Bellator 237 played out exactly as we expected. Well, except for one thing.
With a rote undercard designed to highlight either Bellator MMA or Rizin talent in showcase fights, everything went on spec, and there were no surprises. The only surprise to be had came in the main event when Quinton “Rampage” Jackson face planted at the first sign of legitimate danger from Fedor Emelianenko in a fight that would have been a dream come true 15 years ago. Yes, we must consider the degradation of time and how it impacts combat athletes, but anyone with the benefit of context, or even just two eyeballs, could have seen how transparent this was.
He even presaged it himself:
Did Quintin Jackson just deliver the most introspective interview of 2019? pic.twitter.com/UGmOigy0Za— KAIROS (@kairosmma) December 27, 2019
There are multiple people to blame for this sham of a fight. Fedor Emelianenko, 43 years old and on the verge of a second retirement, came to fight. No pretense, no politics, no bull. All Rampage did was check a single leg kick, then fall on his face at the first sign of danger. This is incompatible with the fighter that we’ve come to know and why it is conclusive he needs to hang them up.
I’m the last person to usher anyone into retirement. Yes, there are times we can see that great fighters have sustained so much damage over their careers that they are willing, but the flesh can’t hold up, perhaps the most unfortunate example being the recent case of a Jackson victim, Chuck Liddell. But that isn’t what we are dealing with in this case. This is not about “the flesh not willing.” This is about the man not willing. Rampage doesn’t want to be here and is cynically collecting checks on the back of promoters that want to use his star power and can’t figure out a creative way to circumnavigate a way to relevance.
For my money, Quinton Jackson has one of the most impenetrable chins this sport has ever seen. Seriously. Watch his first encounter with Wanderlei Silva in the Pride 2003 Grand Prix Finals. Ask yourself, “How many of those knees could I withstand?” The answer is probably one, before you hit the deck and cried for your mother. Jackson eats an otherworldly barrage of Silva punching, soccer kicking and kicking his face in before referee intervention. He never showed even the slightest sign of wanting to give up.
This is what makes his face flop against Emelianenko so galling. There is no way that Jackson couldn’t have gone on competing. He was not “knocked out.” And for the conspiracy theorists out there, no, he didn’t “take a dive.” This was something we see time and time again from fighters who simply want “out.” However, Rampage is the last sort of fighter that we would anticipate this from. Based on recent performances where he has made his disillusion with fighting quite clear, he normally just withstands whatever his opponent throws, remains standing, and then grins to the pay window. This is a different level of duplicity.
There is no way on the planet that Quinton Jackson couldn’t have stood up to those strikes and it is an insult to his opponent, promoters and fans for him to face plant at the first sign of danger. At the same time, this is what you get when you don’t read the tea leaves. I’ve written much about Scott Coker’s fetishizing of Pride stars of yesteryear, and I understand why Nobuyuki Sakakibara would want to utilize Rampage’s name in order to buttress the first half of Rizin’s New Year’s festivities. Nonetheless, when a fighter is openly, candidly talking about how little interest they have in the sport at this point in time, these are the things that you need to anticipate.
Rampage may be craven, but he’s not stupid. He’s figured out a multitude of ways to make money off of his name and promoters seeking to exploit it in the most base of ways are due to be disappointed. This is simply an unfortunate evolution of that idea taken to the extreme. Even throughout his prime, Jackson has candidly discussed his beefs with promoters, managers, fans and really, every individual participant in the overall scheme of MMA. He is the last person that you should expect to give an honest effort when it doesn’t suit his fancy. This is the same fighter, who during one of the doldrums of his career, barely eked by career middleweight Matt Lindland, then gave a post-fight interview where he just repeatedly onomatopoeia’d the sound of cash register. That was over 13 years ago.
Jackson has been literally fighting for over 20 years. He’s been over it, for a long time, but knows that desperate promoters are keen to cash in on his name value, and he’s happy to oblige. However, the extent to which he is willing to oblige and give an honest effort has clearly been eroded if not entirely evaporated. I don’t expect Scott Coker to stop using Pride retreads and legacy cases to bolster Bellator cards, nor do I anticipate Nobuyuki Sakakibara and other Japanese promoters to stop using similar talent to spike interest, especially during the New Year’s season. But, it’s worthwhile to consider the personality and imperatives of the talent you’re dealing with, to figure out whether or not you’re going to get a legitimate product. If you’re too obtuse to realize that fighters are using you as an ATM and just waiting to cash out, everybody suffers, other than the party getting a withdrawal.
There is a time and place for legacy acts. Even if I think Scott Coker’s product, going back to the Strikeforce days, has been too reliant on a bizarre brand of nostalgia, it can be effective and have potent novelty. Coker says he wants to stage a (second) retirement fight for Fedor Emelianenko in Russia? Cool. Find an appropriate opponent and fans will be there with bells on. But utilizing a fighter, who for years has been adamant that he doesn’t care about fighting any more? Well, that’s an easy face flop.