Matt Hamill is contemplating a return to fighting to take on Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in a Bellator cage. Yes, this is 2014. And yes, unfortunately this will likely become a real fight.
If you’ll recall, Rampage and Hamill faced off at UFC 130 in 2011. If you can’t remember that bout, you’re not alone. It was, after all, a potential winner of the Snoozer of the Year award in MMA. Given that it was such a tightly contested fight (read: sarcasm), Hamill is talking about coming out of retirement (again) for a chance at redemption.
This has the makings of a Hollywood movie. The defeated fighter finally heals up from his “nagging injuries,” comes back and defeats the seemingly unbeatable villain. Roll credits, right? Yet, there’s no realm in the universe where this fight has any business happening in 2014.
For starters, Hamill is 38 years old and hasn’t competed in an MMA bout since October 2013. He’s 1-3 in over his last four fights with all four of those fights being hard to watch. He’s still as one-dimensional of a fighter as ever, heavily dependent upon his wrestling without the knockout power necessary to be a complete wrestle/boxer.
Rampage isn’t the elite fighter he once was, but at the very least he’s currently riding a three-fight winning streak. Rampage was able to secure two impressive knockouts on his way to winning the Bellator Season-10 Light Heavyweight Tournament. Normally, a fighter would compete for the division’s title after winning a tournament, but given Jackson’s training relationship with current Bellator 205-pound champion Emmanuel Newton, a fight between those two seems unlikely.
The fact that Rampage doesn’t have any plans to pursue a title in the light heavyweight division means that he’s either stuck doing gimmick fights, like the one with Hamill, or perhaps moving up to the heavyweight division. Rampage could become a high-level gatekeeper, fighting guys who are one step away from challenging for the title, while Newton is the champion. But that’s not what Bellator is paying him for. The company wants him in high-profile fights to get a boost in ratings and provide a credible name to market its product.
Despite the fact that a Hamill-Jackson rematch shouldn’t happen, both men have history and each has marketability to the common MMA fan. That means we’ll likely be seeing this fight take place in 2015. Rampage is one of the sport’s most recognizable faces and has shown that he has something left in the tank despite his age. Hamill, meanwhile, has always been billed as the ultimate underdog as a deaf fighter competing in one of the most violent sports in the world. Those two narratives are enough to sell a non-informed MMA fan for a fight on free television, and the promotion knows the hardcore MMA fan base will already be tuning in. Rampage can also point to the fact that he had a hand injury during their UFC 130 encounter and suggest that he’ll put a more decisive exclamation point on the outcome of the rematch.
The potential rematch between Rampage and Hamill is nothing more than a ratings grab for Bellator, though. And, quite frankly, I’m okay with that. Most fans are smart enough to read between the lines and know this to be the case. While it’s interesting to see guys move up the rankings to fight one another for a shot at the belt like some arcade version of Mortal Kombat, every once in a while it’s nice to have a fun match-up without title implications. Did Melvin Manhoef’s recent battle with Joe Schilling mean anything in the grand scheme of things? Absolutely not. Was it fun as hell to watch, and did it provide a memorable moment? It absolutely did. Now, of course, Hamill-Jackson isn’t anywhere near the level of fun of Manhoef-Schilling on paper, but the idea of putting together two guys for the idea of something other than moving up the rankings ladder is the same.
Bellator President Scott Coker has shown in the past that he’s willing to put on fights that draw people in regardless of the fighters’ rankings. A Hamill-Jackson contest is entirely plausible under the new regime. Most of the hardcore MMA fans will likely greet the fight announcement with a groan, but the casual viewers are going to tune in to see Rampage, the guy who howls and can knock out anyone, face the deaf fighter with a storied wrestling career who represents the underdog we all love to root for. The fight doesn’t make any sense in terms of rankings, but not every fight on a card has to contain title implications. Bellator has the quality of fighters to provide those type of fights, but the promotion is also in the position to put together a fight that’s a clear move to gather ratings.