Following UFC 130 Dana White confirmed that if Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson’s left hand isn’t too badly damaged then he will fight current light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones for the title later this year, and if he is unable to then Lyoto Machida will take his place.
That’s all well and good, but which of the two fighters has the best chance of defeating the sports fastest rising star?
At first glance Rampage looks the better bet in terms of his recent record, having two wins under his belt as opposed to Machida’s one. One of Rampage’s wins actually came against Machida, though only be the narrowest of split decisions, with there having been considerable debate as to whether Machida should actually have been given the nod.
From a promotional point-of-view Rampage also stands out due to his attention-grabbing persona and overall star power compared to Machida who lost a lot of ground after failing to live up to the ‘Machida Era’ hype in his two fights with ‘Shogun’ Rua.
What Machida holds in his favor is that he was the champion less than a year ago, while Rampage hasn’t held the belt since the summer of 2008. He also finally has some momentum behind him again after a spectacular flying front kick KO of Randy Couture at UFC 129, while Rampage hasn’t finished an opponent since an exciting KO win over Wanderlei Silva in December of ’08, and has failed to set the Octagon alight since then.
So far there’s an argument for either man to be installed as the next title contender at this moment in time based on more superficial reasons, but when it comes down to who actually has the best chance from a technical standpoint of defeating Jones, I believe there’s a clear favorite – Lyoto Machida.
To my mind Jones is a bad style match-up for Rampage. He’s going to be giving up 11.5 inches in reach to the champion which is a daunting task for anyone in the division, but particularly for a fighter like Jackson who likes to go toe-to-toe and use powerful but short-range weapons like hooks, knees and elbows.
Rampage does have excellent takedown defense which he’ll definitely need against Jones, but what he’s best at stuffing is wrestling-for-MMA basics like the double-leg. The problem is that Jones is far more versatile and unpredictable, often opting for judo-style leg sweeps, suplexes and lateral drops which Rampage is unlikely to be so well prepared for.
If he does get put on his back then it’s going to be a long night for him since that’s undoubtedly his weakest position, and Jones top control and elbows will have him in a lot of trouble.
To tell the truth I wouldn’t bet on Machida having a great deal of success against Jones either, but it’s certainly a better stylistic match-up for him than most of those currently competing at 205lbs.
He will also face a daunting 10.5 reach differential against Jones, but his naturally elusive, in-and-out counter-striking style and quick reactions are well suited to combat that issue.
His lack of wrestling could certainly be a big issue for Machida in this fight, but like Jones, one thing he does have is a good range of trip and sweep-based takedowns which could catch the champion off-guard and allow him to become the first fighter to really test Jones skills off his back.
If on the other hand Machida is the one who’s taken down then his black belt BJJ skills will give him a greater chance of exploiting any holes in Jones top games than Rampage could.
So, in terms of the most competitive match-up the UFC could put on out of the two, I’d say Machida without a doubt, but from a financial and promotional perspective Rampage brings more to the table, and that’s why Dana White is going to give him every possible chance to prove he is healthy enough to take this fight.