Quinton Jackson should be facing Forrest Griffin, not Lyoto Machida

It is being widely reported that Quinton Jackson has verbally agreed to face Lyoto Machida in November. If the fight is made it will end an unusual standoff between the UFC and one its leading stars, with Jackson saying that he wasn’t interested in fighting Machida despite UFC President Dana White making it clear that Jackson-Machida was his preference. White went on record with his desire to see Machida be Jackson’s next opponent in the immediate aftermath of UFC 114 and its understandable why he would want to have the two losers from May’s blockbuster light heavyweight main events face off while we wait for injured World Champion Shogun Rua to be ready to face number one contender Rashad Evans. However while obvious on paper, Jackson vs. Machida doesn’t make sense.

At the heart of the fight is a clash of styles between the power punching of Jackson and the counterstriking of Machida, something that has already caused Jackson to raise fears that the fight will be ‘boring’. For Jackson the problem is that his aggression is likely to play into the hands of Machida’s counterstriking approach, something that Jackson has recognized by requesting more time to prepare for the fight. While Jackson has repeatedly talked about trying to move away from boxing and start using his Muay Thai more, it’s unlikely that he would’ve regained the fluency needed to exploit the holes in Machida’s game that Shogun exposed in October. For Machida while the fight may suit him stylistically, after the lack of composure he showed at UFC 113 there has to be question marks over whether he is mentally ready for such a high profile fight especially considering the pressure he will be under to avoid a third straight ‘defeat’. To me, Machida would benefit from being given space to regain his confidence and rhythm in a lower profile match before returning to co-main or main events. After all there’s no justification to rush Machida back into title contention, the bad decision made by the judges at UFC 103 gave him an undeserved second chance to retain his title and there’s absolutely no way he can be fast-tracked whilst Shogun is still champion.

Quinton Jackson on the other hand needs to be stimulated so that he remains engaged with the UFC and doesn’t get distracted again. Jackson may have fought infrequently over the past two years but one cannot ignore that he is the last fighter to have legitimately defended the Light Heavyweight World Title and lost that belt in a desperately close fight. He also remains one of the most popular and more marketable fighters in the division with his profile likely to further increase with the forthcoming international rollout of the A-Team movie. With his championship pedigree, marketability and how he lost an earned world title shot last year due to scheduling issues, it seems reasonable that he receives another opportunity in a contender final eliminator.

And there should be no mystery about whom Jackson should face in that fight as he already publicly asked for a rematch with Forrest Griffin. As a rematch of one of the closest title fights in UFC history, Jackson vs. Griffin II would have an obvious reason for happening other than simply being two unconnected top contenders vying for a title shot. Jackson protested loudly about losing the decision in the first fight and has been campaigning for a rematch ever since. Based on the first fight, there will be an expectation amongst fans that the second fight will be another all-out, entertaining brawl. And either fighter would match up well against whoever emerges as champion after Shogun Rua vs. Rashad Evans.

For Jackson, a title fight with Shogun would be a chance for them to renew the Pride rivalry between Jackson and the Rua brothers with Jackson having gone 1-1 against them in 2005, losing to Shogun but defeating his elder brother Murilo. And should both Evans and Jackson win then you would have a championship sequel to the biggest grudge match in UFC history. Should Griffin win, then a match with Shogun would allow Rua to finally avenge his disastrous promotional debut defeat at UFC 76 where the unfancied The Ultimate Fighter winner defeated the former Pride superstar by submission. Griffin vs. Evans on the other hand would be a rematch of the entertaining fight at UFC 92 where Griffin lost the title to his fellow TUF alumnus. It’s worth bearing in mind that both Evans vs. Jackson II or Evans vs. Griffin II would both be rematches of headliners that did around a million buys on PPV.

Forrest Griffin  fighting Quinton Jackson would give the UFC everything they need and the fans everything they want. It would most likely be exciting both in terms of the buildup and the fight itself. It would be a marketable fight, able to headline UFC 123 should neither the Middleweight Champion nor Lightweight Champion be available to defend so soon after their August fights. And whoever won it would create a popular, logical challenger to face either Shogun Rua or Rashad Evans. Whatever way you look at it, the logical fight to make is not Jackson vs. Machida but Griffin vs. Jackson II.

Follow Will Cooling on Twitter at twitter.com/willcooling

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