Win puts Rampage in line for rematch
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson overcame odds, illness and Lyoto Machida's unorthodox offense, earning a hard-fought split decision at UFC 123 on Saturday night in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Paying homage to his Pride Fighting Championships days, Jackson made his ring entrance to the defunct promotion's theme song, which helped him revive the "Rampage" of old.
"I just recently went to Japan on the 'The A-Team' tour. One of the people interviewing me remembered me from Pride. Back in Pride, I used to fight a different style, and he asked me why I didn't fight like that anymore,” Jackson said. “When I first came to the UFC, I felt like an outsider. In Pride, everybody knew me and loved me. I think I kind of got greedy, so I wanted to come out with that old spirit. I almost slammed Machida, so I think it kind of worked.”
Although you couldn't tell it from his performance, Rampage was "hoarse as hell" in the days leading up to the bout.
"The fight was almost canceled a couple of days ago," he said. "I caught a fever from my son and I was throwing up and then I had to cut weight."
Citing the fans as his primary inspiration, Rampage edged Machida in a close encounter. Jackson's aggression seemed to win him the fight as he hunted Machida in the first two rounds with power punches, while the Brazilian circled the octagon and avoided most of his big shots.
Immediately after being declared the victor, Jackson credited Machida for his performance, proclaiming "he whooped my ass tonight."
UFC president Dana White disagreed, however, and said Jackson deserved the victory as "he was the aggressor the whole time."
While his fighting future was previously in doubt, Rampage solidified his status as a top contender in the stacked light heavyweight division. What's next for the man who unified the Pride and UFC 205-pound titles?
A victory over Machida puts Rampage in the top three of the division, and the only plausible options for his next bout are rematches against either Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans or torchbearer Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. However, Jackson might need to wait upwards of six months before he gets back into the octagon, unless the UFC opts to put him up against someone like Matt Hamill, which is a step backward after vanquishing a foe the caliber of Machida.
Rua's title clash with Evans is slated for March, while an intriguing battle of fast-rising contenders between Jon Jones and Ryan Bader has been booked for UFC 126 on Feb. 5. Former champion Griffin is also in action at UFC 126 against Rich Franklin.
Regardless of which option the UFC pursues, Jackson will need to play the waiting game. At this stage, a rematch with Shogun is the most compelling.
The current titleholder, Shogun brutally knocked out Jackson at Pride Total Elimination 2005, so the back story is already there. Jackson managed to avenge losses to Wanderlei SIlva under the UFC banner and would love to do the same against another Brazilian in Rua. Rampage has evolved considerably since their April 2005 meeting and deserves an opportunity to avenge one of only three career knockout losses.
That said, Griffin still practically owes Rampage a rematch after his controversial July 2008 unanimous decision in which he dethroned Jackson to capture the UFC light heavyweight title.
Perhaps getting a bit ahead of himself, Jackson promised Machida a rematch after the close decision. The fight was a tough one to judge and Jackson was his biggest critic afterward. But White, who was pleased with Jackson's effort, fervently disagreed and said there is no need for a rematch.
In the co-feature, B.J. Penn's precision striking and devastating power was the difference maker as he wrote the final chapter in the trilogy with UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes.
Returning to the welterweight division after back-to-back losses to Frankie Edgar at 155 pounds, Penn appeared refocused and hungrier than ever.
"I was just in there to fight," the Hawaiian said. "I wanted him to hit me and I wanted to hit him. I just wanted to go out there and fight like a kid."
Penn used his heavy hands to unleash a savage assault, knocking Hughes out in 21 seconds.
Humble in victory, Penn acknowledged the fight could have played out differently if it had gone longer. In a sign of respect, he immediately helped the American trailblazer to his feet after the stunning knockout.
"Matt Hughes is my idol and he'll always be my idol," Penn added.
At the post-fight news conference, Penn, who earned $80,000 for "Knockout of the Night," said he wants to get back into the octagon as soon as possible. It didn't take long for White to grant him his wish as the UFC president told a group of reporters "The Prodigy" will take on consensus No. 2 welterweight Jon Fitch at UFC 127 in Sydney, Australia.
While Penn now has the unenviable task of fighting a durable grinder, Penn-Fitch is an ideal pairing to determine who will be the next welterweight title challenger after Jake Shields gets his crack at the winner of Georges St-Pierre's title bout with Josh Koscheck at UFC 124.
Stylistically, Penn could give Fitch problems wherever the fight goes. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt possesses superior boxing and an unparalleled ground game, though Fitch is as tough as they come and sticks to his opponents like glue. While his immediate future appears to be at welterweight, Penn has not ruled out an eventual return to 155 pounds and feels he can be competitive in both divisions.
If "The Prodigy" dispatches Fitch at UFC 127, another trilogy, between Penn and St-Pierre, could come to fruition.
"I'm 31 and want to fight a lot more until I'm 35 and then maybe call it quits," Penn said. "For the first time in my career, I'm going to let Dana make that call. Whatever Dana says, we'll go with that."
Meanwhile, the future remains uncertain for Hughes, 37, whose storied career seemingly is nearing an end. White could not confirm Hughes' plans but expressed appreciation for his longtime commitment to the UFC.
"There are guys I've talked about for years who helped build this company, and Matt is one of those guys," White said. "We'll talk and we'll figure it out."