Standing across the ring from Rashad is an angry, veteran KO artist that has already made his mark in the history books as one of the best LHWs EVER. Leading up to this moment Rashad's said things that have motivated his opponent to the point that he's even knocking out sparring partners; maybe Sugar's mouth has gotten him in some trouble this time. After a tentative beginning, the middle of the fight sees them engage, and during an exchange a body drops to the canvas... and the crowd goes... wild? One voice echoes loud above the others in Atlanta, Georgia, as much of Philips Arena is covered in a resounding hush. Doubters and naysayers are silenced, even if only for the moments that Chuck Liddell lay there motionless. The underdog triumphs.
Hours from now Rashad will be facing a man, who for all intents and purposes, is a better version of what he faced at UFC 88. Rampage has devastating power, and if you were to believe BE previews collectively, would easily defeat Rashad if he was fully focused (because he's usually fully focused?). As I recall, every member of the BE staff picked Liddell to beat Evans. A few months prior, the same staff picked Jackson to beat Griffin unanimously. I guess its no wonder that with both fighters in similar situations to the aforementioned fights, Jackson is the unanimous favorite. Let me be clear, it isn't as if I think their predictions have no merit, because they obviously do. Stylistically Rampage has the defensive wrestling, boxing defense and counter punching to prove a steep test for Rashad (Chuck had 2 of those things). However, I do believe Rashad is being undersold and Rampage over hyped to a certain extent.
Quinton and Rashad share 2 common opponents: Chuck Liddell, and Forrest Griffin. I want to focus on the Griffin Fights because I believe fans have a skewed view of the fights positively for Rampage (Forrest got a gift?), and negatively for Rashad (Forrest dominated the first 2 rounds), even though Sugar was the won who actually won his fight. Another reason is because Forrest fought them in succession, and both were title fights. Forrest also represents a performance from Rampage after a long layoff, in a fight he was expected to win.
Forrest vs. Rashad
Round 1 Forrest wins this round based on some really good leg kicks. Rashad was tentative but did land a few shots. What I did notice in this round is that Rashad does use his movement pretty well and slips a few punches, and cuts angles to avoid punches, but the kicks are keeping him out of range. Round 2 Rashad starts with some solid jabs with him actually sitting on a few, and lands a right. Forrest fluries and lands some good shots, most being leg kicks, and a few knees in the clinch. Rashad avoids most of the punches this round but eats a good right, and then a superman punch at the end of the round. Good round for Forrest, but Rashad seemed to start finding his range better and landed a good number of jabs, and a few hooks.. He also had Forrest falling for the feints a bit. Round 3 In this round Rashad starts by avoiding Griffins punches; Forrest adjusts and lands a body kick as Rashad circles away... This scenario repeats to the opposite direction and Rashad adjusts by catching the kick and putting Griffin on his butt with a punch... Soon after he GnP's his way to the LHW title.
Forrest vs. Quinton
Round 1 The majority of the round revolves around Forrest staying on the outside, and using combination punching to set up inside and outside leg kicks. Forrest isn't really getting through Rampage's defense with punches, but the kicks are paying off. By the end of the round Quinton lands a few powerful punches, mainly an uppercut that drops Griffin, then he lands some GnP and steals the round, (?) Round 2 . Complete domination by Forrest Griffin. He stays on top most of the round after chopping down Jackson, and dragging him down to the ground with a guillotine. Round 3 Quinton regains his barrings in this round, but Griffin is still landing leg kicks, and even lands some decent punches. Quinton avoids much damage in the round but also fails to land significantly. Round 4 Nice rebound round for Jackson. Lands a nice flurry of hooks and uppercuts, and then takes Griffin down. Forrest defends, and throws up a triangle, but gets thrown to the mat. Quinton finishes the last 2 minutes flurrying and landing good punches. Clear Jackson Round. Round 5 This round looks very much like the third round. Griffin keeps the busier pace, circles, and uses leg kicks to keep distance. Quinton plodding, and counter-punching. At the end of the round its close, but Griffin seems to have landed a bit more this round. In the end Forrest wins the decision and the title.
The argument seems to be that Rampage has the much better skills standing, while Rashad throws arm punches, and has horrible footwork. There are times where Rashad absolutely does use excessive head movement, and crosses his feet moving laterally; there are other times where Rashad slips and circles away from punches very well. He also feints well, and is good at adapting his game as the fight progresses. In his fight with Griffin he lost the first 2 rounds, but was hardly getting dominated. It seems to me that analysis overly exaggerates his flaws while neglecting the the things he does/did well. He broke down Forrest's range, progressively started landing better punches, and was throwing some pretty good combinations. While eating some leg kicks, he also threw a few good kicks, and found a way to get inside repeatedly. He then dominated from top position once he got the fight on the ground. In the Chuck fight he was gauging range and goaded Chuck into an exchange, and landed a lightning bolt of a counter.
In the same vein, people grossly overrate Jackson's over-all stand-up skills. He essentially lost a stand-up battle to Forrest, and had a tougher-than-expected battle with Keith Jardine. His gameplan doesn't vary, and while his Boxing is very good, and he keeps good defense, he isn't much more than a counter-hooker, usually head-hunting. In the fight with Griffin the first three rounds minus the uppercut that dropped Forrest and the follow up GNP were going badly for Rampage. He was dominated on the ground for an entire round, and the only reason he was there is because he couldn't defend the leg kicks. Combination Punching seemed to negate some of his counter-punching because he puts up his guard when flurried on, and Forrest ended most of his flurries with kicks. The times in which Rampage landed well, were when Forrest stopped utilizing movement, and was caught on the inside with Rampage. Quinton is one of my favorite fighters, but I am a firm believer that his style is going to have to vary more to get his belt back, and Saturday he could very well lose if all he can do is plod forward and look for a counter hook or uppercut.
You can't simply base tonight's fight totally off of their prior bouts with Griffin, but both have gone 4-1 in their last 5. Rashad has beaten Bisping, Liddell, Griffin, and T. Silva, while losing to Lyoto Machida. Rampage has beaten Liddell, Henderson, Jardine, and W. Silva while losing to Forrest Griffin (and being less active). Both have won by 2 decisions, and 2 KO/TKO. Rashad may have gotten in late trouble with Thiago Silva (who Ko'd Jardine in one), but Rampage didn't have an easy fight with Jardine (watch the fight again, its a lot closer than I remembered initially). All in all their performances don't show me this huge difference in actual ability. Nor much of a difference in opposition the last few years. Rashad lost badly to Machida, but I don't think Rampage shares any real similarities to Machida, especially in regards to speed, and style. I think Rashad lost that fight trying to do what Machida does better (movement and accurate striking). Watching Rashad's other fights show that he is able to adjust on the fly, and while he may not have a dominating skill-set that he uses to win every fight, he's versatile enough to find ways to win, depending on opponent. He does have some pretty good avoidances, and he does throw some good combinations. Does he make mistakes, or have lapses? Sure, but do those define his chances in this fight? I don't think they do so completely. I also think that making mistakes are the price you pay when trying to expand your skill-set. Quinton makes fewer glaring mistakes, but the ones he makes are consistent/more predominant than Rashad's (lack of checking leg kicks, lack of varying gameplan, lack of consistent training) in my opinion.
In the end, I think the fight is a lot closer than most people do, and thats not really taking into account Quinton's time off as much as it may actually affect him. Watching Quinton's fights with Forrest, and Jardine don't support the idea that Rampage is going to come out and decapitate Rashad. I expect Evans to use a lot of circling, and feinting, with some leg kicks thrown in there (and he actually throws them pretty hard, though sparingly). He throws punches fast, and is able to close the distance and clinch, or shoot without much time. He can win this fight by not being in that middle range for more than the moments it takes to clinch, shoot, or fire off a combination. If he decides to play the wrestling game, he can't tire himself out without inflicting some kind of damage that will at the very least slow Rampage down, otherwise Rampage can land and put Rashad in serious danger. Rampage manages his gas tank better and usually doesn't waste a lot of energy due to his approach of counter punching. That may be Rampage's biggest advantage if his conditioning hasn't completely depleted in his time off. As long as he has some energy he always has the ability to Knock anyone out. Can Rashad avoid the KO? Judging by the large majority of people picking him to get obliterated, he likely has a better chance than you think.