Boxing and former EliteXC promoter Gary Shaw once made a decent point about matchmaking when trying to find a suitable opponent for Internet sensation Kimbo Slice. Slice existed and was being used in a weird space: he was too green to fight a high-level, known contender, but too valuable a promotional product not be in the main event. He had to fight someone with a name, but not someone with who had recently made their name with legitimate accomplishments.
Shaw's central point, though, stands for just about any fighter competing today: a fight is not a one-person show. An event needs two fighters to make it financially successful. But if that's true, why is Quinton Jackson fighting Matt Hamill?
The logic behind the fight is not bad, but it's not optimal either.
Jackson was originally slated to fight Thiago Silva at UFC 130 as the co-main event where the headliner is the rubber match between UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and challenger Gray Maynard. This permutation of UFC 130's main events has blockbuster written all over it.
We quickly learned, however, that Silva was in jeopardy of being pulled due to irregularities in his urine sample taken at UFC 125. But that's where matters got interesting. The first replacement name that was widely reported in the media was none other than former UFC light heavyweight champion and Jackson nemesis Rashad Evans. Some fans groaned, but many others cheered. Either way, the responses were short-lived. Neither Silva nor Evans would be fighting Jackson. The Ultimate Fighter season three standout Matt Hamill would be Rampage's opponent.
Matt Hamill is a capable light heavyweight. Given the obstacles of his disability, he's also an athlete who perseveres more than others. But promotionaly, he's a tough task.
We don't want to backslide into lazy discrimination over disability, but Hamill's condition does present unique challenges. Most fighters spend inordinate amounts of time talking to print and radio media in the months or weeks leading up to their fight, but Hamill does not. Occasionally his management or representatives reach out, but they don't have much of a profile in the sport. Hamill is certainly capable of doing television and perhaps the size of this fight will create more opportunities than normal, but we're still cutting out two-thirds of the media market.
Rampage has gone on the record first as saying he doesn't want to fight Hamill, but now he does. Translation: he doesn't really care. Again, that isn't to say his interest will necessarily have an effect on performance. Rampage seemed amped if unprepared for Evans and lost that bout. But for a like Jackson, who deplores training and needs a cause to rise against, Hamill isn't the best of all alternatives.
Most importantly, there isn't really any zip and pop between these two. They've got no history, very little chemistry and while Hamill garners respect for his accomplishments as well as his struggle to overcome his disability, only Rampage is a fan-favorite. Stylistically, this will be a question of whether or not Rampage can defend the takedown enough to damage Hamill on the feet. Hamill's wrestling credentials are impressive, but Keith Jardine lacks any sort of pedigree and was able to defend the takedown enough to make a close fight. Hamill has fought mostly wrestlers and done mostly well, but his open-mat double and single against the fence are not high-percentage moves.
Hamill can do a lot for his career here. And given that we know Rampage was offered a title shot against Shogun, a win over Hamill probably means he'll face the winner of Mauricio Rua vs. Jon Jones. This UFC 130 fight is not insignificant.
But it is relatively uninteresting, which is saying something given the stakes. Worse, it's not clear what kind of promotional boost the third fight between Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard is going to offer. Their second fight pulled in a low PPV buyrate and while Edgar turned in a heroic performance, not many actually saw it.
Quinton Jackson vs. Matt Hamill is not the worst fight, but it certainly is not the best. If the UFC had too few options, then this matchmaking is understandable. But a rematch against Forrest Griffin would've made much more sense. It would be a rematch for both fighters, make promoting through media significantly easier, pit two fan-favorite fighters against one another, and most importantly, provide two names that move the needle. Matt Hamill is capable of a lot, but of the aforementioned, he is not. And that makes all the difference.