Summer kicks off in Las Vegas, Nevada tomorrow night when the world’s elite mixed martial arts promotion presents UFC 130: Rampage vs. Hamill live from the MGM Grand Center and Casino. Middleweight prospects “All-American” Brian Stann (10-3) and “Sandman” Jorge Santiago (22-8) square off in the card’s opener. In a welterweight contest, “The Pitbull” Thiago Alves (17-7) and “The Horror” Rick Story (10-2) get set to do battle . The heavyweights stomp onto the scene when “Hapa” Travis Browne (7-0-1) faces “Skyscraper” Stefan Struve (18-4) and “Big Country” Roy Nelson (15-5) collides against Frank Mir (14-5) . In the main event, “The Hammer” Matt Hamill (9-2) headlines his first Pay-Per-View card against crowd favorite yet challenger-feared “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (29-8). For Jackson, many believe defeating Hamill will prove he is still a viable threat for the UFC light heavyweight title. Hamill though would like to not only prevent this but finally toss his name in the running for a potential title shot. With a majority of their fights combined ending on their own terms, this fight can expect both men going tooth-and-nail long before the word “decision” is ever considered.At First Glance: For Matt Hamill, there could not have been a more perfect time to finally break into the top 205lbs. spotlight. His current five-fight win streak including dominant victories over “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz (15-8-1) and “The Dean of Mean” Keith Jardine (15-9-2) give “The Hammer” more than enough momentum coming into UFC 130. Even though he has put away top caliber fighters, Hamill will likely have his hands full with former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton Jackson. The former PRIDE star bears an almost identical skill set to Hamill: solid stand-up and superb wrestling to fall back on. Coming off his questionable decision victory over “The Dragon” Lyoto Machida (17-2), Jackson is still a major player in the contender’s picture in the light heavyweight ladder. Both men are heavy hitters and are not afraid to roll when asked but when pitted against a man whose style of fighting fits his name, “Rampage”, it will be up to Matt Hamill to step up his game in what can be most easily considered the biggest fight of his career.
In Depth: Quinton Jackson’s game plan is simple: he wants to draw the fight into a slugfest. Predictable as this might be, the knockout power Jackson owns makes all who attempt to poke and prod at risk for getting tagged whenever they try to mount an offensive. His recent performance against Lyoto Machida proved that even a technician is still at risk from the brawler when Machida was tagged with cruel flurries of strikes whenever he spent too much time in the pocket. With Lance Gibson taking over as striking coach, the promise to add more diversity into Jackson’s arsenal such as kicks and elbows definitely would add another layer of trouble for any man to deal with. This added ammunition for Jackson better be well stocked because when he steps into the cage tomorrow night he will have to be concerned with Hamill’s willingness to mix his strikes with his wrestling in order to gain the upper hand. UFC 75 was a showcase of Hamill’s overall game early in his career when he was able to connect with solid jab-straight combinations coupled with well-placed takedowns to control “The Count” Michael Bisping (21-3). In response to Jackson’s knockout power in his hands, Hamill has shown that he can unload a kill shot whenever the opportunity arises. With a majority of the first round consisting of his will being pressed upon former light heavyweight “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” Mark Munoz (8-2), Hamill earned his first “Knockout of the Night” bonus when a right-headkick connected, crumpling Munoz on the canvas. Both men can without question take a hit but when power meets with power, results may vary.
For both men being wrestlers at heart, Hamill is still very much grounded at this foundation. He has shown he can mix the strikes, set up his takedowns, and likewise shoot in when overwhelmed with the stand-up. “Rampage” however has been using his wrestling defensively to keep the fight standing in his performances after his PRIDE days. While the chances of seeing Jackson shoot for a takedown are slim, he’s shown he can reverse adverse positioning or take advantage of the failed shoot in order to immediately counter with a barrage of strikes. Jackson has proven as well that even if he is brought down, he can fend well off his back long enough to stand back up. For the ground-and-pound Hamill offers, this might provide hope for Jackson should he fail to stop his power-driven shoots.
Wild Card: “The Hammer” Matt Hamill will enjoy a three-inch reach advantage over the former champion but the matter of distance and range will probably not be enough for Hamill to win the match when the opposition’s knockout power can strike at any point. In his third battle with “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva (34-10-1), Quinton Jackson found himself backed against the cage yet was able to set his base and land a vicious left hook to stop the Brazilian. “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell’s (21-8) contest ended abruptly when Jackson pounced quickly into range to land a right hand on Liddell to later gain the TKO victory. Much like how Forrest Griffin (18-6) used his leg kicks or how “Sugar” Rashad Evans’ (15-1-1) speed aided his wrestling, rendering them both victorious in their respective bouts against “Rampage”, Hamill has to find a way to neutralize Jackson’s base to weaken his knockout potential and hinder his movement. While stopping “Rampage” would be the biggest achievement in his career, if Hamill does not find a way to keep Jackson stationary trying to do so, he only allows the former light heavyweight champion more time to land that one punch to make it an early night in Las Vegas.
The Verdict: Since The Ultimate Fighter, Matt Hamill has been nothing short of spectacular in his tenure in the UFC. His wrestling is phenomenal and his stand-up has proven dangerous but even still improving. The fact that he can effectively blend these two aspects of the game shows he will be a handful for any fighter to deal with as time presses on. The problem is that the fighter he will be trying to impose himself against is Quinton Jackson. While Hamill has a solid grasp in all aspects of fighting, Jackson, while perhaps not as fluid, has that slightly better understanding. If the war is on the feet, Jackson’s ability to evade and counter with power leaves Hamill outclassed. If on the ground, Jackson can force his way out of trouble to get the fight standing again where the match goes back to square one. Hamill will always have much to offer to fans of the sport but when push comes to shove, Jackson will leave him coming up short. Jackson via TKO, Round 3.