What to do with Rampage Jackson? That’s the question that will be on many fan’s tongues now that the former UFC light heavyweight champion has made a successful return to the world’s premiere mixed martial arts empire. And it’s a good question, but one that belies the complexity of the situation Rampage is in: despite winning, and winning strong over Fabio Maldonado Saturday night at UFC 186 in a unanimous decision, Jackson has a much bigger battle ahead of him, against former employer Bellator MMA, who would very much like to retain his services.

The contract dispute between the two has been talked to death, however, so for sanity’s sake, we’ll take a look at who Jackson should fight next in the UFC octagon. A little caveat, however: should Bellator prove successful and retain his services, they need to give Rampage an immediate title shot. Now that Emanuel Newton, a training partner of Rampage, is no longer the Bellator champ, it’s the only move that makes sense. He would be their biggest name, and as much as he’d likely hate new champ Liam McGeary’s style, business is business, and Jackson needs to be in big fights (the only other option for him, really, would be the bout with Tito Ortiz that the company originally tried to book when signing the pair of them).

In the meantime, lets examine who Jackson should be paired up with under the UFC banner.

Shogun Rua vs. Lil Nog Winner

This one is a no brainer. Who wouldn’t love a rematch of Shogun vs. Rampage from back in Pride, when the Brazilian soccer kicked an embattled Rampage against the ropes to end their bout in the first round at Pride Total Elimination 2005?

Then there’s Little Nog, Antônio Rogério Nogueira. Surprisingly, the two have yet to cross paths in their MMA careers.

In both cases, these are fighters somewhat past their prime (Rampage pretty much has the most left in the tank at this point), but from a nostalgia/fun fight standpoint, this is the fight to make. Both would also stand and trade with Jackson, which is exactly the type of fight he’s looking for.

Jimi Manuwa

Ranked eighth in the UFC light heavyweight division, Jimi Manuwa is coming off a bout with Jan Błachowicz that saw him win a rather one-sided unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 64. Prior to that, he endured the first loss of his career against Alexander Gustafsson.

While no one can say for sure where Jackson stands in the division, in Fabio Maldonado he beat the twelfth ranked fighter at 205lbs, and did so by employing a skill-set never before seen from Rampage, including a well-rounded attack utilizing kicks and elbows on top of his one-two combos and wild uppercuts.

In short, Rampage is showing signs of life late in his career that few expected, and with the jury still out on the ceiling for Manuwa, they could be a great test for one another.

Rafael Cavalcante

While “Feijao” is coming off a loss, he’s still a former Strikeforce champion who would represent, again, the type of opponent Jackson is looking for. Though he boasts a strong background in BJJ, Cavalcante has relied on his hands (and knees) for basically all of his professional MMA wins.

He hasn’t fought since last Summer, and is sort of in limbo at the moment, but is still a top fifteen ranked fighter, and enough of a name that he and Jackson could anchor a Fight Night event or co-headline a PPV card.

When all is said and done, however, it’s Jackson’s legal fight that is up next for the legend — and that very well may be the biggest fight of his career.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.