Why the fourth time is never the charm.
Bellator recently announced that Wanderlei Silva will be fighting Quinton “Rampage” Jackson for the fourth time at an upcoming event in September. It is the sort of fight that I would normally support. I’m not above watching shopworn fighters ply their trade far past their prime, I thought Bellator’s chapter of the Ken Shamrock vs Royce Gracie rivalry was an incredible spectacle. I still get excited to watch Fedor fight. I’d be interested in seeing Chuck Liddell fight again. There’s a bit of a barrier you have to get over, seeing your childhood heroes get maimed isn’t always easy, but once you see it enough times, you start to be able to enjoy the flashes of prior forms and you can start to disregard all the other negatives.
Not every fight has to matter, not every fight has to have ranking implications. This fight though, is on some other level. It is a wholly unnecessary fight, but so much of what Bellator does is unnecessary, so that shouldn’t bother me. And yet, this fight seems so much worse, so much more craven, so depraved. When I really think about it, I don’t see a way this doesn’t end badly for everyone involved.
The first two installments of Rampage-Wanderlei, both of which Silva won, are some of the most brutal fights in MMA history. It is hard to put into the words what Wanderlei Silva was capable of in his prime. There has never been another fighter in the history of this sport who was more intent in taking years off his opponent’s life. Wanderlei went out there to brutalize people, it was truly incredible. Today, we have people like Cain Velazquez, who might inflict more sustained, deleterious harm than any other fighter in history, but it is more of a consequence of the fight rather than an intention. If you watch the second fight between Wanderlei and Rampage, you can get an idea of what kinds of violence is capable of, the sort of empty, sadistic intenet with which Silva pursues his opponent. The finish of the fight sees Wanderlei leaves Rampage hanging in a crude cruciform, tied up in the ring ropes, after a succession of concusive knees. It is one of the lasting images of MMA in my mind, a testament to the brutality and artistry that is possible in MMA.
That isn’t to discount what Rampage is capable of. His slam knockout of Ricardo Arona is one of the true iconic moments in MMA and is the sort of thing that few in the history of the sport are capable. Later on his career, Rampage became more of a boxer, and while it doesn’t speak to his capacity for violence, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention him being one of the early adopters of defensive striking in MMA. His ability to parry punches was a real revelation of his early UFC run. Defense aside, Rampage, at the peak of his career, was more than capable of separating his foes from consciousness. Including his third fight with Wanderlei, where he left Silva laying on the mat. Surely, Rampage was and still is capable of incredible violence, it never manifested in the same way as it did for Wanderlei.
Today in 2018, things are much different. Rampage has been more content to plod out victories using his wrestling and defensive boxing and even his losses take on the same form. It is not typically a satisfying experience. Wanderlei, in his latest fight, seemed incapable of doing much of anything that could amount to winning. Prior to that, he looked shopworn, but he was still capable of showing flashes of his former greatness, his win over Brian Stann, in what should have been his last fight, was a brief moment where he was able to recapture some of this old magic. But that fight was over 5 years ago and if we know anything about prize fighting, time does not treat these people well.
So, when these two meet in September, nearly 10 years after their last encounter, 15 years after their first fight, I can’t see any outcome where anything really good happens. More than likely, Rampage will take a plodding decision, taking Wanderlei down at will, while Silva works a meager bottom game. It will be an absolutely awful fight to watch. Maybe Rampage will knock out Wanderlei again, and it will make everyone sad, having seen a legend in this sport trotted out to get maimed for no real purpose. Or maybe, just maybe, Wanderlei will capture lightning in a bottle one more time and uses his knees to finish Rampage for a third time, its increasingly unlikely. And even then, if the crowd explodes in recognition of Silva’s greatness, if Wanderlei gets to recapture the same sort of moment that the Stann fight provided, Rampage will have lost to a man with nothing left to give to this sport, and what does that say for him; not a lot. So when September rolls around, if these two actually make it to the cage, it is more than likely going to be brutal, but not in the way anyone would like it to be.