Two of the UFC's most talented light heavyweights will meet this Saturday night (February 25, 2012) as former champion Quinton Jackson battles Ultimate Fighter season eight winner Ryan Bader in the co-main event of UFC 144 in Saitama, Japan.
Jackson is fighting in his beloved Japan for the first time since 2006 at Pride 31. He's most recently coming off a failed shot at UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and is hoping to build back some momentum by channeling his older more virulent self.
Ryan Bader is on the comeback trail. He rebounded nicely with a quick first round knockout of Jason Brilz after suffering the first two losses of his career. The former top prospect in the promotion is hoping to defeat Jackson and score by far the biggest victory of his career.
Will Jackson be able to bring back his old slammy self for one more fight? Does Bader have what it takes to knock off "Rampage" in his home away from home? How does each man secure a victory on Saturday night?
Let's find out:Quinton Jackson
Record: 32-8 overall, 7-2 in the UFC
How he got here: Jackson made the transition to MMA after a moderately successful high school and junior college wrestling career. He got off to a 10-1 start on the local circuit before he was scooped up by Pride Fighting Championships to compete over in Japan.
He would be thrown into the fire immediately against Japanese superstar Kazushi Sakuraba, losing via first round rear naked choke but creating many fans in the process. Jackson would go on to compete 17 times total in Pride, accumulating a 12-5 record over the course of five and a half years.
His contract would be purchased by the UFC and after avenging a loss to Marvin Eastman via knockout in his promotional debut, he was given a title shot against Chuck Liddell, the man he'd previously defeated in the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix.
Jackson destroyed Liddell, knocking him senseless in the first round to end the legend's era. He would go on to defend his belt in a five round thriller against Dan Henderson in one of the most watched MMA fights in history on cable TV.
"Rampage" lost his title to Forrest Griffin in a razor-close decision and would have a mini-meltdown afterwards. He avenged two prior losses to Wanderlei Silva with another vicious first round knockout and was geared up for a title shot before "retiring" to film the A-Team.
Since his return, he lost to Rashad Evans in a number one contender match but then defeated Lyoto Machida and Matt Hamill to earn a shot at the belt against Jon Jones. Unfortunately for him, Jones had his way with Jackson en route to a dominant fourth round submission victory.
Jackson campaigned heavily to be included in this Japan show and he got his wish against Bader on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: "Rampage" isn't as quick as he used to be, but he does have his power and superior technique with his striking.
Jackson is almost a pure counter puncher. He loves to time his opponents and take advantage of those openings they leave while they're arms are extended in attack. If Ryan Bader does anything repetitive, Jackson will pick up on it and explode with some heavy strikes. He's got a nasty left hook and an absolutely brutal right uppercut that can end Bader's night if he can connect solidly.
Bader was dropped by Tito Ortiz in the stand-up just last summer, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that Jackson can clip him and finish the fight. In fact, that's almost certainly what "Rampage" will be trying to do from start to finish.
The former champion has a terrific chin and will be willing to take a shot to give one. Don't be surprised if he does something like leave his head exposed just so he can take advantage of an opening that Ryan Bader leaves when he tries to hit him.
If Bader tries to clinch and go for a takedown, "Rampage" has terrific interior strength and his instinctual hip movement is some of the best in MMA due to his experience. Don't be surprised to see him try to shrug off everything Bader throws at him in the grappling department.
Record: 13-2 overall, 6-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 126)
How he got here: Ryan Bader started out as an All-American wrestler at Arizona State University. He got his big break on season eight of The Ultimate Fighter where he would dominate with his superior wrestling, ground and pound and top control.
Bader would cruise through the UFC, working his way up the ladder with big wins over Eric Schafer and an impressive knockout victory over Keith Jardine.
The victory over Jardine would earn him a shot against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 119 and "Darth" used his superior wrestling to squeak by with a decision victory. It was the largest win of his career and the UFC felt it was time to match two of it's top 205-pound prospects against each other.
Bader fought Jon Jones at UFC 126 but was dominated in every category and even forced to pull guard at points. Jones eventually secured a fight-ending modified guillotine choke to earn the win and a title shot. Things went from bad to worse for Bader when he was upset by former champion Tito Ortiz in his follow-up fight, getting submitted in the first round by "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy."
Thankfully, "Darth" Bader got back on track in his last bout, knocking off Jason Brilz in the first round. He's not getting any gimme's, though, as he again will be taking on a former UFC light heavyweight champion on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Bader is very strong in two areas, wrestling and power. He's not the most technical guy, but he's got enough zip in his striking that he can potentially hold his own with Jackson. His biggest key is to not get too aggressive as Jackson is all about the counter hook or uppercut.
What Bader will likely try to do is wait for Jackson to throw something too heavy and then shoot and put the former champ on the canvas. Jackson has been put down on the ground by fighters like Rashad Evans with power double-legs and Bader is younger and potentially stronger so he could be able to succeed if he really commits to a takedown as well.
Once on the ground, Bader just needs to utilize his heavy hands and try to hurt Jackson, staying active enough to keep the fight on the ground and avoid Jackson's ability to pop back to his feet or sweep him.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest factor for this fight is this apparent new mentality for Quinton Jackson. He's repeatedly talked in interviews about wanting to put on exciting fights and putting on a show for the Japanese fans in his return to the Saitama Super Arena. Could this mean he takes more risks, potentially putting himself in danger against a young and dangerous opponent?
If Jackson comes out guns blazing, Bader could key on that and take advantage of the situation with big takedowns. While "Rampage" has some pretty solid takedown defense, who knows how much he's working on his wrestling heading into this fight now that he's almost completely erased from the title picture.
Bottom Line: There is a ton of excitement brewing with this bout. Jackson always brings it and there's always the threat that he could finish a fight with his heavy hands. Ryan Bader is also ripe for an upset as Jackson is coming off a frustrating loss at the hands of Jon Jones and you have to wonder what his motivation is right now. Does he want to still be one of the best light heavyweights in the world or is he just focused on having interesting, big-money fights for the remainder of his career? If so, there could be some serious fireworks in this fight. We should all have some high expectations heading in.
Who will come out on top at UFC 144? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!