz, his former mentor on “The Ultimate Fighter.”
However, whenever Hamill has stepped into the Octagon against world-class opposition he has been badly exposed. Against both Rich Franklin and Jon Jones he was out for the count within the first round, with only an errant elbow from Jones giving him a face-saving DQ.
If Quinton Jackson comes into this fight focused and determined to send a message to a UFC looking for a new challenger to light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones, then he will simply be too hot for Matt Hamill to handle.