Seeing Is Believing: Rampage Jackson's Performance at UFC 96 Was Very Good


A lot of people including myself expected Rampage Jackson to knock Keith Jardine out.  Because the fight was close and he wasn't able to, people have been down on Jackson's performance.  In my view, this was partially colored by the announcing and partially by false notions about Keith Jardine.

To start, Keith Jardine is an excellent fighter.  Despite a few slips, he holds notable wins over Brandon Vera, Forrest Griffin, and Chuck Liddell.  He has proven to be very effective at grinding out long decisions and frustrating opponents that have trouble finding him with their hands.  Even I bought into the idea that he had no chin, but he took two of the same hooks that demolished Wanderlei Silva and survived them.  He also took a great number of punches throughout the rest of the fight, and despite being rocked was able to survive each time.  

Instead of rushing Jardine (as was supposedly the gameplan), Jackson fought a patient fight.  He fought the kind of fight Jardine is great at, and he beat him at it.  He's the first to do that in the UFC (don't get me started on Bonnar).  Jardine's style throws a lot of guys off, and many have found him hard to hit.  All that being said, Jackson found Jardine's chin far more times than Jardine found Jackson's.  Jackson's boxing defense is extremely underrated, and outside of a flurry set up by a Ric Flair style low blow, Jardine spent most of the fight whiffing punches or getting punches blocked. 

The primary offense Jardine landed consisted of leg kicks.  However, these were nothing like the kicks Forrest landed on Rampage (and Rashad).  He never really committed to them due to understandable concern over Jackson's power, and mostly used them as an annoyance to force Jackson to reset rather than as a damaging tool.  None of these kicks hurt Jackson, whose injuries now ironically come from his own punching in the fight.

The idea that he would have lost if not for the final knockdown is really irrelevant, every second of a fight counts and he landed a very good combination that sealed his win.  Similarly, Jardine probably would have lost the decision to Liddell if he didn't score a knockdown in the second round.  The fact that it happened at the end of the fight doesn't really mean anything.

The criticism that he didn't mix it up doesn't really hold water either.  He threw more kicks than I've seen him go for in years, tried to work the clinch for a slam (Jardine defended well), and got two takedowns.  Jardine was able to get up, but he's also known in his camp as someone very hard to keep down.  Rashad even mentioned this in the third round of the fight.  He also did an excellent job stuffing a deep Jardine takedown attempt.  


There's a consensus coming out of this fight that Rashad is somehow a level above Jackson, but I am not quite buying it yet.  His standup is much improved, but it still remains true that he lost recent standing battles to both Michael Bisping and Forrest Griffin.  Every judge in the Griffin fight gave Forrest the two standing rounds.  This isn't to take away that victory from Rashad, it was a great win.  But the idea that he is too fast to be hit on his feet when Bisping and Griffin found him all night is hyperbole that doesn't mesh with history.  Liddell couldn't find him, but he couldn't find Jackson either.  It's my view that Rampage is just as hard or harder to punch than Rashad, and I don't expect to see Rashad change his game to focus on leg kicks for their fight.  A change like that would frankly be detrimental to Rashad.

Rampage vs. Rashad is a very close fight.  The wrestling is probably a wash in MMA, and it'll be Rashad's footwork against Rampage's power.  I don't think either guy is really a lock in that fight, though as of now I think I would lean slightly in Rampage's favor, just because I think he is more likely to finish Rashad than vice versa.  

Whereas Jardine was scheduled for this card for months, Jackson took the fight on short notice coming off the hardest camp of his career.  He looked tired and a bit drawn, but those are the circumstances he was in.  He got back in there and clearly beat a perpetual top 10 fighter.  Acting like this performance proves anything negative about him is unfair.


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