For Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, former UFC Light Heavyweight champion, the past couple years have been a remarkable roller coaster. After seemingly retiring from the UFC to pursue a career in acting, which culminated in a starring role in 2010 under-performer “The A-Team,” he would come back within two months to finish up his contract and seemed to realize something: at this point in his life he’s a much better fighter than he is an actor. And thankfully for fans he acted on that instinct.
That’s what’s made a world of difference for Jackson whose UFC run had seemingly been dictated by his whims. After a storied career in Pride, Jackson walked into the UFC and went on a wrecking spree that endeared him to American fans. Knocking out Marvin Eastman and Chuck Liddell, the latter for the UFC Light Heavyweight Title and a rematch of a fight between the two that had similar results, Jackson was on top of the world. A lackluster training camp and a brilliant game-plan from Forrest Griffin would result in losing his title and Jackson has come close to getting another shot but not quite gotten there ever since. A loss to Rashad Evans would derail a two fight winning streak he had developed before his “retirement” and a new Rampage seemed to emerge: a hungry Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
It’s something that hadn’t been seen in quite some time.
Coming into fights with Lyoto Machida and Matt Hammill, Jackson has been in terrific shape and has looked sharp in winning two decision victories. This is a focused and motivated Jackson; for all the talk of him waiting for the time when movies paid him more than fighting, Jackson is certainly doing his best to make sure he’s getting paid top dollar to fight. And now he gets the one thing he’s been clamoring for ever since he lost the title to Griffin: a shot at once again being the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion.
It won’t be easy as Jackson, approaching the back end of a legendary career, has to take it from a young fighter on the upswing of his in Jon “Bones” Jones.
Jackson has one big weapon that Jones hadn’t seen before: first rate boxing. Of all the fighters that Jones has defeated en route to winning the title he hasn’t faced anyone with the sort of boxing and lateral movement Jackson has. And that’ll be the key to the fight: his ability to ugly it up a bit and turn this into his kind of fight.
It’s Jackson’s strength and what’ll win him the fight on Saturday if Jones isn’t careful. They always talk about the “puncher’s chance” and Jackson’s strategy is going to revolve around this. His plan will most likely be to keep the fight standing and turn it a bit ugly. He has to work on making this a “sprawl and brawl” fight and avoid Jones getting the takedown, where his ground and pound is vicious. Jackson has never been known for being a fighter who can end a fight on his back and the goal is to stay off it. Look for him to use his footwork and turn this into much more of a brawl than Jones has had before.
Jones has an absurd reach advantage on nearly any fighter, including Jackson. Look for Rampage to try and get in and avoid Jones using that long reach to pepper him with jabs to no resistance. His footwork has to be there and he’s going to have to make the young fighter work to connect. Jackson’s best assets when it comes to the standup are going to be his combinations and that big hook that’s stopped many fighters; he’s going to have to set it up well and get his opening for that big shot with multiple punch combinations. He’s most likely going to have eat a punch or two to get inside so he’ll have to do it fast and prevent Jones from backing up and establishing his range.
He also has to utilize the clinch against Jones, too, while also avoiding the takedown from it. One of Jackson’s strengths is using his boxing from that point, which he’ll need to do to avoid his opponent’s throws from the clinch. We haven’t seen the chin of Jon Jones get tested and that’s going to be his key to victory; rock him with a couple of shots and then throw that big kill-shot of a hook.
Jackson also needs to utilize his experience level; Jon Jones hasn’t been in half the situations that Jackson has and that’ll be a big key to Rampage winning. He has the veteran know-how that could cost a lesser experienced fighter like Jones the fight. Jones will probably not show anything to Jackson he hasn’t already seen before in terms of what he does; Jackson just needs to fight smart and stay disciplined, making Jones turn this into a kickboxing match instead of a grappling match.
For Quinton Jackson to win at UFC 135, he needs to make this a battle of who’s tougher and not who’s the most skilled. He won’t win the latter fight but he has a shot at winning the former.