Cro Cop and Rampage Jackson return as UFC bring on questionable nostalgia

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    MMA fighter Rampage Jackson fighting in the UFC again (Image: supplied)

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    Don’t worry, your RSS reader isn’t feeding you stories from 2007. Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipović have indeed re-signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

    With both men and clearly well into the twilight of their careers and at various times, flirting with retirement, the obvious question is why?

    Money, legacy, the undying desire to prove their mettle – there are many reasons for fighters to continue fighting past their athletic prime.

    Whether or not they actually should be fighting is another matter as both men have seen their skills and physical attributes regress from their glory years, resulting in some disturbing losses.

    Cro Cop, at 40-years-old, lacks the speed that once made him the most feared striker in MMA. This deficiency has meant the timing and set-ups he has spent a life-time honing are now slightly off and the darting footwork he used to corner and KO opponents in the ring has been replaced by a plodding, fruitless chase in circles around the cage.

    He has cited injuries for the trio of KO losses he ended his last UFC tenure with, but if Cro Cop is still not up to speed then we are unfortunately likely to see more knock-outs for the Croatian.

    At 36-years-old, Rampage’s once-feared slams are long gone, the dynamic ground and pound that saw him through his best years has vanished and we are left with an over-reliance on power and a shadow of his cover-and-counter boxing game. But Rampage, unlike Cro Cop, has not paid a particularly high price for his losses – there has been some lopsided losses seemingly caused by waning motivation, but no string of troubling knock-outs. A general feeling of apathy for the fight game is reversible but brain injury is not.

    Pointing out these flaws is not to discount these legends entirely. If there is any lesson to be learned from the stunning career resurgence of the 40-year-old Mark Hunt, it is that you can’t count a veteran fighter out if they are able to draw upon their fight IQ and adapt their game to their age.

    For the UFC, their reason for bring back the veterans is to secure their status as a monopoly.

    Since UFC parent company Zuffa purchased rival MMRA promotion Strikeforce in 2011 and subsequently shuttered it in 2013, the Ultimate Fighting Championships has been the only name in the MMA game.

    Although they have promoted some memorable bouts for hardcore fans, the gap between current second-tier promotions Bellator and World Series of Fighting and the market leader UFC is enormous. Until recently, UFC brass had no reason for concern regarding the potential of rival promotions.

    That was until Strikeforce founder and former CEO Scott Coker took the reigns of Bellator and effectively used former UFC stars Tito Ortiz and Stephan Bonner to build record ratings for the promotion.

    UFC president Dana White initially gave his blessing for UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonner to leave his UFC contract to go and “beat the s–t” out of White’s long-term nemesis Ortiz, but he wouldn’t have anticipated Coker following up that successful event by dropping names like Cro Cop and all-time great Fedor Emelianenko. The name dropping ended up leading nowhere but it would have given the UFC a scare. Signing Filipović out from under Bellator indicates that we won’t see any more endorsements from White and that he is attempting to nip that momentum in the bud.

    To be clear, the risk represented by Bellator’s momentum is not that they are going to make a challenge for the UFC’s overall position in the market. The risk is that if Scott Coker can continue to increase ratings, his ability to pay fighters will also increase. That will cost the UFC dearly.

    If more prospects are enticed to build their careers in Bellator, the UFC will need to engage in bidding wars or otherwise outlay an outrageous sum of money to bring them over later, as they did with ex-Bellator fighters Hector Lombard and Eddie Alvarez. You can bet that Dana White doesn’t want either of those things happening.

    It’s important to note, however, that the UFC isn’t only doing this to run the competition out of town. Cro Cop and Rampage are still marketable names and, remembering that not every fight in mixed martial arts needs to have implications for rankings or titles, there are a lot of matches to be made and a lot of tickets to be sold.

    Indeed, one enticing fight has already been made – Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipović will rematch Gabriel Gonzaga in UFC Fight Night headlining bout Poland on April 11. It’s not anywhere near a title eliminator fight this time around but you can be certain that fans will tune in to see Cro Cop given the chance to avenge his ironic, brutal head kick KO loss.

    Regardless of how Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Filipović fare in their respective comebacks, as fight fans let’s be thankful that we are given the opportunity to be entertained by them again. Just hope that they are matched with other legends and not thrown to young wolves to build highlight reels and records.

    Daniel Herbertson is a journalist, photographer and a videographer and has covered mixed martial arts and combat sports for over a decade. He has worked for the likes of ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Spike TV and MMAFighting.com and spent over six years following the fight game in Japan. Dan is now based back in Melbourne.