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UFC 92 Preview: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva

History is not on the side of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson heading into the third fight of his trilogy against Wanderlei Silva.

Usually when we see a trilogy between two fighters it’s because there is a need for a rubber match. However, if the Jackson vs. Silva feud was two-out-of-three falls then Silva would have already been declared the winner of the series after having TKO’d him with knees at PRIDE “Final Conflict 2003″ and then knocking him out with knees at PRIDE 28 during their 2004 rematch.

Much in the same fashion in which Jackson is a bad matchup for Chuck Liddell, Silva has proven in their previous two encounters to be a bad matchup for Jackson. Jackson is a boxer/wrestler in a day and age of MMA where it pays to be Muay Thai/Jiu Jitsu. During their first two fights, Silva’s aggressive and diverse striking proved to be too much for Jackson.

The kind of Muay Thai practiced by Silva isn’t the authentic form one would learn if he or she chose to go to Thailand and train. The Muay Thai practiced by Silva is a brand unique to the famed Chute Boxe Academy in Curatiba, Brazil. It’s a style that was replicated by fellow Chute Boxe member Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at PRIDE “Total Elimination 2005″ that saw Jackson once again succumb to a TKO.

During it’s heyday, Chute Boxe was the premier fight camp in the world. It was a factory of champions and was a staple of many of PRIDE’s biggest shows. Chute Boxe has seen significant turnover recently with money having caused Silva and brothers Mauricio and Murilo Rua to leave the family.

But while you can take a fighter out of Chute Boxe, you can’t take the Chute Boxe out of the fighter. Silva still represents all the hallmarks of the Chute Boxe brand of Muay Thai and while he has become more refined in certain aspects, the same blitzkrieg style of fighting that gave Jackson fits in the past stil remains.

However, Jackson has improved since his days in PRIDE even in spite of training under Juanito Ibarra, a former boxing trainer whose credentials in MMA were never quite clear. Following his UFC 86 light heavyweight title loss to Forrest Griffin this past July, Jackson severed ties with Ibarra and joined Michael Bisping in the UK at the Wolfslair Academy.

During a recent conference call to promote UFC 92, Jackson sang the praises of Wolfslair. He talked about all the pratfalls of having trained in Los Angeles and how moving his primary camp to England has changed his focus. Jackson spoke of being able to push himself harder because those around him are now demanding it.

Another major change made by Jackson has been his eating habits. During the conference call, Jackson revealed it wasn’t uncommon for him in the past to hit up a fast food joint on his way to the gym. Working with a nutritionist for the first time in his career, he is now putting the proper fuel in his body.

One of Jackson’s major downfalls in the past has been a tendency to let his weight get out of control between fights. For his fight vs. Griffin, Jackson had too much time off following the filming of the seventh season of The Ultimate Fighter. Much of the lag time between the end of filming and his UFC 86 fight date was spent outside of the gym. By the time Jackson got serious for the fight, he was behind the eight ball and had to cut the excess weight by using less than ideal methods.

According to Jackson, he had weighed in at 220 pounds two weeks prior to this Saturday’s fight vs. Silva. Based on the changes, this could be one of the easiest cuts he’s had to make in quite some time. Having an easier cut coupled with better nutrition and a tougher camp could pay dividends if the fight goes into deep water.

And while questions will exist as to whether Jackson is mentally ready for this fight, this writer came away from the UFC 92 conference call with the feeling that the 30-year old former light heavyweight champ is where he needs to be emotionally. The biggest question I have comes down to skill and whether Jackson has learned how to defend the clinch better and can handle the inside striking capability that Silva possesses. If Jackson doesn’t show better defensive striking, the third fight between he and Silva could look like a carbon copy of their first two encounters.

It’s doubtful Ibarra possessed the knowledge needed to instruct Jackson on how fight out of a Thai plum. The question is, how much did Jackson improve while training at Wolfslair? There’s a difference between training to fight and fight training. Fight training consists primarily of cardio and sparring and doing the things necessary to get prepared for a scheduled fight. Training to fight is when you actually work to improve your skills and add new elements to your game. Often a fighter becomes so focused on his conditioning during fight training that there isn’t much time to actually improve skills.

The question of whether Jackson has an answer for Silva’s knees and elbows won’t be known until Saturday. However, one thing we know for certain that Jackson can do to counter Silva’s striking is by utilizing his wrestling and putting Silva on his back.

One major change we will see stylistically this Saturday between Jackson and Silva from their PRIDE encounters is the ground game. In PRIDE, the refereees and judges were employees of the promotion and PRIDE was a promotion known to play favorites. Jackson was the victim of several hasty standups from officials. In the UFC, the officials are hired through the commission so if Jackson decides to ground Silva, he will have much more latitude when it comes to eating up clock on the mat.

Another element that can’t be overlooked is that since returning to the UFC, Silva has not looked anywhere near as physically imposing as he once did while he reigned supreme as PRIDE’s middleweight champion. After once having competed at 223 pounds during PRIDE’s Openweight Grand Prix, Silva looked like he belong in the UFC’s middleweight division during his epic UFC 79 encounter last December with Chuck Liddell. Silva looked a little better against Keith Jardine at UFC 84 but he still wasn’t the same physical specimen he appeared to be in PRIDE.

Based on my theories that we’re going to see an improved Jackson and that the fight will be contested on a more level playing field than their previous bouts, I see “Rampage” walking away the winner courtesy of a unanimous decision.

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