— It’s no secret that the UFC and its president Dana White put a premium on designing matchups that they believe will generate exciting fights. Which explains why we need to see Rampage Jackson-Wanderlei Silva III despite Silva winning both of the first two encounters in knockout fashion.
Another reason? Both of their previous bouts took place in Japan’s now-defunct PRIDE organization, so most American fans have never seen the two lock horns. And those who haven’t are likely in for a treat.
Just as the 1940s Hollywood star Gene Kelly could put on a show dancing with a mop, Silva also has the capability of pulling crowd-pleasing performances out of whoever stands across from him. Add in the fact that Jackson has never been a fighter that needed much prodding to engage in a brawl, and you got yourself some grade-A dynamite.
The two first faced off in Nov. 2003, with Jackson initially controlling the action on the ground until the fight was re-started due to inaction. Once the two were upright, they slugged toe-to-toe, each man practically daring the other to knock him out. Eventually, it was Jackson who succumbed to a barrage of knees from the muay thai clinch while Silva celebrated his vanquishing.
The rematch came almost one year later. This time, Jackson made it into the second round, but again fell victim, this time to an even more hellacious series of knees that knocked Jackson unconscious, and hanging limp on the ring ropes.
So what will change the third time around?
“I have to have a different strategy,” said Jackson, who has a 28-7 career record. “The first two times didn’t work, right? I’d have to be stupid to do the same thing. I know I look stupid, but I’m not.”
Since Jackson left the cage after losing his UFC light-heavyweight championship to Forrest Griffin in July, he has made changes in his life. He parted ways with trainer Juanito Ibarra and joined the UK-based Wolfslair team. He also says he has completely changed his diet and nutrition, two things he never previously paid attention to.
“I used to wonder why I sucked at training, but it’s because I didn’t have the nourishment I should have had,” he said. “I’d ask fighters, ‘How do you guys train so hard?’ Now I know why. They were eating real good. I’d go into a fast food place, eat a hamburger, French fries and a Coke, and then go train. I was doing it all these years and had a pretty good record, but this new style is really going to work for my career.”
He’ll still have to find a way to counter Silva’s ferocious style. In the past Jackson had some success with Silva by taking him to the ground, but he has largely abandoned his wrestling background in recent fights in favor of a strictly standup style. A return to the takedown slams that made Rampage a crowd favorite would be a start, but Rampage is keeping his strategy under wraps for now.
For his part, Silva isn’t taking a win for granted.
“It’s a different time for me and him,” said Silva, who is 32-8-1 with 1 no contest. “I’m so excited for fighting him with the world watching. All the world wants to see me fight him again. We’re going to give the fight of the night. I’ll give my best, and I know he’ll give his best.”
Silva is known for being an easy-going type, but Rampage has been able to get under his skin in the past. Prior to their first fight, Jackson called him out in front of the crowd, and Silva rushed into the ring, precipitating a pull-apart moment that didn’t quite reach brawl status, but certainly had the Brazilian’s blood boiling.
This time around, Rampage has been much more respectful, and the trash talk between the two has been almost non-existent.
Since coming to the UFC, Silva has relocated to Las Vegas, and trains with a who’s who of the Sin City MMA set including Randy Couture and Forrest Griffin. For the last week or two of camp, he’s also had Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira with him.
It is possible that the winner of the fight will become the No. 1 contender for the light-heavyweight title, but that’s not something Silva is thinking about just yet.
“For me, he is a great opponent in my career,” Silva said of Jackson. “There is a great opportunity to fight for the belt in the future, but first I need to beat Rampage again.”
Rampage, however, while realizing how dangerous Silva is, is still bothered by the loss of the title.
“Me as a human being, I’d love to get in back with Forrest,” he said. “I like Forrest and Wanderlei. They’re both good guys, but I have to keep it real, I’d love to get back in with Forrest. I think about it almost everyday, to go in there with him, and knock him the **** out. But I got Wanderlei in front of me, and it’s an important opportunity. So Forrest is not even in my mind. I don’t really care who wins. I just have to fight my fight.”