Former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson (31-8) will attempt to toss his name into the hat of potential contenders to the crown as he battles The Ultimate Fighter season three contestant and three-time NCAA Division III wrestling champion Matt Hamill (10-2) in the main event at UFC 130 on Saturday night. Jackson, who narrowly defeated Lyoto Machida at UFC 123 in November, has been more vocal about his attitude toward his future in the sport, stating that he only wants to fight for two more years and that other things await him outside of fighting such as a career in Hollywood. Those comments have led to an overflow of speculation that Jackson may not be taking these latter fights of his career as seriously due to a lack in motivation to keep fighting.
In reality, Jackson has always been vocal about his dislike for the hardship lifestyle of being a successful mixed martial arts fighter. As he's grown older, we've come to hear more and more about Jackson's hatred for the vigors of training. Perhaps it's due to the increase in media coverage over the years or the fact that he is getting older, but there is no doubt that Jackson is still one of the most powerful and dangerous fighters near the top of the UFC's light heavyweight division.
Hamill stands to benefit greatly if he can knock Jackson off on Saturday night, adding a high-profile win to his five-fight winning streak that includes wins over current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and decision victories over Keith Jardine and Tito Ortiz. While his victory over Jones is considered a technicality by most fans, the title picture has become rather complicated due to the recent news that Jones had to pull out of an anticipated title showdown with Rashad Evans. If Hamill can defeat Jackson, he may get the opportunity to fight for the title while Evans recovers from his UFC 133 encounter with Phil Davis in August.
The question is whether Hamill truly has a chance to make that happen on Saturday night in Las Vegas. His vaunted wrestling ability coupled with an always-improving stand-up game have helped him put together a solid five-year career in the UFC, but Jackson is considered by many to be on another level, perhaps a level that will show that the upper reaches of the light heavyweight division are far out of Hamill's reach.
Hamill's "different" style of fighting and the way in which he produces offense has been strangely effective in past performances. Ortiz and Jardine had problems dealing with his dirty boxing in the clinch, as well as seeing different looks from the toe-to-toe exchanges on the feet. Hamill is obviously improving, and his accuracy is at a much higher rate as he's aged. His wrestling is still a major asset in his arsenal, and it's probably more important in this fight with Jackson due to the perceived weakness of Quinton's ground game. Combine that with solid conditioning and you have a well-rounded fighter who has a good chance to produce an upset.
But that's a hard sell for many fans. After all, Jackson has made a career out of demolishing the opposition with powerful slams and brutal punching power. He's a wild card in any fight, even fights that he should lose on paper. All of the talk that he hates training or his motivation isn't quite there usually exits the picture once 'Rampage' enters the cage, and all the footage of Jackson being worked over in the gym by better grapplers doesn't hold water in his actual performances. Jackson finds ways to survive, giving his devastating hands the opportunity to produce highlight reel knockouts.
Hamill's stand-up style isn't speedy enough to frustrate Jackson. He won't be able to wade into the clinch and press Rampage to the fence like many other fighters have done in the past. Jackson's power is too much in those situations, and Hamill's midsection is normally wide open for punishment. Hamill will need to impose a strict diet of takedowns to wear down Jackson early, and if he can't press through Jackson's strength -- it's going to be a short night for Hamill.
Hamill will eventually revert to a dirty style of boxing in the clinch, and Jackson will destroy his midsection and sneak powerful uppercuts into his chin. Hamill's best chance is to immediately work for takedowns and threaten from top control, but I think Jackson will surprise in his abilities to scramble to his feet. Jackson finds a home for his power and ends this contest via TKO.