Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is the UFC’s newly crowned light heavyweight champion. Dan Henderson was the reigning middleweight and light heavyweight champion at the time of Pride’s decline and fall. But now that Pride is just a pleasant memory, does this still count as a title unification bout?
Short answer: maybe not technically, but it’s close enough.
I mean, let’s be honest. It’s not the kind of unification bout that Fedor Emelianenko versus Randy Couture would be. That’s the stuff pay-per-view dreams are made of. But this is good enough for now.
What we have is a former Pride fighter in Jackson (who was, let’s not forget, basically spit out the bottom of the ranks and into the quickly defunct WFA) who caught a quick break in the UFC based mainly on his charisma and marketability. He beat Chuck Liddell for the title, and no one can take that away from him. I have a feeling that if they fought ten more times Liddell would win nine, but it doesn’t work that way.
That being said, championship reigns have been built on frailer ground. “Rampage” is the UFC champ, and that’s that. But what of Henderson?
He was most successful in Pride as a 185-pounder until he went up in weight for a second time and destroyed Wanderlei Silva. Of course, Silva fans will tell you that Wanderlei lost because he was battling everything from injuries to illnesses to Brazilian gypsy curses, but that’s irrelevant now.
All sources indicate that debuting as a light heavyweight in the UFC was Henderson’s idea, which is a little surprising. He’s a bulldog of a fighter with almost no finesse in his game, and going up against 205-pounders means giving up size and strength. Of his five losses, four are against light heavyweights.
It begs the question: did Henderson decide to fight at 205 pounds before or after Jackson won the title?
The main argument against this fight as a unification affair is that it’s essentially two Pride fighters going at it. It doesn’t give us a good sense of which organization had the superior champion, at least not the way the Liddell-Silva bout would have back before Silva started to look like a fighter on the way down.
But the truth is Pride is gone now, so the question now longer matters. The time to have a true unification bout was last summer. It didn’t happen. What we can get from this bout is an end to the bickering. Whoever wins is the legitimate 205-pound UFC champ, making him the legitimate 205-pound MMA champ, at least for the time being.
Either way, Liddell will have an opportunity to earn his way back to a title fight. So will “Shogun” Rua, and so will Wanderlei Silva. If what we’re looking for is some kind of bout to cement a permanent champ, forget it. This is the best we’re going to get, and kudos to the UFC for making it happen right away and putting it on free TV in the U.S.
The influx of Pride fighters into the UFC is a great thing for fight fans. But not because it gives us the opportunity to match them up against each other over and over again with the hopes of proving which organization was “better”. That’s silly and ultimately answers nothing.
It’s a great thing because it means better fighters, more competitive bouts, and a seemingly endless train of legitimate contenders at almost every weight class. You can’t ask for much more than that, though that’s never stopped anyone from trying.