Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson returned to the cage on Friday night, headlining Bellator’s Dynamite 2 card against Satoshi Ishii, in St. Louis, Missouri. And while Jackson’s performance on Friday did nothing to damage his standing as a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer and MMA legend, he also managed to retain his title of most propitious fighter on the planet.
Ishii, the Olympic judo gold medalist from Japan, took full advantage of the only weapon in his arsenal. Utilizing a variety of trips and takedowns from the clinch position, Ishii took down Jackson at will for rounds one and two, clearly winning. And while the judoka did little damage on the mat, he effortlessly passed Jackson’s guard and worked for submission attempts.
Rampage, meanwhile, looked lost and out of shape, by his own admission: “Not only did I not fight for a year, but I didn’t train for a year. All I did was play video games. I was so depressed, I was just sitting at home playing video games and drinking beer.”
The former UFC light-heavyweight champion seemed frustrated at his opponent’s reluctance to stand in the pocket and throw hands (even turning his back on Ishii for a brief moment), but did little himself to force the action. Jackson did minimal damage in the clinch game, in the first two rounds, mainly scoring with a handful of knees to the body as Ishii grappled for takedowns.
Either way, 99% of the planet scored the first two rounds for Ishii.
Heading into the third round, Jackson needed a finish to win the fight. He, again, became frustrated at the lack of a kickboxing exchange occurring, and physically showed his exasperation. Rampage was able to score a takedown of his own Ishii and was able to land some ground-and-pound from the guard. And while none of the blows were potentially fight-ending, Jackson clearly did enough to win the final frame.
As the fight went to the judge’s decision, and the first of the scores were read, an odd disposition fell over the Scottrade Center crowd. Perpetual controversy-magnet Sal D’Amato (who has an entire Reddit thread dedicated to his disputable decisions) had scored the bout 29-28 in favor of Jackson. Suddenly, a pretty straight-forward unanimous decision for the Ishii had morphed into an improbable split-decision.
Even so, the majority of those in attendance figured logic would eventually prevail. Judge Ross Swanberg saw the bout as 29-28 for Ishii. As the final judge’s scorecard was read, the uneasy feeling returned to the St. Louis crowd.
A score of 30-27 had been submitted by Judge Robin Veale.
With two rounds clearly going to Ishii, and the final frame being won by Rampage, a clean sweep by either fighter seemed impossible. And when seemingly-impossible decisions occur in combat sports, many fans assume that the ‘fix’ is in.
Judge Veale’s three-round decision in favor of Quinton Jackson caused an uproar, not only, in the live crowd, but on social media as well. Even Rampage himself looked surprised at his good fortune.
Jackson’s startled demeanor has become familiar, as controversial decision victories over Mo Lawal and Lyoto Machida yielded a similar ‘I won?!’ reaction. The former also took place inside the Bellator cage, and prompted a verbal tirade by Lawal that precipitated the ouster of former CEO Bjorn Rebney.
Interestingly, the Jackson-Ishii decision wasn’t even the most egregious of the last month, for Bellator. That honor goes to Rafael Carvalho’s middleweight title victory over Melvin Manhoef at Bellator 155, a decision which prompted commentator Jimmy Smith to state, “I am disgusted that this fight went this way for Rafael Carvalho. I am disgusted for the sport right now. That’s all I can say about it – that I can say on TV.”
Friday night underscored the fact that, for every wonderful Michael Chandler coming-home-to-St. Louis-to-regain-his-title moment, Bellator seems to have three instances of promotional shenanigans.
Jackson finds himself in the same boat as Fedor Emelianenko (who, also recently, scored a favorable decision victory), an aging legend who needs to decide their level of dedication to the sport, should they decide to continue fighting.
There are still interesting bouts out there for the former 205-pound kingpin, but a re-commitment to excellence is needed.