Quinton Jackson vs. Chael Sonnen headlines Bellator 192 this January 20, 2018 at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
One sentence summary:
David: It’s Pride vs. UFC - The Blunder Years.
Phil: Hampage takes on the broken remnants of The Oregon Gangster, and at the end of the fight the cage will be stained red with... ketchup?
Record: Quinton Jackson 37-12 | Chael Sonnen 30-15-1 Draw
Odds: Quinton Jackson -175 | Chael Sonnen +165
History / Introduction to Both Fighters
Phil: Rampage has spend the last ten years of his career complaining. He complained about the UFC when he was there, and complained about Bellator once he’d switched over. He complained about wrestlers when he lost to wrestling, and leg kicks when he lost to leg kicks. He made a brief and abortive attempt to come back to the UFC, which was stymied by Bellator’s lawyers after a fight against Fabio Maldonado which was (by this point) characteristically awful. And this is perhaps the biggest issue: Rampage isn’t even very fun to watch any more. The violent wrestler or left hook KO artist is pretty much gone, with the exception of a couple of fairly sad finishes against Joey Beltran and a terrified Christian M’Pumbu. I expect him to look pudgy and uninterested, ketchup aside. Wait, the weigh-ins are over. Score one for the “pudgy” prediction.
David: For all of Jackson’s personality inside the cage (and ring), that successful demeanor has collided with the personalities outside the cage. As a result, I don’t believe we ever received a full picture of who Jackson was. I don’t believe Jackson is “held down” by his own psychologies per se - but his career seems to more closely reflect the chaos of non-fighting drama. I’ve always enjoyed Jackson’s candor, but it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows of deez nuts jokes (a great human sequence IMO). Whether his GTA moment through Costa Mesa, or the repellent interviews with female reporters - Rampage is a fighter we seem to speak about in the tones shared with fighters like Melvin Guillard, and Ricardo Arona; lost boys inside MMA’s lair. In Bellator, against Chael Sonnen, a former felon and piecemeal politician - he’ll be right at home.
Phil: While he’s changed physically over the years (and how!), Chael has remained startlingly similar in his overall mindset- he goes after people as hard as he possibly can, and then if something goes badly wrong he panics horribly and implodes. The main difference since his heyday of almost beating Anderson Silva is that the category of badly wrong has expanded dramatically from “deep submission attempt” to “failed on a takedown attempt.” The flaw has deepened to a crevasse. Other than that, he’s much the same guy he ever was, although his schtick has changed a little to reflect his lowered status: he tries to sell himself more as the straight-talking sage who tells it like it really is, rather than a cartoon character antihero.
David: Sonnen’s career has been a different sort of sabotage with overlapping narratives. It turned out all of those dumb comments, and theatrics were actually just the mask within the machine. Like Rampage, Sonnen seemed primed for a comeback tour, and then his game just disappeared into a routine of dummy laundering - doing things like throwing spinning back elbows with the posture of Gumby lost in a burning forge.
What’s at stake?
David: I guess Rampage has the potential to do more in a projected heavyweight fight with whatever current also-ran Bellator has lined up, whereas Sonnen is probably more interested in how to make counterfeit bitcoins.
Phil: For once, we know almost exactly what’s next for the victor. They get to fight the winner of Frank Mir and Fedor in what will be a weird-ass throwdown. I know how I’d pick most of the matchups between these four if they were in their prime... but none of them are. The loser likely goes back to getting freakshow matchups with Tito / Gracies etc.
Also Ryan Bader is going to obliterate everyone in this tournament.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Rampage used to be a good offensive wrestler, a tremendous ground and pounder, and dangerous in the clinch. Now he is a glacially slow puncher who plods forward and looks to land a left hook, which he sometimes follows up with a right hook. The one thing which I suspect will keep him competitive in this fight is that he has always been a bit of a game-day performer. No matter how uninterested he has clearly been in his training leading up to a fight, once he’s in there he almost always refuses to go away until the final bell. He’s still massively physically strong, incredibly tough, and will doggedly clamber back to his feet and trudge after that big punch.
David: Jackson was a rock of imposing pressure and punctuation in his prime - with a sturdy wrestling base (untakedownable against everyone who wasn’t a legit LHW: see Bustamente and Lindland), and powerful boxing, there were few fighters like him. For a time, he seemed like the ideal threat to Wanderlei Silva’s Pride title reign. Despite the brutal finishes, I think he still was still elite post-Silva’s destruction. I think the thing with Rampage’s game is that he’s a proto-wrestle/boxer. He’s extremely poised in his comfort zones, but disrupt the rhythm, and he’s somewhat lost. We know what he’s good at, and bad at, in other words.
Phil: Chael used to be an exceptionally underrated boxer and a strong chain wrestler who made visible and impressive strides in the quality of his top control. Since his first loss to Anderson Silva, he bloated out with comical amounts of muscle, lost his confidence in his striking, and then started to disintegrate with increasing frequency. His fight against Wanderlei Silva was sort of encouraging: he dominated from top position, but it’s also notable that the fight had very few of those “oh no” moments which have traditionally spelled his doom.
David: Sonnen is more or less the same guy, and like Robbie Lawler, he’s gotten by with subtle improvements to harness his strengths. Unfortunately, all of that has taken a backseat to biology. This was never more clear than the Tito Ortiz fight. He’s still relatively dangerous: along with his strength, he’s got with submissions, and no longer throws power strikes on an egg timer. Still, there’s not much to unpack except he’s more dangerous than your average wrestler, but as vulnerable as a dad with an instagram account.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: Boy howdy did Chael look bad against Tito, in a way which I did not expect at all (but perhaps should have). Against Rashad and Jones he did much the same thing: realized that he was against a sizable strength deficit, and just curled up into a ball.
David: Yep. Sonnen, like many fighters whose age catches up to them, is a caricature version of how defense becomes the first casualty in a fighter’s arsenal when father time hovers the athleticism noose over your head.
David: These two fighters would be x-factors against anyone. Against each other, this is basically the event horizon of x-factors.
Phil: My general expectations are that Rampage is going to be lazy outside of the cage and tough inside it, while Chael will be training hard but will fold like a cheap suit once something goes wrong. The extent of these two factors probably defines the fight.
David: I think Rampage’s general toughness will be enough to stay in Chael’s face long enough to feel the heat of a title company. Quinton Jackson by TKO, round 1.
Phil: Rampage is going to have a massive size advantage, and his strength and durability remain largely intact. I think Chael fails on a takedown, or two, takes a small shot and then seizes the opportunity to go foetal, and then Rampage is back, baby! AROOOoooooooh no he isn’t. Rampage Jackson by TKO, round 1.