Fighters are, in many cases, defined by their rivalries. A great rivalry can make a good fighter great and more than that can make a great fighter legendary. Whether it be an iconic Boxing pairing like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier or even a more recent never ending Manny Pacquiao Juan Manuel Marquez feud, a true rivalry elevates both fighters and leaves more than just moments, it leaves immovable memories.
Notable MMA examples that stand out could be Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard’s up and down showstealers, the trash talk fuelled battles between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz or even the less publicised Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson 25 minute classics. However, amongst the many examples, there is one rivalry in MMA history that for me always stands out from the pack.
On December 27th 2008, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Wanderlei Silva entered the cage for their third and up to this point, final fight. A rivalry that had begun over five years prior, the final chapter would have a lot to live up to after all of the drama that had preceded it.
Jackson Taunts Wanderlei
Though it was perhaps a little hidden on what was a stacked UFC 92 card at the time, it was a fight that carried genuine gravity to both fighters mentally. To understand why though we first need to go all the back way to 2003. Jackson had been consistently taunting the then Pride Middleweight champion Silva, at one point even confidently exclaiming, “You have my belt, you’re keeping it warm for me,” which almost incited a brawl at Pride 25.
Thankfully, Jackson would get a shot at proving his supremacy as he took on ‘The Axe Murderer’ in the final of the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. Both men had fought once already that night with Jackson vanquishing UFC representative Chuck Liddell and Silva decisioning Hidehiko Yoshida in a classic encounter.
Depleted, tired and damaged, Jackson and Silva entered the famous Pride ring in front of almost 70,000 people at the Tokyo Dome to crown the tournament’s winner. Jackson was vying to solidify his spot as the world’s best after two years of climbing the Pride ranks and Silva was looking to silence his brashest foe.
Following one of the sport’s most famous staredowns of all time, the action was immediately intense with Jackson shooting a quick takedown on the flurrying Silva. Unfazed, ‘The Axe Murderer’ would quickly snatch a guillotine, forcing Jackson to hold him up against the ropes in order to avoid the submission.
In the Guard
Eventually Jackson would lower to the ground, breaking out of the choke and landing in Silva’s guard. Jackson would be quite active from top position in my view, throwing frequent body shots. The referee disagreed though, constantly warning Jackson for inactivity. Regardless, Jackson was having success until Silva quickly attempted an armbar, ‘Rampage’ would defend diligently nonetheless, coming out in side mount and landing heavy knees before returning to the guard for more consistent attacks.
Whilst Jackson wasn’t being overly aggressive, the referee’s criticisms did seem harsh and that issue escalated when he stood both fighters up and gave them yellow cards. Though questionable as a decision, it was a good move from an entertainment standpoint as the two men traded immediately with Silva nailing Jackson with heavy hooks.
It was Silva’s knees that made the difference though as he unleashed a barrage of brutal knees from the Muay Thai plum. One after another connected hard, some Jackson was even moving into. Desperate, Jackson pushed forward, trying to close the distance but another knee sent him backwards on shaky legs, Silva chased him with more knees before launching some soccer kicks at his now downed opponent. Somehow, ‘Rampage’ stood up again before Silva reengaged the clinch, pushing him back in the progress.
Then in one of MMA’s most iconic moments, the two almost stopped fighting and briefly looked at each other. Prior to closing the show, Silva wanted to take a moment to smile at his already beaten and battered rival, delighted at his work. Incredibly, Jackson smiled back.
Quinton out on his feet
It was one last show of defiance from a man out on his feet. An unforgettable visual. The fight was finished though and Silva released one final knee on the backed up Jackson before the referee mercifully stepped in, though he tried to complain, Jackson immediately fell. Wanderlei Silva was the 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix winner and the two men would embrace in a show of respect, for then at least. As we now know, the rivalry was far from over.
Almost inexplicably, ‘Rampage’ would return less than two months later, appearing on Pride Shockwave 2003 to finish Ikhuisa Minowa. In February 2004, Silva would also defeat Minowa, even if in admittedly briefer and much more violent fashion. There was an obvious intrigue in a potential rematch between Jackson and Silva due to the American’s early success and the impacting tournament circumstances.
Jackson also had felt that the referee’s stand up was unfair. Fortunately, he would get a chance at securing the rematch as he took on Ricardo Arona in a clash of top contenders. Arona was unable to enter the 2003 Grand Prix due to injury after being scheduled to meet Jackson in the quarterfinals, the fight would finally come to fruition in June 2004.
Outpowered and outsized, Arona would put faith in his revered Jiu Jitsu, bravely attempting to pull guard on more than one occasion. He would even have some success with hard upkicks too, forcing Jackson to respect his foe’s offence. Over seven minutes into the first round, Arona synched up a triangle choke,
Bas Rutten sees the Finish
With a sense of concern in his voice the legendary Bas Rutten remarked ‘now it’s dangerous, he’s got to get out’. Jackson would do just that and more, elevating Arona up into the air before slamming him into the mat. Arona was immediately unconscious and in an instant Jackson had secured his rematch as well as creating one of the sport’s greatest knockouts.
Silva would get another fight in of his own prior to the upcoming rematch as he brutalised Yuki Kondo with graphic stomps in August 2004. And so the championship rematch was set for October 31st 2004, slightly shy of a year since their first meeting. Just like last time, Jackson would take advantage of Silva’s wild early flurry and engage in the clinch, backing the champion to the ropes.
Jackson’s physicality was clear at close quarters as they exchanged strikes, both men’s focus was palpable. An accidental knee to the groin led to the men being separated and Silva was comfortable once again, letting go of a sharp combination. Jackson was equal to it though and showed a strong defence, shelling up very effectively.
Taking Silva’s Best
After taking many of Silva’s shots on his arms, ‘Rampage’ had some success of his own, throwing some punches before a sharp knee. Jackson was admirable in his aggression, backing the champion up and landing some solid punches. Silva would fire back though, briefly getting his Muay Thai plum which quickly sent Jackson backwards in apprehension.
As his confidence grew, ‘The Axe Murderer’ would unleash another trademark flurry and whilst Jackson’s defence was tight, the power was still enough to seemingly effect the challenger. Silva seized the opportunity, snatching the clinch and firing knees as he had a year prior. Jackson dealt with it much better this time though, landing a counter right hand before taking Silva down as the crowd roared in excitement.
A bad cut to Jackson caused a brief delay before the action continued with him inside Silva’s guard. From this position, the action wasn’t dissimilar to what we had saw here in the first fight, Jackson’s pure strength meant that he was hard to sweep or submit but Silva was good enough to control ‘Rampage’ and limit his ground and pound. Eventually, after eight minutes of fighting, the inevitable stand up came.
Revenge of the Axe Murderer
Knowing that he needed to make an impact, Silva would immediately launch some attacks. An exchange would leave the ‘Axe Murderer’ vulnerable as looked to counter though and Jackson would perfectly time a right hand, dropping the champion. Desperate to finish, Jackson would reign down with ground and pound from every position but Silva was tough as ever and made it to end of the first round.
The vicious exchanges would continue as soon as second begun with both men eager to land the first telling blow of the round. As hard as Silva was hitting though, Jackson could see the light at the end of the tunnel and pushed forward, eventually winding up on top once again.
This time though Silva found the sweep and quickly landed inside Jackson’s guard. After a slight stalemate on the mat, Silva would stand up to launch a stomp that thankfully missed Jackson’s head, the oncoming soccer kick wouldn’t though as Silva’s rampant onslaught continued. ‘Rampage’ was defiant though and clasped Silva’s ankle before using it to stand back up and grab the clinch once more.
As they disengaged from the clinch it was clear that both men were tired, however it was Jackson that seemed worse for wear. Clearly exhausted, Jackson’s offence was limited but his desire hadn’t wavered.
Landing the hard shots
Over three minutes into the second round, Silva would land with one of the hardest punches I’ve ever seen in an MMA fight. The champion had thrown it with all of his might and worst of all Jackson had walked into it.
Though it’s still to this day hard to comprehend how Jackson was still standing after it had landed, he was left a finished fighter regardless. Aware of the unrecoverable damage he had done, Silva chased the wobbled ‘Rampage’ with an attack of five knees, the last of which landed hard and sent the now unconscious Jackson through the ropes.
Few visuals better encapsulate Silva’s dominance than this one, a fighter as feared and revered as Jackson left motionless with blood pouring down his face as he hang helplessly through the ropes. Wanderlei Silva was still the Pride Middleweight champion and he was as vicious and violent as ever.
However, as far away as it may have seemed that night, Silva’s win streak would in fact be approaching its end when just two months later the champion would lose a close decision to the much bigger Mark Hunt. Jackson seemed visibly damaged following the fight too as he returned with a fortunate decision win over Murilo Rua following an uninspired performance.
Jackson’s stint in the 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix would be brief too, as he lost to Murilo’s brother Mauricio in the tournament’s opening round. The young ‘Shogun’ would brutally batter a seemingly declined Jackson, sending him out immediately in quite sad fashion. Silva would fare better in the stacked tournament, scoring two wins before losing in the semi-finals to the aforementioned Ricardo Arona.
Silva Vs Arona Pride FC 2006
It was a loss that Silva would avenge on record at least as he defeated Arona in a rematch two months later. Next Silva would replace Fedor Emelianenko in the Pride 2006 Openweight Grand Prix and he’d win his opening round match up in violent fashion, impressively finishing Kazuyuki Fujita. In the meantime Jackson had gotten himself back into the win column, closing out his memorable stint in Pride with wins over less than stellar competition.
Three weeks following Silva’s Fujita win, Jackson would make his WFA debut, winning a controversial decision against Matt Lindland. On the other hand, Silva’s run in the Openweight tournament proved to be ill-fated as he was viciously knocked unconscious against Mirko Cro Cop. Though he had already lost his unbeaten streak, it was here that Silva truly lost his aura of the invincible destroyer.
In February 2007, Silva’s bad form would continue too as he was once again knocked out, losing his Middleweight title in the process. This time his conqueror would be Dan Henderson and that would prove to be Silva’s final fight in Pride as the promotion was bought out by Zuffa.
By the time Silva’s debut came around in December 2007, lots had changed. For a start the UFC Light Heavyweight champion was none other than Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. Silva’s old rival had joined the UFC in December 2006 when the WFA was also purchased by Zuffa and was now 3-0 in the promotion. Jackson had made his UFC debut by avenging his 2000 loss to Marvin Eastman and took the title belt in just his second octagon appearance when he knocked out Chuck Liddell in under two minutes.
Quinton Jackson defeats Dan Henderson
Since then Jackson had even unified his crown with the Pride title when he ironically defeated the man that had taken Silva’s belt, Dan Henderson. Silva would lose his UFC debut too, coming up short in a classic fight against Chuck Liddell who was also coming off of a two fight losing streak, one that had been started by Jackson.
After almost two years without a win, Silva would finally score victory as he dramatically knocked out Keith Jardine in just 36 seconds. Six weeks later, Jackson would surprisingly lose his UFC title as he was outscored by Forrest Griffin in a close championship affair. Suddenly a third fight between Silva and Jackson simply made sense and so it was booked for December 27th 2008.
Following the Griffin loss Jackson would struggle with some issues in his personal life, leading to some questioning his decision to fight at all, let alone against the man that had damaged him so severely in the past. Silva hoped to put a definitive end to the rivalry and take the trilogy 3-0.
Jackson was motivated by his instinctual feeling that he could beat Silva on his best day and was determined to prove it after those losses had seemingly mentally scarred him due to their haunting brutality. The hype only grew as the weigh in staredown boiled over in intensity as Silva angrily shoved Jackson. In response Jackson only confidently laughed, a momentum shift had occurred in the ongoing mental game.
Silva vs Jackson UFC
Referee Yves Lavigne somewhat limited the staredown on fight night, smartly keeping distance between them. The intensity was still there though as a glove touch was mutually refused. Jackson came out aggressive early, launching a wild right hand as Silva circled using low-kicks in the hope to replicate Griffin’s success in his recent title victory over Jackson.
In quite uncommon fashion for a Las Vegas crowd, the atmosphere was electric even though the action was minimal. There was just a tension in the air. Silva was more cautious than he had been in the first two fights, content to use his low-kicks at range. ‘Rampage’ was patient though and happily waited for an opportunity.
Edging forward, Silva slowly began to push Jackson backwards before throwing a pair of hooks. Jackson had blocked them in a fashion similar to the way he had in the second fight but this time came back with his own left hook which landed callously clean as Silva carelessly loaded up on another shot.
Silva was immediately unconscious as the anxious Jackson landed some hard ground and pound on his motionless body. In a flash, Jackson had finally beaten his toughest rival five years after the first time of asking and he’d done it in the best fashion possible, with a brutal knockout. As Joe Rogan so timely said, “Revenge is sweet” and it showed in Jackson’s overjoyed celebration.
End of the axe Murderer
Exactly eight years later and it’s shocking that both men are still active, even if in Silva’s case it’s only on paper. ‘The Axe Murderer’ has fought six times since that night, winning three including a memorable knockout victory over Brian Stann in his last fight in March 2013. Controversy has kept Silva out of the cage since but rightly or wrongly, it seems he will likely be returning in 2017.
Jackson has been much more active and eventually fought himself back in position for a title shot, he would be unsuccessful though, losing to the then emerging superstar Jon Jones. The Jones loss would start a three fight losing streak before a recent five fight win streak that Jackson most recently added to in June 2016.
Regardless of what’s happened since, the rivalry between Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Wanderlei Silva is undeniably one of MMA’s greatest. Two naturally aggressive and bullish personalities that immediately butted heads, Jackson and Silva collided to make absolute magic inside the ring and cage. Excitement, drama and thrills, true memories were made.
The most violent series of fights in the history of the sport, Jackson and Silva literally left an impact on each other as well as those that watched along. So for that thank you Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and thank you Wanderlei ‘The Axe Murderer’ Silva, though you’re defined by much more than just this rivalry, it is unquestionably the source of many of your finest moments. To put it simply, thank you for the violence.
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