The latest chapter of Jackson's career has been interesting, to say the least. In 2013, he was happy to leave the UFC and sign with Bellator. Less than two years later, he was so disgruntled with his new promotion that he (unsuccessfully) attempted to terminate the contract.
That and Bellator's own identity shift from a tournament format to Scott Coker's "tent pole" schedule have sort of had Jackson all over the place.
He's fought at three different weights and technically won a light heavyweight tournament, but he never got a title shot out of it. He fought Lawal in 2014 -- and Satoshi Ishii of all people. This week, it's Lawal again. At heavyweight.
Jackson won the first fight via unanimous decision. Let's take a closer look at how the second one might play out.
Rampage Jackson (37-11) vs. King Mo Lawal (20-6), heavyweight
So, here's a place to start: Is there any reason, at all, to believe this fight will look any different, at all, from the first time they fought? I say no.
That fight was less than three years ago. For Jackson, it was only two fights ago -- and it's not as if the 38-year-old legend has been locked in the gym, making additions to his game during that time. This probably will look very similar to their first encounter, which kind of begs the question: Why did Bellator book it?
Rampage vs. King Mo I didn't exactly produce fireworks. Lawal was intent on getting it to the floor but wasn't efficient in doing so. Jackson, who tends to come into fights these days in "not terrible" shape but also not "great" shape, was mostly successful in thwarting what Lawal wanted to do, but he didn't really have the energy left over to truly make him pay.
As impressive as Lawal's wrestling credentials are, his takedowns are usually by force rather than brilliant timing. If an opponent swings wildly on the feet, throws a lazy kick or just straight gasses, Lawal will usually take him down. But if an opponent is smart, weary of the takedown and has any cardio to speak of, Lawal's game is a grinding one. Push his guy to the fence and work, work, work until he's finally able to drag him down.
He had a hard time doing that against Jackson when they fought. Jackson knows how to use the fence to remain upright, and he's good at scoring with short knees or punches to an opponent who's trying to stay glued to him.
The fact that this fight is at heavyweight would seem to favor Jackson. He'll simply have more mass for Lawal to deal with when they tie up. But it also could mean Jackson's cardio tanks. Who knows.
Win or lose, it will be a tough fight for Lawal. At 36, nothing seems to come easy. If his opponent can't defend takedowns, he's in business. But his striking defense is not ironclad, and he always seems to be on shaky legs after the first tie-up. Doesn't it feel like Lawal is slipping on the canvas every fight? There's significant tread on his tires (including injury history), and those takedowns are harder to will than they were earlier in his career.
To me, this looks like the exact same matchup it did back in May 2014. Even though Jackson is riding a five-fight win streak, his motivation level is perpetually in question. Especially when he's admitting his biggest regret is ever lacing up gloves, as he did this week. If he's in some semblance of good shape, expect it to play out similar to their first meeting. If the cardio isn't there, he'll get outwrestled.
Prediction: Rampage via decision