Quinton “Rampage” Jackson has made no secret of his desire to leave the UFC, and it looks like he’s finally gotten his wish. It was announced on Tuesday that Rampage has signed a deal with Bellator MMA and will join a 205-pound division featuring newly crowned Bellator champion Attila Vegh, former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, and former UFC title contenders Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Vladimir Matyushenko. Rampage’s contract also includes cross-promotional opportunities with Total Nonstop Action (TNA), the professional wrestling brand owned by Bellator parent company Viacom.
The Bellator/TNA mash-up has been tried before, but the jury is still out on whether it really works. Lawal received a similar deal around this time last year but has gotten off to a slow start, having suffered through a plethora of injuries and an upset loss to relative unknown Emanuel Newton. To his credit, Rampage has a track record of crossover appeal, punctuated by his starring role in the 2010 remake of “The A-Team”. Jackson may be excited about the switch, but victories in his new undertaking will not come easily, whether they take place in a cage or a wrestling ring.
Most people haven’t had yet a chance to fully digest Rampage’s move, but the MMA community reacted with healthy dose of negativity when the King Mo experiment was first brought to the table. Truth be told, there is a certain aspect of animosity that many MMA fans feel toward professional wrestling, though it’s hard to put one’s finger on the reason. Perhaps it stems from MMA’s hard-fought and ongoing struggle for legitimacy, an endeavor that could be easily undermined by a perception that fights are “worked” (i.e. scripted, like in wrestling). I think this shows up in the intense anger that many fans now show toward Chael Sonnen, who began using WWF-style promotional angles during his first UFC middleweight title run.
But at the end of the day, pro wrestling is not a real threat to MMA. The two activities are really quite different, despite the fact that they may look somewhat similar to an untrained eye. MMA is a contest and a sport, where the outcome is uncertain and athletes compete in direct opposition to each other. Pro wrestling is more akin to theater, where the performers work together to put on a good show and tell a story to the fans. Rampage working for TNA is like Chuck Liddell appearing on “Dancing With the Stars”; it really has nothing to do with fighting.
So does Rampage’s signing with Bellator & TNA hurt the sport of MMA? In a word – no. But it will be interesting to see if he has what it takes to make a splash in the world of pro wrestling. Rampage may be a former UFC champion, but in the words of the great 16-time world champion Ric Flair: “this ain’t no garden party, brother, this is wrestlin’… where only the strongest survive”.