After three fights in the Bellator cage, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson has made a successful UFC comeback. His homecoming bout, a decision win over Fabio Maldonado at UFC 186, fell short of the firefight many expected, but it was still a pretty impressive performance. Demonstrating a long-absent willingness to change his game up with a diversified striking attack, it was as good as the former light heavyweight champ has looked in years.
In victory, Rampage can now turn his focus to his next fight: an ongoing legal scuffle with Bellator that could keep him out of action for some time. Should he emerge unscathed from this bureaucratic battle, however, he’ll be able to dedicate his focus to more lucrative endeavours. Namely, more high-profile fights inside the UFC. In that regard, as is so often the case with the sport’s biggest names, he has plenty of options.
The course that seems to interest Rampage most at this stage is a sort of revenge tour—the kind many fans wanted for Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic after his vengeful victory over Gabriel Gonzaga in Poland. To this end, Rampage has got a handful of fairly exciting choices. He could look to bang it out with elite fighters like Ryan Bader and Glover Teixera, both of whom recently defeated him by decision. Either of these fights would make an apt headliner for a Fight Night card, or a strong addition to a future pay-per-view. Then, of course, there’s a rematch with Rashad Evans, who beat Rampage back in 2010. Though some would argue that their beef was somewhat manufactured, the two fighters have plenty of history together. It’s also a fight that Evans has asked for, going as far as promising a “highlight reel knockout” this time around. Of course, we all heard that sweet song from both men the first time they fought, but there’s no reason a second pairing of the two couldn’t be more entertaining. They are, after all, two of the division’s harder punchers, with veteran gameness to boot.
Speaking of veteran gameness, perhaps no revenge bout makes more sense for Rampage than a fight with fellow icon, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Sure, Shogun has a bit of a snag, having been knocked out in both of his most recent bouts, but this rematch is years in the making, and the tremendous power of both fighters makes it as intriguing a rematch as ever. And considering his bout with Shogun was one of the ugliest losses of Rampage’s career, this is probably the kind of bout that would motivate the notoriously hard-to-motivate slugger. The chance to even the score with Shogun would undoubtedly get Rampage back in the gym, and more importantly, keep him there for a good, hard training camp.
Then again, for all the significance of rematches with the men who have defeated him, at this stage, these fights probably wouldn’t do much to push Rampage back toward a light heavyweight title shot—something he’s expressed interest in. While all four of the aforementioned men remain tough outs for most fighters, only Bader and Evans are currently on win streaks, and the latter hasn’t fought in a year and a half. Of course, at 36 years old, Rampage’s time as a possible title challenger may well be in the rear-view, but his defeat of Maldonado, who was the 12th ranked light heavyweight leading into the bout, proved that Rampage can still mix it up with the best. So why not attempt one last climb to the summit?
In such an event, there are a few bouts that jump out as fun ones for the seasoned veteran. The first would be a scrap with England’s Jimi Manuwa, who recently scored a decision win of his own over a game Jan Blachowicz. Not only would Manuwa be willing to oblige Rampage in the kind of stand up battle he craves, but he is also an extremely relevant 205’er. If Rampage were to defeat the British striker, it would propel him right back into the mix at light heavyweight.
This is perhaps even truer in the case of Ovince St. Preux, the UFC’s 7th ranked light heavyweight. In St. Preux, Rampage would face one of the most fearsome finishers on the roster, a man with everything from head kick KOs to calf-slicers on his list of wins. All signs point to this matchup being an absolute gunfight, and better still, the winner would emerge as a definite contender for the light heavyweight belt—whatever becomes of it in the chaos of Jon Jones’s current and heartbreaking ordeal.
Needless to say, regardless of how long it takes for Bellator and the UFC to settle Rampage’s contractual issues, and regardless of where the light heavyweight legend goes from here, he has, against all odds, reasserted himself as one of the weight class’s top fighters. Ranked just outside the division’s top 10, and on a strong, 4-fight win streak, he’s suddenly got plenty of wind back in his sails, and plenty of choices of available to him. So, whether it’s a revenge tour, a contender bout with a fighter like Manuwa or St. Preux, even an unlikely foray up to heavyweight or a far-off, trash-talkin’ epic with the currently-suspended Chael Sonnen, Rampage’s next fight will be one we all tune in for. It’s going to be very interesting to see how things unfold for him from here, but more than anything, it’s just good to have him back.
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