Jackson rose up in Pride FC and immediately magnetized fans and amassed a strong following for his hemispheric personality. His thousand-yard stare and the oversized chain around his neck was gimmicky enough to draw attention, but his sincere humility and good-natured wisecracking made for an infectious contrast. Rampage also seemed to mature and evolve as a fighter throughout his tenure in Pride. It began with a submission loss to Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba in his debut, then, a few fights later, started to reflect A-level talent with a reputable wins over Igor Vovchanchyn and former UFC heavyweight champ Kevin Randleman before catching fire at the 2003 Grand Prix.
Rampage defeated another former UFC champion in Brazilian Top Team co-founder Murilo Bustamante, then added a third with a ruthless TKO over longstanding light-heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell. Even though he spoiled the highly anticipated showdown between Liddell and Wanderlei Silva and ended up losing to "The Axe Murderer" in the finals, Rampage etched his name into the annals of MMA that night.
Jackson was among the early waves of Pride fighters who migrated to the UFC and wasted no time: he stopped Marvin Eastman with strikes in his Octagon debut, knocked "The Iceman" out cold in the rematch and then unified the titles by defeating Pride's last welterweight (183-pounds) and middleweight (205-pound) joint champion, Dan Henderson. Forrest Griffin would dethrone Jackson and, in his six remaining fights, Rampage would only falter twice against the top-two light-heavyweights in the world (Jon Jones, Rashad Evans).
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Ryan Bader emerged with the double-edged honor of being a TUF champion; a creditable accolade, but one that required further success in the Octagon to authenticate. Validation came in the form of four consecutive wins in which the two-time D1 All American wrestler tackled increasingly prestigious competition: Camelo Marrero, Eric Schafer, Keith Jardine and perennial top-tenner Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
His victories over Jardine (first round knockout) and Nogueira (unanimous decision) were highly definitive for such a young fighter, and Bader had maintained his perfect record while establishing himself as a legit contender. His first taste of defeat came against current champ Jon Jones, who was tearing his way toward a title shot and took another step in that direction with a commanding second round submission.
When Bader drew Tito Ortiz, the bout was assumed to be a step down in competition and the bon voyage affair for "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy." Defying the odds, Ortiz floored Bader with a punch and then sealed him off with a guillotine choke to make it two straight. Fast forwarding from contender to facing extinction with the risk of three consecutive defeats, Bader got back on track with a crushing first round knockout of Jason Brilz in his last.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
I think it's obvious that Bader's chances are slim if he tries to either purely out-wrestle or out-strike Rampage, but promising if he conjoins those two strengths together as one. This leaves the blueprint Rashad Evans laid out, which is an agile in-and-out boxing routine complemented by timely double legs when Rampage is preoccupied with striking exchanges.
Bader does have the horsepower to replicate it as well. His stand up has definitely been forged into a sharp weapon and he's getting more comfortable feinting between wrestling and striking attacks.
Bader is a massive puncher and moves well for his size and strength, and he'll want use that movement to stay at angles while Rampage is walking him down.
The worst possible thing he could do is stand in front of Rampage, so I expect Bader to be in constant motion and only throwing short, straight punches like he did against Nogueira. That fight was also a good demonstration of how quick Bader's hands are and how he can take over by controlling distance with movement. The ace up his sleeve is faking takedowns, as Quinton will be forced to react, which usually results in lowering the defensive guard.
For Rampage, the mechanics of this match up closely resemble the Matt Hamill fight. Hamill is a strong and fairly agile wrestle-boxer with a similar skill set to Bader, and Rampage was on-point with his striking and takedown defense.
In fact, Rampage has spent most of his career polishing up a balanced release of his boxing to generate big power while maintaining the ability to sprawl. He immediately retracts his hips and controls Hamill's head in the front headlock position, switches to a right-side underhook for stability and then fires away.
As in the Hunt vs. Kongo Dissection, Rampage starts to rely more heavily on threatening with the uppercut when Hamill keeps dropping his head in the same spot. With a wide, low base, a simple uppercut from a power puncher can be an extremely effective deterrent against wrestlers.
Rampage has always had phenomenal takedown defense but is slightly more susceptible to quickly sprung shots from outside than trips and throws in the clinch. Dropping levels and rifling for doubles from the fringe is how Evans and Jones both grounded him.
I've grown to respect Bader quite a bit and I think he's still improving. His striking has developed a lot of power, but I don't think it's refined enough in the subtle details to wobble Rampage or land the greater amount of effective blows. If he's flawless in using angles and mixing his attacks, I could see him taking a close decision. I have a feeling that Rampage is going to make a strong statement, nullify the early takedown attempts and look for the finish.
My Prediction: Rampage by TKO.
Gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com