That was something, I guess. Bellator 237 was a middling card full of unknowns and prospects with an interlude featuring two legends from Pride Fighting Championships. I’d like to talk a bit about Fedor vs. Rampage, each of the two men involved, and circumstances that led them to this point. While it may seem like I speak ill of them, I still hold them in the highest respect for their achievements.
Over 12 years after the death of Pride, Japanese MMA has not been able to replicate the arena-filling pomp and circumstance that fans nowadays can only recall from video archives and forum threads. Last year, they had a kid fight an undefeated boxing world champion with a 9-pound weight advantage (most likely more than that after rehydration).
This year, they had two middle-aged former world champions slug it out in a mid-card match. It was the only fight from the show that made a dent in the media, and the attention it got was mostly unflattering and downright embarrassing for the loser. There was no need for this to take place, and I wrote this post with conflicted feelings.
But I had to write something to fulfill my recent resolution of posting more on this blog.
Back in October 2019, when this fight was first announced, I made a video about my doubts regarding the matchup and Japanese MMA’s ongoing inability to recapture the magic of Pride. Them having to rely on freak shows and older talent is a constant theme, even in the glory days of Pride. But while those were compelling back then, they’re exasperating now.
Fedor vs. Rampage
Both fighters were undeniably over the hill since their Pride and early UFC/Bellator/Strikeforce days. But between the two, Fedor was certainly in better shape, while Snackpage looked like he was nursing a food baby in the cage, a far cry from his prime shape.
Fedor vs. Rampage boils down to a first-round knockout with Fedor using Rampage as a heavy bag. Fedor then hits him with a right straight to the left temple, which gets partially blocked but still makes Rampage go down and shake his head. The referee then steps in and gives Fedor the win.
Some may say this match may be a fix since Rampage just quit soon after getting hit by Fedor’s right hand. Invoking Hanlon’s Razor, I say it’s simpler than that—Rampage quit.
While he’s no longer the invincible slayer of men he used to be after his loss to Fabricio Werdum, he’s still formidable. It does look like he’s one of those Russians who takes being a sportsman seriously, so he never got completely out of shape even after being past his prime.
Before he lost to Werdum, there were already indications of his decline. Like with the Arlovski and Brett Rogers fights, the only trump card he had was his overhand right. In Pride, he could dominate anyone on the ground, either on top or bottom. His versatility and resilience made him the best heavyweight in the world, and it’s still sad that he never fought in the UFC at his peak.
When he started fighting in America, he would get tagged before throwing a Hail Mary that would somehow land. Obviously, that didn’t work on Werdum, Bigfoot, or Hendo. Whatever hype was behind him as the best heavyweight in the world was long derailed by that point.
Nowadays, he has losses to The Ultimate Fighter veterans Ryan Bader and Matt Mitrione, both by TKO. It seems there’s no other way for Fedor to win against contenders these days other than surprising them with his vaunted right hand. He’s still powerful and can hold his own, but he’s a mortal now. He wouldn’t even be counted as a gatekeeper.
This is the sad fate of most Eastern European world champion fighters (like the Kitschko brothers). They tend to be way too stoic and culturally different for western markets, so they’re just seen as lab experiments like they came straight out of Rocky IV. At best, they’re booed. But most of the time, people just gawk at them without any reaction, which is worse.
That’s also what sets Khabib Nurmagomedov apart from them. He can speak English, shows emotion against a media sensation/disaster like Conor McGregor, and is undeniably the best in the world at his weight class. He also shows genuine disdain for the western world, calling it a hive of debauchery and immorality, making him a marketable heel.
Khabib just needs a better dancing partner, preferably better than Conor McGregor. That was not the case with Fedor, an unpainted concrete wall of a man who took a while to crack in a bad way. No amount of documentaries or hype packages could make casual fans interested in him, limiting his star potential to hardcore fandom.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
This was not the Rampage who knocked out Wanderlei for a second time in 2018. This was a Rampage who spent way more time on the couch and never visited the gym until a few weeks before the fight. Meanwhile, it doesn’t look like Fedor ever took extensive breaks from training.
Never mind that Rampage will never get back down to 205 unless he’s financially incentivized to with an adequately hefty purse. That will most likely never happen at this point for the 41-year-old former UFC champion as his star power has diminished over time.
Before this downfall, he had been an extremely marketable figure. He wore chains, howled like a wolf in his entrances, and had his own theme song. Unfortunately, he didn’t slam his way through the UFC like he did in Pride, although his change of fighting style momentarily led him to a title.
What led to this current slump is his attitude and personality. Those who follow his career at length would know that he’s a 14-year-old child in a grown man’s body. He dry-humps female reporters, throws tantrums, and gets salty with legitimate techniques because he doesn’t know how to defend against them (while others have).
Regardless, I’m still a Rampage fan. I still rewatch his old Pride fights. He was entertaining and fought at a high level, despite his limited skill set.
Fedor vs. Rampage begs the age-old question of how fighters know when it’s time to retire. With this fight, we can say with some certainty that both of them should do so now at the dawn of the new decade. But maybe both of them don’t know yet what they want to do after calling it a career.
While there are talks about Fedor retiring after this fight, I saw mention of him wanting at least two more fights before he hangs up his gloves. It may be best to decide on that now, going away with a win. He has nothing else to prove.
Meanwhile, Rampage needs to retire. It doesn’t look like he has any more motivation to fight. At this age, he should move on to other things, especially with this performance. If he hangs on, he’ll be tarnishing his reputation and legacy by Bob Sapp-ing every fight like he did in this one.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have on the comment section below.
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