A Light Heavyweight grudge match is set to headline Bellator 120 tomorrow night on pay-per-view (PPV); however, the S.S. Excitement might have already set sail years ago.
Long-time mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran Quinton Jackson (34-11) faces former Strikeforce 205-pound champion Muhammed Lawal (12-3, 1 "No Contest") tomorrow night (Sat., May 17, 2014) at Bellator 120: "Rampage vs. King Mo," which takes place inside Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi.
Their battle will determine the Bellator Season 10 Light Heavyweight tournament winner, as well as the next title contender for division champion Emanuel Newton.
After going winless (0-3) in his last three bouts under the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) banner, "Rampage" defeated Christian M'Pumbu and Joey Beltran in Bellator to advance to the tournament final. He was expected to lock horns against Tito Ortiz at Bellator 106 after the old friends promoted their showdown through TNA Wrestling, but the former had to withdrawn because of an injury.
"King Mo" has been slightly more successful in the organization, going 4-2 since his "No Contest" against Lorenz Larkin in which he failed a post-fight drug test. He was knocked out by Newton in his second Bellator fight, losing by spinning back fist in the first round. Lawal then dropped a decision to "The Hardcore Kid" at Bellator 106 in their rematch for the promotion's interim light heavyweight championship.
Lawal can book a trilogy fight against Newton if he wins on Saturday, with the victor of this particular bout earning a championship opportunity.
Let's break both fighters down below:
Big Wins: Wanderlei Silva (UFC 92), Dan Henderson (UFC 75), Chuck Liddell (UFC 71)
Crushing Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 135), Rashad Evans (UFC 114), Mauricio Rua (Pride: "Total Elimination 2005")
What He Needs To Do In Order To Win: First and foremost, Jackson needs to come out with the desire to win.
With the right motivation, "Rampage" can trouble Lawal with his strikes, setting them up accurately and catching his rival off guard with his power. If the former UFC light heavyweight champion's boxing is as good as it looked years ago, then he could rock Lawal and look for his third consecutive stoppage victory.
He's still capable of finishing the fight with one blow if he connects properly.
Jackson also needs to have good cardio, since Lawal has spent 11 rounds in the cage in a span of his last three fights. If he tires early, it will hurt his chances as the fight progresses.
Also, he should be working on his takedown defense as much as his boxing in training camp. Despite refuting any notion that he's willing to engage in a wrestling contest, he should at least be concentrating on defending takedowns and brushing up on his clinch skills.
But, then again, he's landed 67 percent of his strikes in his two Bellator bouts (according to CompuStrike); therefore, expect him to keep the fight standing.
What He Needs To Avoid: "Rampage" began his career in combat sports thanks to a background in amateur wrestling, yet it hasn't been too kind to him as of late.
He could make the excuse that he had a bum knee against Ryan Bader in Japan at UFC 144, yet Rashad Evans and Jon Jones had no problem having their way with the combat sports superstar. Even Glover Teixeira put him on his back in his last UFC fight.
Since he would rather keep the battle on the feet and expressed his frustrations with UFC because of its "game planners" and "wrestlers," don't expect him to utilize takedowns.
With that being said, he could end up being too eager to knock his opponent out with emotions running high and Lawal could easily toss him on his back, having his way with him there.
Big Wins: Roger Gracie (Strikeforce: "Barnett vs. Kharitonov"), Gegard Mousasi (Strikeforce: "Nashville"), Mark Kerr (M-1 Global: "Breakthrough")
Crushing Losses: Emanuel Newton (Bellator 106, Bellator 90), Rafael Cavalcante (Strikeforce: "Houston")
What He Needs To Do In Order To Win: It's easy to get into a striking war against "Rampage," but hopefully, "Mo" is smarter than that and sticks to his bread and butter.
The NCAA Division 1 All-American has smothered foes in the past with his excellent grappling talents, most notably Gegard Mousasi when he captured the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight championship in 2010.
After being defeated by Newton in their second fight at Bellator 106, Lawal defeated Mikhail Zayats by setting up his takedowns efficiently and struck when he needed to. Zayats is certainly not the same type of boxer that "Rampage" is, but his Sambo base made it difficult for Lawal to take him down.
"Mo" eventually locked him up against the cage and used his grappling techniques when he needed to.
He has to do the same against Jackson. He can't afford to bounce around and get hit. He should have the advantage when it comes to a test of strength in this fight. And there's no reason he shouldn't use his tussling skills, especially since nobody has been able to take down "Mo" in the promotion thus far.
What He Needs To Avoid: The 33-year-old combatant has knocked out opponents before, but judging from his fights against Newton (particularly the most recent one), he doesn't necessarily have the advantage in a boxing duel. If he's going to trade power shot for power shot against "Rampage," that could be extremely risky.
It's ironic, since he often trains at the Mayweather Boxing Club, but if "Mo" plans on getting into a calculated sparring match against "Rampage," it might not end well for him. Newton was able to get the better of Lawal on the feet at Bellator 106, winning the decision after five tough rounds.
He could stay on the outside and force "Rampage" to become frustrated by rushing in constantly, yet if he takes down the Memphis-born scrapper, it will make him equally pissed off and susceptible to panic.
Final Assessment: This is a tricky one to predict. It looks like it's going to be Jackson's striking versus Lawal's wrestling, but who knows for sure.
It's a crossroads bout for both, since the loser will undoubtedly be in the final stages of his career and may even contemplate retirement. It should be competitive, yet this fight would have been a hell of a lot more intriguing two or three years ago.
It's not exactly a PPV headliner you would see serve as the main event in UFC, but it's a decent match up for Bellator's PPV debut (even though this scrap became the main attraction by default).
Since fight cards usually revolve around the main event and observers always associate events with the headliner, it's your call to figure out if this is worth your money and if you're willing to spend a Saturday night with Bjorn Rebney and the gang.