With one left hook, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson had finally redemption…or so it seemed at least. The moment itself was rather surreal, a brief silence as Wanderlei Silva hit the canvas, and then an eruption as Jackson ruthlessly followed up. Incredibly, that fight was now almost 10 years ago and back then, it looked to be the final chapter of one of MMA’s most volatile, vicious, and violent rivalries. After two brutal shortcomings, Jackson had finally got the better of his nemesis, returning to the win column and in doing so, ending an era by quite possibly vanquishing Sliva from the upper echelons of the sport.
In hindsight, that thought seems almost comical now, as we inexplicably find ourselves just days away from a fourth fight between the famed foes. Now in fairness, Silva hasn't proven that prior perception wrong in particularly traditional fashion. Wanderlei unsurprisingly fought on, going 3-3 over the next 5 years in a run that certainly featured some returns to form. However, Silva’s career would then be halted, being handed a lifetime ban by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. That story certainly doesn't need to be revived here but nonetheless, cooler heads eventually prevailed and in June 2017, Silva returned to action.
Wanderlei’s return to the cage would be unsuccessful though, as after four years away Silva lost a unanimous decision to old adversary Chael Sonnen. Another 15 months later, and Silva now takes on his ultimate rival in a fight that somehow feels both absurd and bizarrely fitting at the very same time. On MMA’s grandest stage, it’s hard to argue this fight’s current importance. Its result really doesn't matter to the sport’s standing and it’s certainly without meaning in regards to rankings and titles.
However, between the two men fighting, this clash still holds immense gravity and to understand why, you’d have to travel all the way back to November 2003. With a packed Tokyo Dome watching on, Silva and Jackson met for the first time, but only after successfully winning their respective semi-final bouts first. For Silva, that meant 15 minutes of action opposite Hidehiko Yoshida and for ‘Rampage,’ it came down to a dramatic victory over Chuck Liddell, forcing the UFC’s representative’s corner to throw in the towel.
With both Silva and Jackson through to the highly anticipated final, some prior conflicts would finally come to a head. There was no love lost going in but inside the ropes, the bad blood would catapult dramatically, perfectly laying the groundwork for what would follow. On that night, Silva overcome Jackson’s unmatched physical strength and eventually unleashed an astonishing flurry of knees that in the end, drew a merciful referee stoppage. The fight begun with a famous face-off and had culminated in something eerily similar, with ‘Rampage’ defiantly smiling back at Silva’s joyous grin, all just moments before the fight’s close.
Just under a year later, their sequel arrived, with Jackson earning the title fight after a highlight reel slam knockout win over fellow contender Ricardo Arona. Famously, Jackson’s fate in that rematch would be unchanged from their first encounter, but the fight itself came jam-packed with intensity and excitement. The challenger experienced even more success this time around too, stunning Silva and dictating quite a bit of the action until Wanderlei emphatically turned the tide, landing a heavy right hand and following up with another salvo of knees, unforgettably sending an unconscious Jackson through the ropes.
That finish was as violent as any the sport has ever seen, but whilst Silva’s glory days would soon diminish, ‘Rampage’s success was far from finished and in 2007, he’d defeat Chuck Liddell again, this time for UFC gold. Jackson then unified too, defeating PRIDE FC champion Dan Henderson before losing his title to underdog Forrest Griffin. That takes us back to where this distant but oh so vivid memory began: December 2008, a triumphant ‘Rampage’ standing over the fallen Silva, soaking in a moment of true validation and redemption.
If their tale had ended then, I don’t think many would’ve had much of a complaint. In 3 fights, Silva and Jackson had produced nothing but violence, with their personal conflict truly translating to a physical drama that’s seldom been topped since. If I’m being honest, there’s a part of me that grimaces at the thought of this upcoming fight. Not just health-wise either, there’s just a part of me that had thankfully moved on from this rivalry, and was grateful for the tale to be left behind without the need for another chapter to be told.
With that being said, this fight is an accurate representation of the men involved, for better or worse. To these two rivals, this isn’t quite as poetic or artistic and instead, just a never-ending grudge. This Saturday night simply represents the chance to prove another point, an opportunity for ‘Rampage’ to level the score and reiterate his longevity whilst Wanderlei looks to end this feud in his own way, solidifying his supremacy and making that 2008 result the genuine outlier.
On Sunday morning, this fight could be viewed as a black mark on their prior greatness or in an ideal world, as a heroic tribute to a different time. Right now, it’s impossible to truly know but fortunately, these two men will forever share an immovable history regardless. Their mark is indelible and no matter what point is proved on Saturday, their rivalry remains iconic.