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As UFC 92 approaches, the one fight I am looking forward to the most is Silva/Rampage III. The only negative with this one is it's not scheduled for five rounds. Other than that, it's hard to find fault with two of the most exciting fighters in the sport colliding at the biggest event of the year. Some times I take for granted I followed Pride and forget for some fans the history between Silva and Rampage is not as well known. This is my attempt to explain some things and get you really excited. Basically I'm doing an impression of a really hot stripper who gives an awesome lap dance and whispers things in your ear like, "I only strip here to pay for college".
In 2003, following his loss to Randy Couture, the UFC sent Chuck Liddell to Japan to be their representative in the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix (205 lbs). Liddell had not become a phenomenon yet, but he was extremely popular at the time and considered by most to be one of the top five 205 lbs fighters in the world. The rivalry between UFC and Pride fans was boiling at this point (particularly Liddell vs Silva). There would finally be a showdown to end the arguments.
The Grand Prix was loaded with big names like Silva, Rampage, Liddell, Arona, Bustamante, Sakuraba, Overeem, and two Japanese fighters you probably have never heard of (although it is worth checking out Hidehiko Yoshida because he was no pushover). The first round of fights went as planned, other than Ricardo Arona having to pull out due to an injury. Silva and Liddell scored impressive knockouts, while Rampage won a split decision over Bustamante. This set up a second round featuring Silva vs Yoshida (one of the Japanese fighters you probably never heard of) and Liddell vs Rampage.
(By the way, listen to the fighters who were on the card that night: Fedor, Nogueira, Cro Cop, Wandy, Rampage, and Liddell. Granted, the best names did not fight each other, but you gotta admit it is insane for all these guys to be fighting on the same night. It's like the UFC booking six of their top fighters for the same show, which would mean one of them would be on the undercard. Imagine a scenario where Kenny Florian would be on the undercard and you have Pride Total Elimination. God, I miss it.)
It was widely assumed Silva and Liddell were ultimately going to meet in the finals. At this point in his career, Rampage's biggest win was the split decision over Bustamante. A lot of people felt he might grow into being a legit title contender in the future, but it did not seem like he had a great chance to defeat the UFC's golden boy. Well, Rampage went out and put on one of the most dominating performances of his career. Liddell looked overpowered and never seemed to know how to counter.
Silva won his fight with Yoshida by unanimous decision, although he was not his usual dominant self at all. Yoshida won a gold medal in judo at the Barcelona Olympics and sported some elite submission skills. He was a very dangerous fighter to face because one small error could lead to a tap. It also is worth noting he fought with a gi, which was another element that made the "Ax Murderer" cautious.
Now the finals were set. Wanderlei Silva and Rampage Jackson would meet for the first time. There was already bad blood between the two. Rampage took some shots at Silva's training camp, Chute Boxe, and there was the famous shove following the Randleman fight. This might not have been the fight most American (UFC) fans hoped to see, but for the Japanese crowd it was exactly what they wanted. They ate up Rampage's brashness and Wanderlei was without a doubt one of the most beloved fighters in the country.
What everyone seems to remember from this fight was the questionable stand-up by the referee. Rampage was in Silva's guard for most of the 1st Round. He connected with some solid punches/elbows and even opened up a small cut on the outside of Silva's right eye. The stand-up was an odd one, but I honestly do not see Rampage finishing the fight from inside Silva's full guard, either. To me it did not decide the outcome of the fight. When the fighters got back to their feet, Silva came out swinging and quickly got Rampage rattled. The punishment Rampage inflicted from the top position might have actually tired him out because he looked slow for the remainder of the fight, which did not last long. Silva connected with repeated knees from the clinch and eventually the referee stepped in. Silva 1 Rampage 0.
After the fight Rampage made it known he was not happy about the controversial stand-up. The loss did not silence him at all and it was evident these two would end up meeting again. Pride did not order an immediate rematch, which led to Rampage questioning whether Silva really wanted to fight him again. Silva went on to win his next two fights by brutal knockouts and Rampage countered with a TKO over Ikuhisa Minowa and the legendary powerslam knockout of Ricardo Arona. Almost a year after their first bout, they would meet again on Halloween night at Pride 28.
I remember thinking Rampage could win, as long as his cardio held out. In the first fight, he managed to tire himself out by throwing too many strikes from Silva's guard. When the fight was stood up, Silva went to work and Rampage was breathing hard. To win the rematch, he needed to fight smarter and be content with winning a wrestling match (like he did against Dan Henderson). It was evident from early on in the fight that Rampage's night was bound to end poorly.
Silva came out and baited him into a fast paced brawl. Once Rampage tired, Silva's knees began breaking through and connecting just like in the first fight. I think his cardio gave out on him again. The image I'll always remember is Rampage with his arms down, mouth open, and desperately sucking for air. He was lucky to ever fight again after that knockout.
There were some other things that happened after the second fight, like the time Silva went nuts after Mauricio "Shogun" Rua dislocated his elbow, and put the fear of God into Rampage. The heat between the two cooled, though, mainly because Rampage did not look impressive in his next two fights against the Rua brothers. He was no longer pushed as a title contender and the thought of a third fight between the two seemed extremely unlikely to happen. Thank God for the UFC and their deep pockets for putting this one together. It'll give a whole new audience a chance to see if Rampage has finally learned how to block knees with something other than his head.