MMA: Wanderlei Silva
He’s not really in a position to ask for anything. But if he were, he says he’d aim high.
“If I could have chosen anyone to fight [this weekend], it would be the champion,” Akiyama told ESPN.com through a translator. “That would be great.”
Akiyama (13-5) returns to the Octagon on Saturday, for the first time since February 2012. He will meet Amir Sadollah on a UFC Fight Night card in Saitama, Japan. The event will air in the U.S. on Fight Pass, the UFC’s Internet subscription service.
With no disrespect to Sadollah (6-4), one might have thought it would have taken a bigger name opponent to lure Akiyama out of a 31-month layoff. Akiyama, however, says he never considered retirement and just accepted the first bout he was offered.
“It was always the expectation that I would participate in the UFC again,” Akiyama said. “I never say 'no' to any decision made by the UFC. I respect any path the UFC has chosen for me.
"Regarding Amir, he is powerful and I’m quite looking forward to it.”
To the U.S. fan base, it might seem that Akiyama disappeared after he dropped out of a fight against Thiago Alves at UFC 149 in July 2012. A knee injury forced him from the card and eventually snowballed into a long layoff.
In Japan, where Akiyama resides, it’s far different. The former judoka turned model and mixed martial artist is never far from the spotlight. He models regularly and appears on several television shows -- mostly of the reality genre and not linked to fighting.
Akiyama says he trained regularly during his layoff, and other than the knee, he affirms his health has been fine. He visited Las Vegas late last year to train at Xtreme Couture, mostly to be near UFC headquarters. He attended UFC 167 in November.
In his last fight, the UFC persuaded Akiyama to drop from middleweight (185 pounds max) to welterweight (170) after suffering three losses in a row at middleweight. Now two years older, it would not have been a shock to see him back at middleweight for this fight, but he’s committed to 170.
“This feels like it’s actually the best weight for me,” said Akiyama, who said he got up to 198 pounds during the break. "I've consulted a trainer, and the weight loss really hasn't been too difficult."
One opponent who might change his mind and send him back to 185 pounds is former Pride middleweight champion and UFC veteran Wanderlei Silva, who is facing a possible suspension in Nevada for skipping a random drug test.
Akiyama, who UFC president Dana White once said turned down another fight offer because he wanted to fight only Silva, was not aware of the commission issues Silva is facing but said it doesn’t change his desire to fight him at some point.
“Yes, I still want to fight Wanderlei Silva,” Akiyama said. “I’ve been very fond of him in terms of his skills and everything about his fights. We’re on the same stage, so yes, I want to fight him. Nothing changes my mind about that.”
Of course, first comes Sadollah on Saturday -- the matchup the UFC wanted. If Akiyama looks good, perhaps he will be in a position to make requests for his next fight.
“I’m definitely still aiming to be a champion,” Akiyama said.
Bisping (24-6) fought Chael Sonnen that night in a No. 1 middleweight contender bout in Chicago. After two rounds, two of the three judges had the fight even, 19-19. A decisive round for Bisping would have netted a coveted shot at Anderson Silva.
It didn’t happen. Sonnen (28-14-1) set a relentless pace, out-grappled Bisping in the final round and won the decision. He fought Silva six months later; in his second UFC title fight appearance. He eventually fought for a UFC belt three times.
Bisping, 35, had done about everything there is to do in the UFC. He’s fought in the Octagon 20 times and participated on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series as both a contestant (once) and a coach (twice). He’s fought in five different countries.
He has never fought for a UFC title, however. Only three fighters in UFC history have made more appearances than Bisping and never fought for a title. The closest he has ever come to earning a shot was unquestionably that third round in Chicago in 2012.
Two and a half years later, Sonnen, 37, retired from mixed martial arts on the heels of testing positive for five banned substances in the span of two weeks. It opened a world of questions regarding his previous use of testosterone-replacement-therapy and drug use in general. Sonnen was on TRT when he fought Bisping in 2012.
Was Sonnen on performance-enhancing drugs when he fought Bisping? Were his testosterone levels monitored while he was on TRT for that fight? What affect did it have on the outcome? One would think Bisping might go crazy thinking about it.
And it doesn’t end there. Bisping has lost six fights in the UFC. Three of those came against fighters who later had issues when the Nevada State Athletic Commission, as the result of random, unannounced drug testing.
Wanderlei Silva, whom Bisping lost to in February 2010, ran from a sample collector on May 24. Vitor Belfort, who knocked out Bisping in January 2013, submitted a test that showed high levels of testosterone in his blood as part of a license application earlier this year.
In Bisping’s mind, there is no question all three played outside the rules during the course of their careers. Bisping swears he’s never taken a banned substance.
Does that bother him? He’s fought in the UFC since 2006. Never reached a title. Did drug use in the sport prevent him from that?
Everybody knows Vitor is the most prolific drug cheat in history.” --Michael Bisping
“It doesn’t keep me up at night,” Bisping said. “Obviously, it’s disappointing. I was in No. 1 contender matchups several times and they didn’t go my way. I fought some of the most prolific drug users in the sport. Would things have been different had they not been on whatever they were on? Who knows? You can’t live your life like that.
“Everybody knows Vitor is the most prolific drug cheat in history. Chael, I don’t like to kick a man while he’s down, but he had five banned substances in his system. It wasn’t a surprise. Anybody that was on TRT used it to try and cheat the system.”
Bisping’s window to fight for a UFC title is closing. He is coming off a decision loss to Tim Kennedy in April, during which he looked flat and ultimately uncompetitive.
He is scheduled to fight Cung Le at a UFC Fight Night event on Aug. 23 in Macau. His goal is still the UFC title, but if it doesn’t happen, Bisping says hopefully he’ll be remembered for something else. After watching some of his best opponents fall under drug suspicion, Bisping is simply proud of the fact he’s not with them.
“If I never get to fight for a title, it will be an absolutely crying shame,” Bisping said. “But I want my legacy to be pretty simple. I worked my ass off and did it the old fashioned way. I’ve never taken a steroid in my life.
“You work your ass off and try to achieve what you can.”
ESPN Stats & Information
The UFC was to crown its first ever superfight champion on April 7, 1995, at UFC 5. Royce Gracie, the three-time tournament champion against Ken Shamrock, whose only loss was to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master at UFC 1 in just 57 seconds. The two men fought for 36 minutes, with Shamrock gaining a takedown shortly into the fight and holding top position for the remainder of the 31-minute period. A five-minute overtime settled nothing and the fight was declared a draw. Despite being in top position, Shamrock landed 10 significant strikes (98 in total). And so began the legacy of the UFC rematch.
Over its 20-year history, the UFC has had more than 100 rematches. Some bouts such as Gracie versus Shamrock have changed the course of UFC history.
Battles that Changed History
UFC 52: Couture vs. Liddell 2
UFC 65: Hughes vs. St-Pierre 2 (aka Bad Intentions)
Matt Hughes had defended his UFC Welterweight Title twice when he fought Georges St-Pierre for the second time at UFC 65. Hughes won the first matchup at UFC 50 by way of armbar, with one second remaining in the opening round. In the rematch, St-Pierre dominated, outstriking Hughes 45-10 and landing a brutal head kick and punches to dethrone the champion. Hughes would fight St-Pierre at UFC 79 and lose again, his last shot at a UFC title.
UFC 77: Silva vs. Franklin 2 (aka Hostile Territory)
UFC 100: Lesnar vs. Mir 2
By November 2008, Brock Lesnar had become the UFC heavyweight champion. But there was one man who had his number: Frank Mir. Mir defeated Lesnar by heel hook at UFC 81, and after Mir became interim champion, it set up the rematch at the UFC’s century mark event. Lesnar would control the action from the opening bell, bloodying Mir and outstriking the interim champ 47-4 in significant strikes. Lesnar would make one more title defense before health issues and losing the title led to his departure from MMA in 2011.
UFC 100 would be a night of redemption for Lesnar, much like these rematches.
Battles of Redemption
UFC 49: Belfort vs. Couture 2 (aka Unfinished Business)
Randy Couture was the UFC light heavyweight champion when he defended his title against Vitor Belfort at UFC 46 in January 2004. The end of the fight was marred in controversy when the doctor halted the bout just 49 seconds into the opening round because of a cut on Couture’s eyelid from a Belfort punch. Belfort was awarded the title because of the doctor stoppage, resulting in an immediate rematch in August. In the rematch, Couture gained two takedowns and damaged Belfort on the ground, ultimately leading to a doctor’s stoppage after the third round. Couture landed 33 of his 50 significant strikes on the grounded Belfort.
UFC 63: Hughes vs. Penn 2
UFC 46 also saw another title change in the co-main event when BJ Penn submitted Matt Hughes to win the UFC welterweight title. Penn would leave the UFC because of contractual issues, but would return in March 2006. He would again fight Hughes at UFC 63, but the result was much different. Hughes was the UFC welterweight champion, and proved why in defeating Penn by TKO stoppage in the third round. They would rematch once more in 2010 with Penn winning by KO 21 seconds into the fight.
UFC 83: Serra vs. St-Pierre 2
UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen 2
The matchup against Weidman will be Silva’s third rematch in his MMA career. In his second set of rematches in 2010 and 2012, Silva fought Chael Sonnen and picked up two victories. But the first fight was three minutes away from going to Sonnen. At UFC 117, Sonnen gained takedowns in each of the first three rounds and had Silva on his back in the final round up on the cards when Silva forced a tap out with a triangle choke and armbar. Many thought Sonnen had Silva’s number when the two would rematch at UFC 148, but the Brazilian had other ideas. Sonnen landed 76 total strikes on Silva while the champion threw just two, missing both. But Silva battled in Round 2, eventually striking after a Sonnen slip and finishing the fight with knees against the cage.
All of those battles took place over time, but some rematches remain timeless for their bad blood and exciting results.
UFC 61: Ortiz vs. Shamrock 2 (aka Bitter Rivals)
While Ronda Rousey-Miesha Tate may be the preeminent feud of today’s MMA, it all started with Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. The two fought at UFC 40 in 2002, at the time the most watched UFC PPV of all time. The fight was one-sided as Ortiz dominated Shamrock for three rounds before the fight was stopped. The rematch took place 3 1/2 later at UFC 61 after the rivalry reignited on Season 3 of the Ultimate Fighter. Ortiz, in the middle of his career, beat the aging Shamrock with strikes 68 seconds into the first round. They would rematch in October 2006, and again Ortiz pounded Shamrock into a stoppage. But the rivalry and the bad blood is what kept the feud going for almost 10 years.
UFC 66: Liddell vs. Ortiz 2
UFC 71: Liddell vs. Jackson 2
In 2003, Liddell was sent to Japan by the UFC to represent the company in the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix. Liddell would face “Rampage” Jackson in the semifinals and the winner was expected to face Wanderlei Silva in the final. Jackson would defeat Liddell by TKO due to corner stoppage in the second round. Fast forward to 2007, and Jackson became the No. 1 contender to Liddell’s UFC light heavyweight title. Once again, Jackson would catch Liddell with big punches, putting him to the mat and winning the bout 1:53 into the first round.
UFC 125: Edgar vs. Maynard 2 (aka Resolution)
The rivalry between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard began in April 2008, when Maynard beat Edgar by unanimous decision. Edgar would go on to win the UFC lightweight title from Penn in April 2010 and would defend it against Penn in August. After winning that rematch, it was time for UFC 125 and a rematch against Maynard, the only man to beat him. Edgar was knocked down three times in the opening round and Maynard looked to be on his way to another win. But Edgar battled back, outstriking Maynard 95-71 in significant strikes and earning a split decision draw. The two men would fight one more time in October 2011, but this time the clear winner was Edgar by fourth-round knockout.
This Saturday night, UFC 168 is headlined by not one, but two of these rematches. Will they be battles of redemption for the challengers, Silva and Tate? Or will Weidman and Rousey continue to cement their places as champions and put their foes out of the title picture for good? Either way, these fights will become part of the ever growing legacy of the UFC rematch.
MILWAUKEE -- Lightweight champion Benson Henderson has successfully defended his UFC 155-pound title three times in a row. The only other fighter to accomplish that feat inside the Octagon is former lightweight titleholder BJ Penn.
But as Henderson prepares to put his title on the line Saturday night against Anthony Pettis, some have wondered whether he has what it takes to retain the belt a fourth straight time. The concern is raised because of Henderson’s previous loss to Pettis and close calls in recent title bouts.
Henderson has won two of his three UFC title defenses by split decision. And the first time Henderson faced Pettis, in December 2010 while defending his WEC lightweight title bout, he lost by unanimous decision.
That loss, however, and the razor-thin outcomes of his more recent title bouts, don’t worry Henderson. His goal remains the same: just win. It’s that simple.
“What it all boils down to is getting your hand raised,” Henderson told ESPN.com on Thursday during a media conference to promote the title rematch with Pettis. “Whether you do it emphatically, impressively, whether you do it by split decision or whatever the case may be.
“Honestly, if a guy walks into the cage and slips on a banana peel and I win, I will take that win. I don’t care. The way I fight, I’m always out there to beat the guy up. I just want to beat him up. I don’t care about judges’ decisions or this or that, I just want to beat the guy up.”
Improved stand-up boosts Mendez’s confidence
Featherweight contender Chad Mendes has been on a knockout tear since coming up short in his title bid against Jose Aldo at UFC 142 on Jan. 14, 2012. Mendes was knocked out during the first round of that title bout, but he's knocked out each of his opponents in the three fights that followed.
Mendes, ranked fourth among 145-pound fighters by ESPN.com, went into that fight unsure of his stand-up skills -- both offensively and defensively. He wasn’t confident anywhere on his feet then.
As a result, Mendes was vulnerable standing against Aldo and got caught by a knee to the chin. His hopes of leaving the cage a champion that night came ended at the 4:59 mark.
But Mendes is better on his feet now. He is comfortable letting his hands go, and moving his feet and head comes naturally now. And he has developed into a solid power puncher. Mendes no longer lacks confidence standing in the cage.
“It’s not that I wasn’t confident as a fighter, it’s just that the stand-up part of the game wasn’t there for me,” Mendes said. “A lot of people said I took that fight too early in my career. But it’s a title fight; I’m not going to turn it down.
"I believe I was winning the first round until the final second. I’m a completely different fighter now. I know I can hang. I’ve grown and gotten so much better. I want another title shot."
With Wanderlei unavailable, UFC seeking foe for Sonnen
There are two things Chael Sonnen wants more than anything else in his professional fighting career right now: a showdown with Wanderlei Silva and a spot on the UFC 167 main card. But it's very unlikely one of his wishes will be met any time soon.
According to UFC president Dana White, a fight between Sonnen and Silva isn’t happening this year. White said Silva is injured and would accept only a pay-per-view deal to face Sonnen.
Pay-per-view deals are given only to champions, and Silva isn’t close to contending for the middleweight title. That puts the brakes on a Sonnen-Silva fight. Besides, Silva’s injury, which White says is back-related, will keep him out of action for the remainder of this year.
“Chael wants to fight in the co-main event of the [Georges] St-Pierre fight,” said White, referring to St-Pierre’s title defense against Johny Hendricks on Nov. 16 in Las Vegas. “Chael wants it. He wants to fight on that card. He has his heart set on it.”
There have been recent reports of Phil Davis getting the fight with Sonnen. White, however, quashed those reports. The UFC is still seeking an opponent to meet Sonnen at UFC 167. It’s possible that Davis is among the fighters being considered, but White refused to reveal any of the potential candidates.
“There’s nothing done [with Davis],” White said.
Middleweight contender Chael Sonnen has been pursuing Wanderlei Silva for several months. As is common when Sonnen targets a fighter, especially a Brazilian, the verbal assault can turn vicious.
Silva has received some of the best trash talk in Sonnen’s repertoire, making a potential showdown between them enticing. A Sonnen-Wanderlei matchup has main event written all over it, especially if held in Brazil. But this fight, which seemed certain a week ago, lost a bit of its luster Saturday night in Boston.
When Sonnen submitted Mauricio Rua in the first round of their light heavyweight bout, he quickly became UFC’s most sought-after non-titleholder. Middleweights and light heavyweights alike began jostling for position to secure a fight with him.
Normally the hunter, Sonnen now finds himself being hunted. This comes as no surprise, really: Sonnen, once he starts yapping, becomes one of the biggest attractions in UFC.
Within minutes of Rua’s demise, fellow Brazilian title contenders Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida went public with their eagerness to be Sonnen’s next Octagon dance partner. Sonnen became such a hot commodity that even American light heavyweight contender Phil Davis announced that he wants in.
Overwhelmed by his newfound popularity, an excited Sonnen refused to reject any of his suitors, except Davis. That’s because Sonnen has a thing for Brazilians.
“I will beat up Vitor on the way to the ring to kick Wanderlei’s a--,” Sonnen said Saturday night. “And I will take care of that third guy [Machida], whose name I’ve already forgotten, in the parking lot on my way to my after-party. I would take all three.”
If given the opportunity, Sonnen would fight all three in one night. But let’s get back to reality. He can pick only one for his next date and that person should be Machida.
While Silva has been harassed by Sonnen for a while, and his overall career accomplishments are impressive, the former Pride middleweight champion has struggled since returning to UFC in December 2007. In his nine most recent UFC bouts, Silva is 4-5. As a result of his inconsistency, Silva hasn’t received 185-pound contender consideration in well more than a year. Silva just isn’t as attractive as he once was.
Belfort seems poised to fight Dan Henderson at an as-of-yet unannounced event in Brazil, according to a report on “UFC Tonight.”
That leaves Sonnen against Machida, which would be huge. Their contrasting fighting styles would be fun to watch. Transferring hostility from Silva to Machida will be a piece of cake for Sonnen. He’s been tossing verbal darts at Machida for a while, anyway. And it’s clearly gotten under Machida’s skin -- he is itching to get his hands on "The American Gangster.”
Despite a disputed unanimous decision loss to Davis on Aug. 3, Machida remains among the top contenders at light heavyweight; Sonnen is a contender at 185 pounds. But weight won’t be an issue for either -- Machida has hinted at dropping to middleweight, while Sonnen is comfortable at 205 as he proved Saturday night.
This fight makes the most sense. Dana White and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva need to make it happen.
The first adjective Matt Grice uses to describe that grueling, split-decision loss to Dennis Bermudez on Feb. 23 at UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif., is “fun.” Awesome time.
“One of the most fun fights I’ve ever been in,” Grice said. “Just competing with a person of that caliber. We’re all there to test ourselves, and I feel that fight tested me a lot -- my willingness to continue and keep going. To me, that’s fun.”
ESPN.com’s fight of the midyear was a landslide win for Grice and Bermudez. It’s a funny thing, “Fight of the nights.” Sometimes, stylistically, you can predict them. Oftentimes, however, they appear totally random -- as was the case with Grice and Bermudez.
Grice, for one, has no idea how to describe exactly what happens between two fighters that can turn a technical martial arts contest into a spirited brawl. He does know, however, that physical and mental endurance are involved.
“That definitely wasn’t in the game plan, you know?” Grice said. “Take a bunch of punches and give a bunch of punches. You just get in the zone."
Bermudez got full mount on Grice in the first minute of the fight. The two exhausted one another against the fence throughout, fighting for underhooks and throwing knees and punches to the body. It continued like that for the next 14 minutes.
One of the most incredible things about the fight was that both had enough left to stand and trade punches in the final minute. The pace of this featherweight bout was insane from the beginning.
Grice dropped Bermudez with a perfect left hook in the first round.
Bermudez’s corner told him, “We need this round, you’ve got to go for it,” as he came off his stool for the final round. Across the Octagon, Grice’s corner’s last words were, “Don’t stop. Don’t relax.”
“I think more than anything in that third round, it was survival tactic, Grice said. He hurt me right off the bat in that third round. Every time I would recover a little bit, he’d hit me with another one that would put me out. He was in great shape, too, because he threw a lot of punches in that last round.”
Grice appeared out on his feet at least three times in the final round.
“I looked up at the clock with 47 seconds left and thought, ‘Man, where did the rest of this round go?’” Grice said. “I came off the cage and hit him with a left hand and for the last 30 seconds or so we flurried.”
According to FightMetric.com, Bermudez landed 120 total strikes to Grice’s 82. It was, by far, the most times either had been hit in a UFC bout.
No. 2: Johny Hendricks UD3 Carlos Condit, UFC 158 (March 16). This was an angry Hendricks. The kind of Hendricks you get when you give away his title shot to a recently suspended welterweight, coming off a loss. Condit wasn’t backing down, though. Amazing fight.
No. 3: Wanderlei Silva KO2 Brian Stann, UFC on Fuel 8 (March 2). Stann may have been able to play this safe and gone after Silva late -- but we’ll never know because he chose to do the opposite. One would have thought Stann’s chin would have held up better than Silva’s, but that wasn’t the case, as it was the Axe Murderer left standing after a firefight.
No. 4: Cat Zingano vs. Miesha Tate, TUF 16 Finale (April 13). Tate will give you a fight. She’s relentless and for two rounds, it worked against Cat Zingano. In the third, with a reality show and title shot on the line, Zingano delivered a highlight TKO.
No. 5: Mark Hunt vs. Stefan Struve, UFC on Fuel 8 (March 2). The weigh-in photo of these two ranks among the most comical in UFC history. The actual fight ranks among the best of the year. For Hunt to get inside that reach, chances were he’d have to absorb a little punishment along the way. That’s pretty much what happened, until Hunt delivered the walk-off home run shot.
The word “popularity” trumps a word like “retread” six days of the week. It did in the case of Quinton Jackson -- the popular, yet polarizing, former UFC champion who just became Bellator’s latest acquisition, according to a Spike TV press release. “Rampage” is presumably headed to the so-called “toughest tournament in sports.”
And with him comes an ounce of that hard-to-find intrigue.
Bellator will hold a news conference Wednesday in Los Angeles to make the announcement. If a 34-year-old on a three-fight losing streak and with strong associations to a rival league seems like an odd choice for a multiyear contract with Bellator, that’s because it is. Traditionally, Bellator has steered clear of picking up the UFC’s sloppy seconds, with a few exceptions. Just last week, Bellator inked prospect Bubba Jenkins, a collegiate wrestling champion from Arizona State who is 3-0 in MMA. That’s a signing that falls more in line with the Bellator ideology of unearthing talent. Landing Jenkins was a major boon.
But Jackson isn’t exactly a cast-off either. He was a disgruntled UFC employee who openly battled with Dana White and the UFC over pay, treatment, integrity, the reinvention of B.A. Baracus, fighting boring wrestlers and a descending scale of pettier issues over the past few years. He’s not known as an “entertainer” for fighting alone. That’s why he fits with Spike, where he can roam into pro wrestling waters under the TNA platform (an idea he’s flirted with before) and play a role in the network’s reality programming. With “Rampage” comes drama, and in his case, that’s interchangeable with “baggage.”
You know what else he brings? Star power and accessible validity.
After all, as of UFC 135, Jackson was name enough to challenge Jon Jones for the UFC’s light heavyweight belt. He didn’t make good, but the UFC sold more than 500,000 pay-per-views, which was the most since UFC 129 when Georges St-Pierre fought Jake Shields. It was the most pay-per-views sold for all of the UFC 130s. When he fought Dan Henderson on Spike, there were 6 million viewers.
Even in a sport where yesterday is a distant memory, that wasn’t so long ago. Yes, the Japan homecoming at UFC 144 against Ryan Bader was a disaster, with the missed weight and the swirling chaos of his TRT/groveling over how the UFC had handled him poorly. And yes, his sayonara bout with Glover Teixeira wasn’t exactly the barn burner he (or we) imagined. Just like Rashad Evans, Henderson and anyone who’s been in the fight game long enough, he’s capable of duds. Ennui is a hard thing to shake.
Yet even with all of that, what’s not to like about this signing? It was Josh Koscheck who said that fans can love him or hate him, it doesn’t matter, so long as they care. Signing “Rampage” will get people to care. And realistically, Bellator could use some love and caring, especially for its tournament structure that stubbornly makes a star of attrition. That concept’s not a fit for everyone. Maybe not even for Jackson, who has had trouble with motivation and weight in the past. It's tough to maintain health, weight and mindset through three fights in three months for anybody. But for a millionaire who doesn't particularly need to?
Then again, remember that he made a name in those Pride Grand Prix’s back in the early days fighting the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Chuck Liddell and Mauricio Rua. Those yesteryear names now become Attila Vegh and his longtime off-limits rival Muhammed Lawal -- not to mention Emanuel Newton, who knocked “King Mo” out in February with a spinning backfist. There’s something about those Memphis “bungalows” that tuned people in, even if they’re being flung at the more curious retread cases of Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Vladimir Matyushenko.
There are always exceptions to the exceptions.
The thing is, Bellator hasn’t strictly adhered to anything other than its own bracketology. Hard to imagine it giving Jackson special treatment and holding him out of the 205-pound tournament. And the promotion has loosely gone about its business of bringing up the next best names over the past couple of years. It's scored with Michael Chandler, Ben Askren, Pat Curran, Eduardo Dantas and Eddie Alvarez (now the subject of a fierce tug-of-war). This is its traditional model, insomuch as tradition exists.
Yet while Jon Fitch didn’t raise the Bellator eyebrow when the UFC released him with a 14-3-1 record under Zuffa, Jackson -- 7-5 in the UFC -- did. Why is that? Fitch will never be confused with entertainment, that’s why. He was never a champion. He doesn’t use words like “bungalows,” much less throw them. Eyeballs aren’t as likely to follow his every move.
Jackson, on the other hand, doesn’t feel too much like the UFC’s leftovers. Kudos to Bellator for thinking inside the box enough to see it.
At one point while I'm there, he grabs my shoulder and admits he killed the air conditioning earlier when no one was looking and opened the back door to allow the desert heat inside.
"Very hot in here," he says. Then he tilts his entire body back and laughs diabolically before adding, "If you don't want to sweat, stay on the couch."
Silva (35-12-1) is neither putting off nor anxiously awaiting his next UFC fight. It will come soon enough. He's staying busy between fights in the meantime.
Last month, he spent a week in Europe directing seminars alongside Jose Aldo and Mauricio Rua. He believes mixed martial arts could be fully legalized in France this year. Basically, he has a passion to pursue outside the cage.
"I'm thinking this is a transition to a new job," Silva told ESPN.com. "I'm so glad we have jobs after fighting. A lot of important fighters before would stop fighting and have nothing left. Today, you can fight and make money in a normal life."
That's not to say he's not still heavily invested in his career. He takes his workouts as serious as ever and you can hear frustration in his voice as he talks about the loss to Rich Franklin last year, after he nearly ended it in the second round.
Silva dropped Franklin late in the round and swarmed him with punches until the bell sounded. He's agitated referee Mario Yamasaki moved in to stop the fight, but then changed his mind and let the round continue. Franklin survived and eventually won by decision.
"Either go in there and stop it or don't stop it," Silva said. "If I had won that fight, that's three knockouts in a row. It changes my career."
As of Tuesday, Silva says the UFC has not contacted him regarding a highly expected fight against former middleweight and light heavyweight contender Chael Sonnen -- but his phone is on and he'll answer it when it rings.
"I'm training right now and waiting," Silva told ESPN.com. "I have a guy asking are you going to accept a challenge -- man, nobody has contacted me officially. The boss don't call me, so I'm waiting."
On a "UFC Tonight" show aired on Fuel on Tuesday, Silva was quoted as saying he wants to "suck [Sonnen's] blood." He made no mention of blood sucking to me, but appeared interested in the fight, not to mention confident.
"The probability I knock out Chael Sonnen is very big," Silva said. "Man, everybody knows his game. He is never going to take me down and I'm going to break his nose with my knee."
It's easy to believe some mixed martial arts fans think of fighters a lot like racing fans regard the cars.
Just listen to them.
Lacerated under an eyebrow less than two weeks before a major fight? No big deal, Alexander Gustafsson. Head to the pits, glue that sucker up, voila, you’re back on the track. If replacing a blown engine doesn't work, well, just hop in a prepped-and-tested backup car -- i.e., pull a fighter equal to Gustafsson’s stature from a bountiful group of guys who are in shape, amenable to meeting a primed Gegard Mousasi on a week's notice, and are just fine cutting weight days after shuttling off to Scandinavia.
Sounds awesome, like everyone should jump at the chance to compete on Fuel TV -- UFC’s least visible television platform -- against a killer, on short, short notice. Pay no attention to the fact that the vast majority of world-class fighters would never say yes in this situation, nor should they be expected to.
Judging by Tuesday's reaction to the news that Gustafsson was replaced by one of his training partners, an unknown UFC debutant, and based off similar reactions to this sort of thing in the past, there's clearly a segment among MMA fans who don't care about much beyond being entertained, even if that noble calling comes at the expense of the people they love to watch fight.
I couldn't digest most of what I read on Twitter after UFC president Dana White announced Ilir Latifi got the call against Mousasi. A lot of it was angry, selfish and cravenly out of whack. So I tweeted a request to anyone who decided to criticize the UFC for making Mousasi-Latifi. They needed to come up with a more appealing option. Right away. And "be happy Mousasi is fighting," I finished.
Most people weren’t satisfied. Not even close. Hey, in some respect, it’s easy to understand. Gustafsson-Mousasi looked like a terrific title eliminator, pitting the hometown fan favorite against an accomplished European making his UFC debut.
To go from that to a fight featuring Mousasi in the cage as a huge favorite over someone no one has heard of, well, that stinks. But that’s all it does. Stink, and for no other reason than a fight we wanted to see on Saturday isn’t going to happen. It’s not some travesty. Not the end of the world or the beginning of the end of the UFC. This was a fight booked on a smaller card meant to capitalize off a local guy gunning to become the No. 1 contender at 205. Sometimes life doesn’t go your way, which is why the card is always subject to change.
Why can’t Gustafsson fight, @foote92 lamented?
Because he experienced a serious gash underneath his left brow on March 28, that’s why. He’s a human being, not a robot.
Several wondered why Gustafsson wasn’t more careful during sparring sessions less than two weeks before the fight. Gustafsson wrote that he was injured while wrestling, so if you care to believe him, this had nothing to do with improper sparring too close to the fight.
Most of the contempt was aimed at the UFC's choice of Latifi.
@MiniKitson wanted “Shogun, Wanderlei, Manua [sic], Tom Lawlor, Tom Watson. Anyone.”
"Shogun" [Mauricio] Rua has a fight lined up with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in June. It’s unlikely he’s anywhere near fighting weight right now.
Jimi Manuwa fought in February. While he doesn’t have a bout lined up, Manuwa appears to be far too good a prospect to step in on short notice like this. It would be dumb for him to do so.
Tom Lawlor, a name mentioned as much as any I heard Tuesday, is a middleweight. His last fight was a bore, which he apologized for. For all his tweeting, Lawlor and his management didn’t bother reaching out to UFC about the fight. That said, he presumably would have been in shape, because he’s scheduled for the same card.
Lyoto Machida. Oh sure he’d do it, except he was too busy tweeting photos of himself at Disneyland over the weekend. I bet he’s in the right mental frame of mind to fight.
Phil Davis was mentioned a few times, as if training camps mean nothing. Davis is close to peaking for his fight against Vinny Magalhaes, whose style is the exact opposite of Mousasi’s.
And on and on.
Perhaps YOU don’t know Latifi, and so YOU assume the fight will suck and YOU won’t be entertained. But if you’re Swedish, then you have an underdog countryman to root for. Why would anyone in Stockholm want to watch Mousasi versus Lawlor?
If criticism can be found it's in the UFC's decision not to give Gustafsson until Friday to heal as it keeps Latifi ready on standby. Both fighters could have attended media day Wednesday. It would have been a different kind of story ahead of a card that could use some press. Instead, a decision was made, and Gustafsson won't get a shot at fighting no matter how much he coveted it. Another school of thought would suggest the full focus on Latifi over the next few days would give UFC a chance to build a story -- don't be surprised if he's passed off as a Swedish Rocky type.
Is that good enough to entertain fans, especially those who seem so desperate to be entertained? Keep it tuned to Twitter to find out, I suppose.
Just over two years since his last fight, Mark "The Hammer" Coleman officially retired from mixed martial arts this week. The 48-year-old mixed-style pioneer, a brutal force when he was at his best, will be remembered as one of the most influential heavyweights this demanding sport has produced.
Defeating Dan "The Beast" Severn in 1997 to become the first UFC heavyweight champion (MMA heavyweight championship lineage timeline), Coleman, a 1992 Olympian in Barcelona after winning an NCAA title at Ohio State University, established himself as the dominant force in UFC with a 6-0 start. Then the wheels fell off. He dropped three straight in the Octagon before taking another defeat, albeit a dubious one versus Nobuhiko Takada in Pride.
Coleman, the "Godfather of ground-and-pound," delivered the highest of highs and lowest of lows -- emblematic, one could say, of the man himself.
Immediate UFC dominance
Ground and pound master
There wasn't anyone worse to have on top of you in a fight than Coleman, especially when rules were liberal and he showed up in shape. Takedown to control to punches and headbutts. He ushered in this way of fighting at a time when grappling in the UFC meant the jiu-jitsu man held an advantage.
Pressure from politicians had as much to do with the tightening of UFC rules as anything else, and Coleman's pounding head trauma was a perfect example of that. The visage of him slamming his head into another man's while on top of him was gruesome. But so, so effective. After the UFC prohibited headbutts in Oct. 1997, Coleman seemed to lose steam. He was limited in terms of skill and relied on simply overwhelming the man underneath him. That was bound to catch up with Coleman at some point, and the rules adjustments hastened that reality.
Coleman became the frontman for a group of wrestlers turned fighters based out of Columbus, Ohio. They were never known for their skill, but man could they punish people. In fact, that's what training consisted of. Just beating the snot out of the other guy. Coleman's success propelled the team, which also included eventual UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman.
After struggling through four straight losses, Coleman was matched with well known Japanese pro wrestler Nobuhiko Takada, Pride's first star. There's no way Takada should have defeated Coleman, even in this topsy turvy sport, but he did, and it immediately drew questions. Coleman has said he took the fight because he needed to support his family and was guaranteed another contest. He's never come out and admitted the bout was in fact a work, but he's never denied it either.
Pride Grand Prix 2000
The Smashing Machine
Several years after the Pride GP 2000, HBO aired "The Smashing Machine," a documentary that tracked Coleman and his friend Mark Kerr during their participation in the tournament. Kerr's story of drug addiction stole the director's focus. Coleman was grounded and professional by comparison, almost serving as a hero at the end. It remains one of the best pieces of film ever done about MMA.
Allan Goes destruction
Serving as a reminder of just how devastating he could be with less restrictive tools at his disposal, Coleman engineered one of MMA's scariest results when he repeatedly kneed Allan Goes in the head at Pride 13. This was the event the Japanese promotion opened up such tactics, including stomps and soccer kicks. Goes was forced to the hospital with bleeding on his brain, and Coleman seemed poised to dominate yet again. But a new breed had arrived, and his momentum was halted by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in his next fight.
Shogun win, Chute Boxe brawl
Fresh off one of the best stretches any mixed martial artist has ever put together, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, the 2005 fighter of the year, was matched with Coleman. The contest ended in 49 seconds after Coleman drove Rua to the floor and the Brazilian suffered a broken arm. Coleman, however, continued to attack Rua, apparently unaware of what happened, and the Chute Boxe camp, including Wanderlei Silva, stormed the ring. It was wild. Silva was rabid. Phil Baroni, a member of Coleman's corner, responded in kind. It even spilled into the locker room area, with "The Axe Murder" declaring "war" on anyone associated with Hammer House.
Coleman consoles daughters after losing to Fedor
Of all the images Coleman produced over his career, none was more poignant than the sight of his two young daughters sobbing in the ring after their father was armbarred by Fedor Emelianenko. Afterwards the loss he spoke over a house microphone at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, speaking of his love for his daughters. They stepped through the ropes, leading to incredible image of "The Hammer," his left eye horribly swollen, reaching out to his girls who seemed utterly terrified. Pride folded and Coleman returned to the UFC, where he lost a rematch to "Shogun," beat Stephan Bonnar at UFC 100, and fell to Couture.
The predominant story line heading into UFC's card this weekend has focused on Wanderlei Silva's Nippon homecoming. After all, the legendary Brazilian spent his best years mauling stud light heavyweights and hapless punching bags alike inside the Pride ring. Since he hasn't been back for fights since 2006, this is a fine angle to take so long as it's acknowledged that Silva, 36, is hardly the Axe Murderer he used to be.
In some ways Silva hasn't changed much from the man who ripped out hearts and shattered faces. This was Silva as Pride's first light heavyweight champion. This is the guy that predicts violent knockouts with a matter-of-factness. So, in case you weren't aware, he said he’ll finish American Brian Stann in the third round of their main event at Saitama Super Arena.
"I'm so proud to fight back here," Silva said Wednesday during a press conference promoting the Fuel TV card from Tokyo. "That stadium, Saitama, has given me some of the best moments in my career."
“After going 27-3-1 from Nov. 1996 through Oct., 2004, Silva came back to the pack in a big way. He steps into the cage with Stann sporting a 32-12-1 record. If nothing else, and it's almost come down to that, the Brazilian icon remains, in bursts, fun to watch. Silva's last two contests earned money bonuses from the UFC for their frantic action.
He's forgotten more about MMA than I'll ever know. He's done more for the sport in any two years than I've done in my career.” -- Brian Stann on Wanderlei Silva's career.
"He's forgotten more about MMA than I'll ever know," Stann, 32, said of Silva. "He's done more for the sport in any two years than I've done in my career."
Stann and Silva fight Saturday at 205 pounds, the Brazilian's fighting weight during his best years as a pro. He hasn't campaigned there since Quinton Jackson knocked him out in the Octagon at the end of 2008. Silva admitted having a difficult time making 185, and catch-weight fights are in short supply in the UFC, so The Axe Murderer has bulked up, again, and he should be as wild as he can be against the 32-year-old decorated U.S. Marine.
"The popularity of my opponent, Wanderlei Silva, is very well deserved," said Stann (12-5). "I myself, when I first thought about coming into this sport, my favorite fighter was Wanderlei Silva. I would watch his fights in Pride and I would just marvel at the tenacity that he brought inside of the ring and how he fought. Not only that, but the way he treated other people and the way he conducted himself, I've always admired all of those qualities in him."
Like Stann, heavyweight Stefan Struve, who fights another Japanese mainstay, Mark Hunt, spoke in reverential terms.There’s no shortage of fighters and fans willing to speak similarly about Silva, remarkably a day away from the 49th bout of his career.
Make no mistake, Silva is not the fighter he once was. There was a time when pressure and pace were Silva’s closest allies. One way or another he was going to overwhelm the man opposite him. Silva was so dominant his coach at the time, Chute Boxe maestro Rudimar Fedrigo, famously promised Silva would remain unbeaten for 10 years and retain the Pride title the entire time. Silva lasted about half of that. Technically he held onto the title for six years, though he lost non-title bouts prior to getting knocked out by Dan Henderson in 2007 and was clearly slipping. That crystalized when he entered the Octagon.
Since returning to the UFC for the first time since losing to Tito Ortiz in 2000, Silva is 3-5 in the Octagon. He’s only 1-5 against American fighters, though, and they don’t get much more American than Stann, who agreed to move up 20 pounds to fight Silva at 205.
“I would watch his fights in Pride and I would just marvel at the tenacity that he brought inside of the ring and how he fought,” Stann said of Silva. “Not only that, but the way he treated other people and the way he conducted himself, I've always admired all of those qualities in him."
That was when Silva burned like a flare. Now he may very well just be burned out. There won’t be any conjecture about that, unfortunately. Silva has all the markings of a fighter that won’t know when it’s time to walk away. He loves the show, like he always has. He’s not a UFC lifer, so don’t expect much lobbying from the promotion to leave fighting behind. Or a job to walk into when it’s all done.
There was so much more to Silva than what we’ve seen from him the past few years, which is why Stann and Struve and others regard The Axe Murderer the way they do.
Speaking about his return to Japan, Silva confirmed that fighting there again means a great deal to him. Indeed. Memories run deep.
ESPN Stats & Information
UFC on Fuel TV 8 takes place from the Saitama Super Arena in Japan this Saturday, the sixth time the UFC has traveled to the “Land of the Rising Sun.” The main event sees Wanderlei Silva battle Brian Stann at light heavyweight while Stefan Struve takes on Mark Hunt in a heavyweight bout. Here are the numbers you need to know for Saturday’s fights:
6: Fights Silva has had against an American fighter since his return to the UFC in 2007. He is 1-5 in those bouts, losing his past four (Rich Franklin twice, Chris Leben and Quinton Jackson). “The All-American” has fought just one Brazilian fighter in his career, defeating Jorge Santiago at UFC 130.
Wanderlei Silva, UFC Career vs. American Fighters:
UFC 147 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 132 Chris Leben L, KO
UFC 99 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 92 Quinton Jackson L, KO
UFC 84 Keith Jardine W, KO
UFC 79 Chuck Liddell L, UD
6: Times Silva has been defeated by KO or TKO in his 48-fight career. Four of those knockouts have come inside the UFC Octagon, while the other two were his last two PRIDE fights against Dan Henderson and Mirko Filipovic. The "Cro-Cop" fight was the last time Silva fought in Japan, which served as the home for PRIDE organization. Stann has nine KO/TKO wins in 17 career fights.
75: Percent of wins by "The Axe Murderer" that have come by KO or TKO (24 of 32). When Silva defeated Michael Bisping at UFC 110 by unanimous decision, it marked his first win not by KO or TKO since November 2003 at PRIDE: Final Conflict.
3: The combined takedowns by both fighters in their UFC careers (Silva 2, Stann 1). Each fighter attempts less than one takedown and one submission attempt per 15 minutes. In other words, it would be shocking to see this fight go to the ground unless one of the fighters gets knocked down.
2010: The last time former WEC light heavyweight champion Stann fought at 205 pounds, where he is 8-3 in his career. Stann will be dropping back to middleweight after this fight with Silva, where he holds a 4-2 record.
9: The reach advantage for 7-footer Stefan Struve in his co-main event bout against 5-foot-10 Mark Hunt. Struve’s reach is 83 inches while Hunt has a 74-inch reach. The 83-inch reach for Struve is second behind Jon Jones (84.5 inches) for longest reach in the UFC.
9: Wins for Struve inside the UFC Octagon, tied with Junior dos Santos, Gabriel Gonzaga and heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez for third among active heavyweights. With a win, he would join Frank Mir, Cheick Kongo, Andrei Arlovski and Randy Couture as the only UFC fighters with double-digit wins in the division.
Most UFC Wins, Active Heavyweight Fighters:
Frank Mir 14
Cheick Kongo 11
Cain Velasquez 9
Junior dos Santos 9
Gabriel Gonzaga 9
Stefan Struve 9*
*Four-fight win streak
3.9: Submissions attempted per 15 minutes for "The Skyscraper," fifth highest in UFC history and first among heavyweights. "The Super Samoan" has six submission defeats in seven career losses, all arm-related (three by armbar, two by kimura, one by keylock). Of Struve’s 16 submission victories, only three are by armbar (13 submissions by choke).
2: The main and co-main events are the only fights on the card not to feature a fighter from Japan or South Korea. There are nine Asia versus The World contests on the card. Japan is represented by Takanori Gomi, Yushin Okami, Mizuto Hirota, Riki Fukuda, Takeya Mizugaki, and Kazuki Tokudome. The South Koreans are represented in three matchups by Dong Hyun Kim, Kyung Ho Kang and Hyun Gyu Lim.
The self-assured demeanor and authoritative sound of his voice have returned. They are solid indicators that Brian Stann is close to being his old self again -- personally and professionally.
For more than a year, Stann has been rebounding from a family tragedy.
His brother-in-law, Louie Rusti Jr., passed away on Dec. 23, 2011. Since that time, the overwhelming majority of Stann’s focus has been on helping his wife and mother-in-law recover. It’s been a very difficult period, emotionally, for Stann and his family -- losing a close family member is never easy. They haven’t fully recovered from Rusti’s passing, and possibly never will, but progress has been made.
Each day, life in the Stann household shows more signs of returning to normalcy. There’s a lot of laughter again, daughters Alexandra and DeAnna keep the fun flowing. Their youthful innocence and playfulness is contagious throughout the home.
Another factor that has helped this family steadily put the pieces back together is Stann’s decision not to leave for an extended period.
I plan to go undefeated this year. I plan to fight three times and I plan to win all three fights and I plan to finish all three fights. I take it very seriously that UFC put me in a main event. I take a lot of pride in that.” -- Brian Stann on his plans for 2013.
Rather than spend two months in Albuquerque, N.M., at Jackson’s/Winkeljohn’s gym preparing for fights, Stann has conducted each of his past three training camps in Atlanta. It’s the best decision this dedicated soon-to-be-father-of-three could have made.
“The biggest thing is when you’re not able to be a father; you’re missing moments in time with your young children that you will never get back again,” Stann told ESPN.com. “It’s a big distraction.
“That would hurt me when I was in New Mexico [training at Jackson’s]. It made me question whether I was choosing the right thing. Was I being selfish?
“Fighting pays me well, but there are other things I can do and be with my kids every day. I have a 5-year-old [Alexandra], a 3-year-old [DeAnna] and my wife [Teresa] is pregnant with our third child. I can’t go for two months and live in another city to train for a fight. I can’t be that selfish.
“I needed to make this [training in Atlanta] happen because, above all else, my No. 1 job in the world is being a father.”
But Stann, who once held the rank of captain in the United States Marine Corps, also is a professional mixed martial artist. And he isn’t the type of guy who cuts corners. Stann’s prefight preparation in Atlanta is just as strenuous, if not more, than those he went through at Jackson’s. Extensive stand-up, grappling and jiu-jitsu sessions are still on the docket.
As has been the case for a while, wrestling techniques get extra special attention. Stann is always looking to improve his wrestling.
A lot of progress was made in each of the previous two training camps. Fighters and coaches traveled from Albuquerque to Atlanta last year to help Stann prepare for fights against Alessio Sakara and Michael Bisping. He won the first with an opening-round knockout, lost the latter by unanimous decision.
But this latest Atlanta-based training camp has been his best. Stann is feeling great. The fire within burns as hot as ever, and he is ready to apply some heat Saturday night to hard-hitting veteran Wanderlei Silva during their UFC on Fuel TV 8 main-event showdown in Saitama, Japan.
The two middleweights will compete at light heavyweight. Both are former 205-pound champions -- Silva in Pride, Stann with WEC.
But Stann makes it clear that he does not intend to exit the 185-pound ranks. This fight against Silva at 205 is a one-shot deal.
“This is a middleweight fight in my eyes,” Stann said. “We made an agreement to ‘let’s just not cut the weight.’
“I didn’t pack on any extra pounds. I don’t have a weight issue; I don’t have a strength issue; I don’t have a power issue. It’s more important to be fast against Wanderlei than it is to be bigger.”
Mourning the death of his brother-in-law hasn’t fully dissipated, but Stann has come a long way since December 2011. So much so that he sounds like his pre-2012 self. The fight with Silva is part of a larger plan. The 32-year-old wants to be more active this year and continue participating in high-profile bouts. Getting rid of Silva in exciting fashion is the first step in that direction.
“A finish in this fight will definitely get me another fight against a significant middleweight, a top-10 ranked middleweight,” said Stann, who will compete on foreign soil for the third time in a row Saturday night. “That’s important to me.
“I want to go out there and dominate; I want to finish this fight. Everything in 2012 is behind me, now I can focus on what I can do.
“I plan to go undefeated this year. I plan to fight three times and I plan to win all three fights and I plan to finish all three fights. I take it very seriously that UFC put me in a main event. I take a lot of pride in that.
“I want to be a guy who is always considered for that part of the card, whether it’s the co-main event or main event; that’s why this is a big fight for me.”
From a rambunctious, troubled kid raised in a rough part of Memphis, Tenn., who was so wild playing video games that his cousins conjured the nickname; to wrestling his way into -- then fighting and getting arrested out of -- junior college; to bouncing through several stages of a successful, frustrating and legally challenged mixed martial arts career, which hits 14 headline-making years Saturday in Chicago, this dual person(a) is Jackson's most consistent trait.
In that sense, adolescence tore Jackson down the middle -- even if the man we know via mixed martial arts uniformly, and mostly to his benefit, embraced the alter ego throughout much of his life.
The fact a menacing-if-you-don't-know-him guy was effectively split in two speaks to a relationship of convenience that provided an engaging, controversial and complicated talent the opportunity to be many things to many people. Fighters saw a threat. Fans saw someone to love. Family saw a meal ticket. Promoters, managers, trainers and agents saw a megastar capable of making beaucoup bucks.
How Jackson managed it all while remaining, in the loosest sense of the word, sane is something those near and dear to him have wondered and worried about along the way.
Entering the Octagon at the United Center versus Glover Teixeira for what’s expected to be his final UFC bout (he says he wants out, and Zuffa appears eager to oblige), Rampage (and he’ll be Rampage at that moment) must focus on an omnipresent piece of himself.
This will be Jackson, now 34, feeling no pain. This will be Jackson feeling nothing, really, save the instinct to survive, which has long been buffed away by money and other trappings of fame.
This will be Jackson, fighting.
He fought on the streets for the whims of crack dealers. He fought to get away. He fought to make a better life. He fought to maintain. He fought and triumphed. Fought and failed. He fought battles that were worth waging and others that weren’t. He fought because it’s what he did.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate to cover many personalities, none brighter or more confounding than Rampage. Fragile, too. Jackson needs constant reassurance. From friends, trainers (there have been many), fans. Even media. After it was announced that Jackson would meet Igor Vovchanchyn on Sept. 29, 2002, at Pride 22, he called me.
His first question: “Can I win?”
I told Jackson he could before reminding him that the hammer-fisted Russian heavyweight was no joke and just as easily could be the first man to stop him in 18 pro fights. Rampage slammed Vovchanchyn around like no one had before. It was beyond impressive. As was much of what he pulled off in competition over the years. After Vovchanchyn came a fight with former UFC champion Kevin Randleman, which in my estimation was the best Jackson ever looked. Tuned up under the tutelage of Colin Oyama -- a no-frills coach out of Orange County, Calif. -- Rampage pounded a Tyson-esque uppercut-hook combination into Randleman’s head. This represented the middle of the best stretch of his career: a seven-fight streak that included victories over Murilo Bustamante and a classic performance over Chuck Liddell in the 2003 Pride Grand Prix.
Rampage didn’t take the tournament, falling in the finals to his nemesis Wanderlei Silva -- one of the great wars in MMA history. Even still, he made his mark. This was a budding 24-year-old stud with as much potential (in and out of the cage) as any fighter in the light heavyweight division.
Then things got different.
Eleven months later, prior to an anticipated rematch with Silva, religious epiphany moved the freewheeling, fun-loving, troublemaking, oft-insulting Rampage to born-again Christian status, and, oddly, inspired a fast the week before the fight. He missed women, and read an article on the Internet that suggested not eating would help fend off the Devil.
His relationship with Oyama fell apart, opening the door for trainer Juanito Ibarra. Ibarra, like Oyama, called Rampage on his nonsense. Ibarra also spoke the language of religion, and helped lift Jackson to his professional peak in 2007 when he knocked out Liddell to capture the UFC light heavyweight title, then decisioned Dan Henderson, the reigning Pride 205-pound champion, in the Octagon.
Jackson had everything in front of him. His career was exploding. The UFC was exploding. But then he imploded. He put together a horrible performance against Forrest Griffin to lose the title. Then he seemed to lose his mind in the aftermath, suffering the most embarrassing episode of his life after steamrolling over city streets in his elevated Ford pickup truck.
Was this Rampage? Or Jackson? Legally, of course, there wasn’t a difference.
The UFC stood by him and provided bail money. By the end of the year, Jackson had a chance to fight his old foe Wanderlei Silva again. Well past his prime, Silva went down hard. Rampage could still punch.
Starting with the loss to Griffin, Jackson is 4-4 since 2008. Now he wants out of a UFC he paints as tyrannical. Though, having followed him from the start, much of it rings similar to the reasons he disparaged Pride, and wanted out of his relationship with Oyama, and later Ibarra. He feels disrespected. Used. Like a piece of meat.
Jackson has rarely dealt well with taking personal responsibility, at least so far as his career goes. And that, to me, is how he’ll be remembered. As a guy who had everything in front of him, who worked only when he had to and, then, only when he was pushed to.
Such was the depth of Jackson’s potential that he ultimately won a UFC title, managed to land a major motion picture and branded himself as few fighters have in this sport. What sounds like a success isn’t, necessarily. It was as if, no matter what decisions he made, he was going to be remembered. For being himself. For being his alter ego.
For all of it.