It’s not a fifty-something vs. a guy in his mid 40s. Nor is it a former UFC fighter who hasn’t won in several years. After disastrous headlining fights like Ortiz vs. Bonnar, Shamrock vs. Slice, and Shamrock vs. Gracie 3 (not to mention the debacle that was Slice vs. Dada 5000), Bellator has finally booked a “fun” fight (it can’t really be called a freakshow) that works: Rampage Jackson vs. Satoshi Ishii.

The Rampage saga has been a long, twisted journey. Quinton Jackson, after losing to Jon Jones at UFC 135, became very vocal in his dissatisfaction with the UFC. Following losses to Ryan Bader (in Jackson’s second home of Japan no less) and Glover Teixeira, he would cut ties with the promotion, and sign with Bellator in 2013. He immediately made an impact, winning three straight fights over Joey Beltran, Christian M’Pumbu, and in Bellator’s first and only PPV event to date, King Mo.

However, the victory dance at Bellator was short lived. Soon after the PPV event, CEO Bjorn Rebney was cut loose by Viacom, and Scott Coker was brought on board. Their relationship with Jackson, who had been a Rebney guy, once shouting to all that would listen that Rebney fixed his knees, soured. Jackson didn’t seem interested in a title fight (at the time, the belt was held by Emanuel Newton, a sometimes training partner of Jackson). Beyond that, he claimed Bellator had failed to live up to various promises made in his contract, including movie deals and the disclosure of PPV buy rates. Believing the contract void as a result, Jackson re-signed with the UFC, in one of the most surprising fighter moves in MMA history.

Bellator, of course, didn’t take it sitting down. They immediately took the matter to court, seeking an injunction against Rampage to stop him from fighting for the UFC. That injunction was lifted at the eleventh hour in April 2015, allowing Jackson to fight at UFC 186, where he wailed on Fabio Maldonado for three rounds. After that victory, however, it was back to court — and Jackson publicly contemplated retirement.

Instead, a settlement was reached, a two fight deal with Bellator, with no matching clause. After two fights, Jackson will be a free man. The first of those two fights? A headlining bout against Japanese heavyweight and Olympic gold medalist Satoshi Ishii.

Now that’s a step in the right direction. Ishii might be coming off a loss in Rizin, and isn’t the biggest name in North American MMA, but for years, he has represented one of the better talents in the heavyweight division not signed by a major promotion. Until the Rizin fight, his only losses were to Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko Cro-Cop (twice), plus a goose egg in his first ever pro fight against Hidehiko Yoshida. 14-5-1 as a pro, Ishii holds wins over Jeff Monson, Pedro Rizzo, Tim Sylvia, Nick Rossborough, Phil De Fries — basically, a tour of ex-UFC guys.

However, solid money in Japan seemed to keep him out of the U.S., even as the UFC and other promotions began to show interest. Now, Bellator — no doubt thanks in part to their relationship with Rizin — has snagged the judoka for a fight with Rampage on American soil. A fight he very well could win, though the smart money remains on Jackson.

No matter who wins, however, this is the sort of fight Bellator needs for its tentpole events. Jackson’s name is big enough to lure in casual viewers, and he’s on a legit four-fight win streak. Is he about to knock out Jon Jones? No, but who is? Back in the UFC, he’d still hang in the top ten, and remains an entertaining figure. In Bellator, he’s championship material, but it doesn’t seem to be something he’s interested in, so Ishii is a smart move. Hardcore MMA fans know him, and as for the rest — they’ll just tune in to see Rampage throwing bombs anyway.

What it won’t be is a trainwreck on the level of the recent Slice and Shamrock fights. Realistically, it’s a solid fight that doesn’t harm anyone in Bellator’s heavyweight or light heavyweight divisions, the ranks of which are still pretty thin. And should Ishii decide to stick around in Bellator for a while, he’d make a welcome addition to either weight class.

As for Jackson, after his two bouts are up, he’ll probably head back to the UFC — but you never really know for sure.

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.