Former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson proved that despite the concerns from fans and media regarding his motivation, he's still a serious threat to anyone standing across from him inside the Octagon. Matt Hamill found that out emphatically as Jackson dominated him over the course of three rounds on Saturday night in the UFC 130 main event.
Many fans in the arena booed the moments of stale action between the two fighters, urging on Jackson to let his hands go and risk his chin, but it's difficult to criticize Jackson's effort when he definitively won every round. There are those fans who felt that Jackson should have jumped at the opportunity to batter Hamill against the cage when he was hurt however, which leads to questions regarding his potential as a UFC title contender.
Earlier in the week in the lead-up to UFC 130, there was a lot of discussion revolving around the implications this fight had on the upper echelon of the division, most notably the title picture. Jon Jones' hand injury and the booking of Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis in August at UFC 133 left the door open for Jones to defend his title before Evans would be ready to sign on the dotted line once again, assuming Evans gets past Davis. Ideally, Jackson would be the man to fill the spot.
As I opined in a piece this week, Jackson had the potential to draw some lucrative fights for himself if he managed to defeat Hamill. Jackson could be thrust into the role of title contender due to his proven drawing power and appeal among fans, and Jones' rise to stardom, in theory, should combine to create above average business for the UFC with that fight as a headliner on a later pay-per-view.
There are many fans who believe Jackson's aggressive style and proven knockout power present an interesting challenge to a perceived immortal like Jon Jones. But that isn't the debate here. Instead, let's focus on the bottom line of the balance sheet and what Jackson could stand to make along with the UFC.
Even if Jackson loses to Jones later in the year, the UFC still has Rashad Evans and the build-up of a highly-public beef between Jones and Evans to promote another solid main event around. Furthermore, Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua vs. Forrest Griffin will take place at UFC 134 on August 27th, creating an interesting fight for Jackson if Rua can win. And let's not forget that a rematch with Rashad Evans is a potential main event bout if both Evans and Jackson falter against Jones. Throw another log onto that fire with Lyoto Machida, and you have a stacked light heavyweight title picture that will produce major revenues.
The scenario was entirely predicated on the fact that Jackson would finish in spectacular fashion on Saturday night however, and that didn't happen. Instead of automatically dubbing Jackson the #1 title contender, maybe it's better to ask the question whether Jackson impressed enough to grab the honor of being plugged into the UFC light heavyweight title picture? Does it even matter?
Jackson's stock undoubtedly dropped with his performance at UFC 130. Fans have an unrelenting appetite for knockouts and destruction, at least at the casual level. 'Rampage' became synonymous with those outcomes, and his performance against Hamill, while overwhelmingly lopsided, had fans in the arena booing due to the lack of urgency by Jackson to finish.
The smarter fans realize that Jackson was trying to avoid having rounds stolen from him by Hamill's wrestling ability, even in the late stages of the round when Hamill had been battered by Jackson's power. Unfortunately, most fans want to see the Jackson who was obsessed with creating jaw-dropping knockouts. Perhaps the bar is set a little too high.
While I think Jackson might have lost some luster as he heads toward a potential shot at the title, I think the fight still makes sense business-wise for the UFC. Obviously, this relies on Jackson's hand injury not being overly severe, but I do think the UFC would be wise to push him into the title picture if he's okay to go. A win over Jackson in impressive fashion could help Jones gain even more recognition among fans, and even in defeat -- Jackson still has other lucrative options down the road. It makes the most sense at this point, especially with the possibility that Evans or Rua could end up injured or beaten in their bouts in August.