If I had to pick one word to describe the UFC Light Heavyweight Division over the last few years it would be ‘unstable.’ The division’s top prize has been passed around more than an STD at the Jersey Shore house. As a result we’ve got any number of great fighters in the upper levels of the weight class and a lack of any real pecking order amongst contenders.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson fights tomorrow night, and he holds the most recent win over Lyoto Machida. Machida is still the only man to defeat Rashad Evans, who hasn’t fought in a year. Evans’ last win? Of course, it was against “Rampage.” You’ve also got great fighters in the division like former champs Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Forrest Griffin (who will clash for a second time at UFC 134), and Rich Franklin.
One name that doesn’t get mentioned much in the conversation for UFC light heavyweight contenders is the other half tomorrow night’s main event: Matt Hamill. He’s fought in the UFC for virtually his entire career (carrying just one pro fight into his time on The Ultimate Fighter) and his only losses were Franklin and Michael Bisping, and nobody really thinks Bisping won that fight.
Dana White has made it clear that “Rampage” will probably get the first crack at newly crowned UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, assuming that Jackson wins tomorrow night. There’s been no mention of what Hamill’s title aspirations look like should he pull off the upset, but it seems to me that it’s an option we should look at. I know, I know. It sounds crazy to think of Hamill being the next guy to get the shot, but let’s look at the evidence.
First it should be stated that beating “Rampage” is a pretty good accomplishment in its own right. If Hamill can find a way to finish Jackson as well, that would be nothing short of jaw-dropping. His performance on Saturday is the most important factor in determining whether he’s next in line or simply “in the mix.”
The majority of names in Hamill’s win column may not be all that impressive (after all, who hasn’t beaten Tito Ortiz or Keith Jardine these days?) but there is one name that stands out: Jon Jones. Yes, the win was via disqualification in a fight that Jones was clearly winning, but a win is still a win. More importantly: it’s an angle that can be used to sell Jones vs. Hamill 2 as a main event.
There’s another important factor that bears mentioning when we discuss Hamill’s title aspirations. As of this moment, he is the only fighter I’ve mentioned in this article who is on a five-fight win streak. You can talk down the names on that list all you want, but Hamill stands in sparse company when it comes to guys putting together wins at 205 lbs. in the UFC.
Let’s also not forget just who Hamill is to the UFC. He’s another one of their guys. He was on TUF almost five years ago and has been with the UFC ever since. They love pushing the fighters who have cut their teeth in the Octagon, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Hamill has his share of exciting finishes for the highlight reel. He won’t need a lot of promotion since anyone who calls themselves a UFC fan already knows who Matt Hamill is.
Of course, anyone who doesn’t know who the Ultimate Fighter alum is will have their opportunity to learn his story in a big way later this year. Specifically, they’ll have the chance to see his story on the big screen when Hamill hits theaters this fall. The success of this movie could be very good for the UFC, and vice-versa. Cross-promotional opportunities will abound whether or not Hamill is in contender status, but the UFC can maximize the public’s attention on Hamill with a prime spot on one of their fall PPVs.
Which leads me to my final point, and it’s the proverbial “elephant in the room.” By now you should know that Matt Hamill is deaf. While his story has not been pushed by the UFC to promote him as a fighter, there can be little doubt that the mainstream media would latch on to the idea of a fighter that has been deaf since birth competing for one of the highest prizes in combat sports. This factor should not earn Hamill any special privilege (and I’m sure he would be the first person to say so) but if you’re already thinking about putting him in a high-profile fight it certainly can’t be ignored.
Can Hamill earn a title shot with a win at UFC 130? We can’t speculate much further until we know what happens on Saturday night. If “Rampage” wins (as most people expect) then I imagine we’ll see him try his luck against Jones later this year. Here’s hoping Hamill gets the same consideration for a shot at the gold if he does the unexpected this weekend.
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC