by Mick Hammond
Redimus, the Latin term for “we return,” that is the rallying cry to which Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Hirotaka Yokoi must now adhere. They must return; they must once again become what they were after falling from the heights of their careers not too long ago.
Both fighters are at an impasse, they can either step up and become who they were and cement a future in Pride, or they can continue to fall and possibly work themselves out of the company and back to the minor leagues of MMA. At Pride 30, one will take a step forward towards redemption and one will not, if they can return to past form then their bout could be one of the surprises of the night.
There has perhaps not been such a documented fall from greatness, as has the plight of Quinton Jackson. At one time he was considered one of the top 205lb fighters in the world and was one of the most beloved fighters in any weight class. His brash cocky attitude and smash mouth style of fighting made him popular the world over.
After losing his first bout ever to Marvin Eastman, Jackson ripped out 8 straight impressive wins and earned his way into Pride. He took on the then brilliant Kazushi Sakuraba at Pride 15 and even though he lost due to his inexperience, his natural charisma made him an overnight superstar. From there he would win 6 of his next 7 bouts and earn a birth in Pride’s 2003 Middleweight GP.
Against Murilo Bustamante and Chuck Liddell, Jackson looked destined to meet up with Wanderlei Silva in the finals of the tournament. He had just beaten a former UFC Middleweight Champion and future UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion in consecutive bouts, something no one else had ever done, and the possibility of knocking off the Pride Middleweight Champion was in his sights.
However much as the case in shows where a fighter must participate twice in the same evening, Jackson used much of his energy in dispatching Liddell, leaving him vulnerable against Silva. Being one of the best finishers in the business, Silva wasted no time in finding Jackson’s weakness against knees and exploiting it for the win.
Since their initial meeting it’s been an up and down ride for Jackson. After securing wins over Ikuhisa Minowa and Ricardo Arona, Jackson got his rematch against Silva at Pride 28, falling again as he had before to knee strikes. Since then Jackson has seemed like a different person as his change in personal life has ushered in lackluster era in his fighting, culminating in poor performances against Murilo “Ninja” Rua in a win and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in a loss.
For Hirotaka Yokoi, it’s been something of a letdown to high expectations. Coming back into Pride for 2004’s Heavyweight GP, after an initial appearance in 2002, Yokoi had been touted as one of the best heavyweight submission specialists in Japan.
Prior to facing Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in the first round of the GP, Yokoi had won all nine of his previous bouts, including that previous Pride appearance against Jarrel Venetiaan. Even though he was not know too much of the MMA community, his achievements had him pegged to put up a decent performance to Nogueira. And perform he did, fighting at a higher level than many had expected, pushing the former Heavyweight Champion throughout their bout.
Even though Yokoi lost the match, many considered his performance one of the better of the first round of the tournament, thus the elevated expectations when he faced off against Heath Herring at Pride 28 and Mario Sperry at Pride 29. In both bouts he quickly was dominated when put in north/south position, absorbing a tremendous amount of punishment each time which led to his demise.
The biggest question facing Yokoi is, is he a legitimate Pride fighter? Is he deserving of room on their roster or is he just good enough to beat second tier fighters at smaller shows? More importantly, can he withstand a physically stronger opponent and get them into a position for him to use his submission skills, something he hasn’t done in his previous two bouts? Those are the issues that Yokoi must overcome if he is to live up to his initial hype.
If both fighters can live up to what they are capable of, this could be a very entertaining fight. Jackson doesn’t have to worry as much about Yokoi’s striking as he had in his previous three fights. Jackson is the physically stronger fighter and he can impose himself on Yokoi but he must remain aggressive. Too often lately he’s allowed himself to be put out of his game and dominated, Jackson cannot let that happen again in this fight.
Hirotaka on the other hand must not let himself get physically dominated as he has in his past two fights. He managed to use his solid grappling skills to keep himself out of trouble against Nogueira, but he failed to use those same skills against Herring and Sperry. If he can be mobile and allow Jackson to make mistakes, Yokoi could win, but he can’t let himself be physically pushed around.
The winner of this bout will most likely secure a contract extension with the thought that if they continue to succeed that they might get a longer deal. The losers will most likely find themselves out of Pride unless something happens and a fighter is needed on short notice. Currently the Pride Middleweight division goes through Chute Boxe and the Brazilian Top Team, if you’re going to get anywhere you must get past those two teams first. So that is the path that must be treaded by either Jackson or Yokoi if they hope to make the upcoming year, their year to return to glory.