The co-main event of the UFC 144 broadcast Saturday night may well be the main attraction for the locals in attendance, as former pride hero Quinton "Rampage" Jackson returns to Japan to take on TUF winner Ryan Bader. The bout was originally targeted for inclusion on the UFC's first full Fox card, however Jackson was adamant about fighting in Japan ever since the card was announced, and insisted it be moved to UFC 144.
A former UFC light heavyweight champion who battered his way to the top with thundering punches, Jackson began his big-stage career in PRIDE where he used his grappling to score knock outs. Most notably in a bout with Ricardo Arona, Jackson was caught in a triangle choke by the Brazilian and countered by calmly getting to his feet, lifting Arona, triangle-intact, over his head, and powerbombing the BJJ black belt unconscious.
After losing his title to Forrest Griffin, Jackson was paired up with Wanderlei Silva in a rematch of two brutal defeats for Jackson under the PRIDE banner, and quickly scored the KO vindication. Although his follow-up decision over Keith Jardine was a bit lackluster at times, it set up a season opposite Rashad Evans as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter. The season ended with a fight against Evans, where Jackson dropped a decision after being positionally dominated. Jackson was then paired with another former champion, Lyoto Machida, winning a controversial decision and with a second straight win by way of Matt Hamill was given a shot to regain his title against Jon Jones. Like Jones' prior challengers, however, the fight ended with the young champion still very much entrenched as the division's best after locking on a rear naked choke on a turtling Jackson.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Jackson has a base in wrestling however he has rarely used it in an offensive manner to take fights from the feet to the mat, and has struggled against younger wrestlers who have managed to get in on Jackson and deposit "Rampage" on his back. On the feet Jackson uses a predominantly upper-body attack, and hits hard when he lands clean. His biggest weakness on the feet is one which has often been exploited inside the Octagon, namely that he fights with heavy legs, rarely employing effective checks to prevent opponents from chipping away at his base with leg kicks. What "Rampage" is most well known for, however, is his strength when he can get a solid hold of opponents, sending them up then down in devastating slams. Although it remains a first thought in many fans minds, however, the slam has become an increasingly less-utilized aspect of Jackson's game as time has worn on.
Jackson's preferred style of fighting appears to be one which aligns well with the weaknesses in Bader's game. The younger fighter lacks technical polish on the feet and there are questions about his ability to take a punch. Jackson has not had the best finishing records in recent years, but the longer this fight goes the more of an even match-up it becomes, so take Jackson with a first round KO. For fantasy betting, Jackson has a -400 line that is not worth any kind of play.
Ryan Bader analysis after the jump.
Bader is the light heavyweight champion of season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter, running through the tournament with relative ease, earning him a great deal of hype as a future prospect. Although a bad stretch had Bader sliding in the wrong direction, a win over Jackson could restore Bader to perhaps even higher on the rankings than his pre-losing streak position.
Bader followed up his TUF wins with four more victories, improving to 5-0 in the UFC and 12-0 on his career. Bader was paired up with another essentially-undefeated young fighter in Jon Jones. From the get-go, Bader was out-matched by Jones who ultimately locked on a modified guillotine to elicit the tap from Bader. A pairing with Tito Ortiz was expected to be a bounce-back opportunity for Bader, but he was dropped in the opening minutes and again tapped by a guillotine. With his back against the wall, Bader bounced back against Jason Brilz, with a second minute TKO win.
Strengths and Weaknesses
As one of the many former Arizona State wrestlers in the UFC, Bader is primarily a wrestler. His striking has shown power, however it is remains far from a finished product as evidenced by the struggles against Jones and Ortiz. Equally troubling is the way Ortiz dropped Bader to set up the submission, as "The Huntingdon Beach Bad Boy" has never been a fighter known for having lights out power in his feet. Fortunately for Bader, his strong wrestling base may well be the saving grace as he has shown the kind of smothering top game that can give Jackson nightmares if Bader is able to get his hands on Jackson consistently.
Bader is rightfully an underdog in this fight, and I don't favor his chances enough to be drawn in by the +2 underdog bonus, though if it is calling to you too strongly to resist, pick Bader to win a unanimous decision with his wrestling. While a straight pick is not one I'd recommend, the +360 line for Bader in fantasy betting is very appealing. It's a much bigger pay off than any book is offering, and even the Vegas lines seem worth a play. Ultimately, Bader's biggest weakness plays into Jackson's strength, which is scary when betting on him, but Jackson also has a large flaw which aligns with Bader's strength and makes odds this high a profitable play to make. Simply put, it's not unreasonable to imagine Bader getting on top of Jackson for 15 minutes, and these odds say only stay away if you're sure it can't happen.