He'll need to be 100 percent because it will take a perfect fight to dethrone current champion Rashad Evans. Jackson won't have the advantages on Evans he had over Jardine. He won't be faster. He won't have better footwork. He won't be the better wrestler. In fact, in thinking about this fight since it seemed likely we'd get it in place of Frank Mir-Brock Lesnar II, I couldn't come up with much of anything that Rampage has over Evans. (Maybe power, but it's a wash in my book.)
Jackson has morphed into a rather complicated fighter even if it seems as if he's focused on just one area of the game: striking, and mostly boxing at that. Long gone are the days when Rampage would ground-and-pound opponents into the canvas. He hasn't offered many dynamic slams that once came with each fight and drove fans wild. No, for all his efforts under different trainers, Jackson is essentially more limited than he was years ago.
He's a brawler -- a counter brawler at that, if there is such a thing. Jackson (30-7) gets opponents to engage by walking them down. When they attack, he responds. That spells trouble against Evans (13-0-1), whose fast hands have been honed to deliver one-and-done KO shots.
I'm not saying Evans drops Jackson like he did Forrest Griffin or Chuck Liddell -- no one has done that to Rampage, at least not without sustained punishment -- but it would not at all surprise me if the current champ makes the former champ look pretty bad this spring.
• At 11-0 there's no doubt that Shane Carwin is the top prospect in MMA's heavyweight division. But he still has a ways to go before he's ready to fight the best.
On the surface, that statement may seem at odds with a 69-second KO of Gabriel Gonzaga. But Carwin's defense needs plenty of tweaking. He may brag of a Homer Simpson-like defense, predicated on what he says is a thicker-than-average-skull, but how long really will the 6-foot-4, 255-pound monster manage to keep his undefeated record if he doesn't incorporate actual defensive measures into his game?
Head movement would be a good start, as would be an increased focus on footwork. Obviously, Carwin is a strong guy. When he landed the short right that put Gonzaga down, Carwin was flat-footed and his legs were completely out of position. I can't imagine what dangers Carwin will pose as he improves -- and make no mistake, he is -- but he's not there yet.
As I blogged about Saturday's fights, I wrote of Carwin and how he deserved to be ranked among the 10 best heavyweights in MMA. A case can be made that he's not quite there yet, and I wouldn't argue too hard. With that said, it seems as if there's much more to Carwin than he's shown. With time and experience, that will change. But for now, future opponents can dwell on the fact that he's never needed more than 131 seconds to finish a fight.
So far, so good.
• Covering MMA for the past nine years, one of my biggest complaints regarding officiating in the sport has been -- and still is -- an appalling lack of decisiveness among referees.
It seems UFC President Dana White feels the same.
While Matt Brown battered Pete Sell around the Octagon, White said he "couldn't believe" what he was seeing when referee Yves Lavigne stutter-stepped what should have been an early finish. Instead, after momentarily putting his hands on Brown to put a pause on the fight, Lavigne chose to restart the action in spite of Sell looking out on his feet.
"I wanted him to stop the fight because it was clear to me that Pete Sell was pretty much done," Brown said of Lavigne. "So I didn't want to inflict any unreasonable damage that he didn't have to take for purposes of winning or losing a fight."
Perhaps it was a reaction to a terribly premature stoppage in the first fight of the night that resulted in Shane Nelson taking a technical knockout against AaronRiley in 44 seconds. Even so, that's no excuse for the way Lavigne, who is generally pretty competent, handled Brown-Sell.
"When you're a referee your job is to go in and you're in charge," White said at the post-UFC 96 press conference. "When you step in there, you step in there and stop that fight."
White said he was sore from pounding the cage's foundation because of his desire to see the fight stopped.
"I've never reacted to a fight like that," he said.
Let's hope he never has to again.
• Perhaps it's too soon to call it a trend, but the lack of submissions during UFC 96 is worth discussing. Saturday's card in Columbus marked the third event in the organization's last six that failed to produce a submission (tapout to choke or joint lock).
Prior to UFC 96, 94 and 92, the last time a UFC card finished submission-less was February 2007, at UFC 67 -- a span of 36 events. Over the course of 94 Zuffa-era UFC events, only eight have failed to yield some sort of submission. That three of those cards took place in the past four months is at a minimum noteworthy, at worst disconcerting.
Just once has the UFC come up short on submissions in consecutive events. Way back when, in 1996, UFC 9 and 10 saw plenty of finishes, just not a tap from a rear-naked choke, triangle, armbar or countless other ways to end a fight via lock or choke. Understandably, that was an entirely different era.
Because of several factors -- the rising number of well-rounded, competent fighters, for instance -- submissions are clearly tougher to come by these days, which makes what fighters, like Demian Maia, do all the more impressive.
• Since we're the topic of submissions, Shinya Aoki's rear-naked choke on David Gardner at Dream 7 on Sunday will be remembered for more than delivering the Japanese star's 20th victory. Going forward, whenever a fighter does something so boneheaded that it costs him or her a fight, particularly via tapout to submission, can we please do our best to describe the moment as "Gardner'd"?
It's not quite "Munson'd" -- thanks to the Kingpin for that gem -- but Gardner's moronic wave to the crowd in Tokyo while saying "Hi, Japan" as Aoki clung to his back has to go down as the most ridiculous way to lose a fight. Ever.
Gardner struggled for more than five minutes to defend himself against Aoki, who controlled the King of the Cage veteran as he looked to find a tapout finish.
Fighting Aoki at 163 pounds as the Japanese lightweight attempts to put on weight so he can compete in the Dream welterweight grand prix later this year, Gardner actually did a nice job avoiding subs in the first five minutes. That is, until he sabotaged his own effort.
Of course, Aoki was too much for him, not that that was a surprise. But the finish -- Gardner showboated, waved and Aoki immediately locked in the choke -- will be hard to top as the most jaw-dropping way for a fighter to go out.
More UFC 96 and Dream 7
GROSS: Live blog of Jackson vs. Jardine
NEXT?: Rampage to take on champ Evans
JUDGES' CHOICE: Jackson earns unanimous-decision win
DREAM 7: Aoki, Imanari earn wins in Tokyo
SALARIES:Rampage leads with $325K paycheck