There has been a ton of analysis about the controversial win Rampage secured last night. I'm not going to add to what has already been quite comprehensive coverage of the judging of the overall fight. What struck me about Rampage last night was how much different he looked compared to his previous bout. We all watched a lean, and much quicker, Rampage take on the lightning fast, previously to Rua, invincible Machida. He looked well trained and he came straight ahead with a game plan that did not allow Machida to ever fully settle into his comfort zone. As a Rampage fan, I was encouraged to see one of my favorite fighters return to the cage a serious, prepared MMA fighter. That was satisfying to watch. But, now what? Rampage has done it all in the light heavyweight division, both in Pride and the UFC. There are other mountains to climb.
Now that we have seen a disciplined Rampage return to the cage the next question is where does he go. It seems to me Rampage's motivations these days are different than they were in the past. As a young, hungry fighter looking to make a living in the sport, Rampage was vicious and relentless in his pursuit of the top of the division, not to mention delivering as much punishment along the way as he could. The Rampage I see today is one who is wrestling with who he is and what his legacy will be to the sport. He has achieved tremendous success, made a ton of money, has a family. As a man transitions to fatherhood these things become more important, our life is perceived through our child's eyes as much as our own. Last night was one step for Rampage to round out that legacy and wipe away the failure of his last bout. I imagine the UFC will look to work towards a Shogun/Rampage rematch from the Pride days. I have no problem with that direction but given the opportunity I would aim higher. As a fan, I want Rampage to go a different direction and, if successful, it will define Rampage's place in the history of MMA in a unique way.
The UFC heavyweight division is hurting right now. The cash cow has been "dethroned". Carwin just underwent back surgery and will need to recover. We have watched athletes in other sports break down right around Carwin's age as a result of earlier PED's use. Let's see how Carwin rebounds. Nelson's future with the company is up in the air. The last Mir/Cro Cop fight did little to make any of us think either men belong among the heavyweight class elite. Big Nog has been a ghost of himself since he battled his staph infection. The top two heavyweights are set to face off against each other and Lesnar has no attractive opponent. You can see where I am going, and I have written various comments about this in the past. I want to see Rampage in the heavyweight division and I want to see him face Brock Lesnar in his next fight.
Rampage has talked about how it has been more and more difficult to cut weight. He has spoken in the past about moving to heavyweight as can be read here. He is a man that is looking for greater challenges.
"Now I don’t know what kind of fighter I am gonna be on the night - am I gonna play it safe just to get the win or am I gonna be the normal fighter that I am and look to make the fight exciting?"
"I would have fought somebody coming off a loss to make the fight more exciting, I was even willing to fight at heavyweight, someone who is going to bang."
One thing I think Rampage was missing last night was his explosive power. He needed to be quicker against Machida, than just about any other opponent, and I think that forced him to give up some power. Now, let me be clear, I don't want to see a bloated Rampage fight in the heavyweight division. I want to see the man put on more muscle, work on his wrestling, build his core power. I believe his frame can handle another 25-30 pounds of muscle and I think his power could go through the roof. If he was able to build on his wrestling base in a meaningful way I believe he could be a dangerous heavyweight in today's division.
Now, let's talk about the unbelievable potential a match up between Rampage and Lesnar would be.Take a moment. Think about it. Think about Dana announcing the fight. Think about the build towards fight night. Imagine Rampage preparing both mentally and physically for the fight. Picture the trash talk between these two highly recognizable names in MMA leading up to the fight. This would be epic theater of combat sports. Stylistically, I love the idea of these two locking up. Brock coming straight ahead looking for power take downs, Rampage throwing damaging hooks. There are a handful fights in my life that I had those butterflies, you know what I mean, your heart racing as you hear the crowd start shaking the rafters, as both men wait to explode at the opening bell. The fantastic anticipation of what is to come. This fight has that potential.
This is a rare opportunity. Neither Brock or Rampage have an immediate opponent on the horizon that would inspire remotely the kind of excitement this bout could. They are two of the most popular figures in the UFC today. Both men are entering the last of their prime years. These are the glory days. For Lesnar, what better way to get back on track then to defeat a legend of the sport in his prime. For Rampage, what greater challenge could wait for him, what a dynamic feat a win over Lesnar would be in his already heralded career. It would be a powerful exclamation point. There are so many dream matches that we will never get to see for various reasons. Here is one, in front of us, and it is possible. All it takes is a phone call, and away...we...go!