Bellator 120: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. “King” Mo Lawal Preview
Welcome to another addition of Fagan Previews Bellator, a weekly feature in which I, Mike Fagan, preview the upcoming card from my favorite MMA promotion, Bellator. This week is Bellator 120, marking the promotion’s first foray into pay-per-view! It’s an historic moment for MMA, and a celebration of Bellator, Bjorn Rebney, tournaments, Viacom, circular cages, Indian reservations, Spike TV, dogs with spikes through their head, #Hardwork and #Dedication, and Cole Konrad.
Bellator built this event around a trilogy fight between current-lightweight-champ Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler, who already cashed in two of the better fights in MMA history. This would qualify as a good pay-per-view co-main or great Fight Night main event in the UFC, but is, given the stakes*, arguably the biggest fight in Bellator history and their best possible offering for a PPV headliner to-date.
* – Besides the title and the rivalry, Alvarez’s next fight fulfills the contract he signed last August at the end of a long legal dispute. Alvarez, win or lose, is likely headed to the UFC, and doing so with the belt would be that much sweeter for him.
A concussion suffered in training forced Alvarez to pull out of the fight last week, leaving this card with a main event twice tainted by Emmanuel Newton. Chandler will instead fight Will Brooks, who was plucked from his originally scheduled fight against Nate Jolly. Brooks had already earned a shot at the winner of Alvarez/Chandler (meaning Chandler given Alvarez’s contract situation) after traversing the “Toughest Tournament in Sports” (against John Alessio, Saad Awad, and Alexander Samavskly) in 2013.
As for Alvarez, there’s some good and bad to take from this. The good: On pulling out of the fight, Alvarez told ESPN, “Thank God I have the people around me, because as a fighter, I probably wouldn’t have made that decision on my own.” In a sport in which nobody – not the promotions, not the commissions, not the corners – seems to care about the safety of the fighters, it’s refreshing to see a fighter praise his team for helping him make the responsible long-term choice.
The bad: From the same interview, “I actually got knocked out before the last Chandler fight. I got knocked out by a head kick. I didn’t go unconscious, but I had a little amnesia and I just took two weeks off from full contact.” Because MMA can’t have nice things. The knock against Alvarez, one of the most talented lightweights in the world, has been his chin. He’s been rocked or knocked down in most of the significant fights of his career, and that he’s also having issues in the gym (and this most recent concussion is the result of banging his head into Abel Trujillo’s hip while shooting for a takedown) raises even more red flags. Eddie turned 30 this past January and considering his concussion history and the 28 pro fights on his record, it’s hard to think he’ll be entering the UFC in his prime.
WHEN I SAY “KING” YOU SAY “MEH”
The Alvarez concussion debacle leaves Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and “King” Mo Lawal in a main event that’s about five years past its prime. That’s when something called FightLaunch released this series of “trash talk in a van” videos. Back then, Jackson was still fresh off a loss to Forrest Griffin that probably should have been scored a draw, and Mo was undefeated and hadn’t yet called an NSAC commissioner “a racist bitch.”
Jackson’s long past his prime now, having lost his smile sometime in 2011. The power’s still there, though, and the footwork when he’s feeling motivated. Which only partially explains why he’s a 5-2 favorite over a man two years younger with 29 fewer fights on his body and a style that should give Jackson all sorts of problems.
The other side of that equation is that Lawal has not only failed to meet his potential, he’s fallen well short of it. Most of the blame can be placed on a knee injury that’s seemed to zap most of the explosion on his takedowns. Some of the blame can be placed on a reliance on a striking style that doesn’t work all that well in MMA, and perhaps a reliance on his striking because of his diminished wrestling.
Still, I must admit a morbid sort of interest in this fight. For all their faults, Jackson and Lawal are charismatic personalities, and Jackson is one of the biggest stars of MMA’s second (or third?) wave. Not $40 interested, but interested nonetheless.
-Speaking of that second wave, Tito Ortiz meets middleweight Alexander Shlemenko at 205 pounds in what Bjorn Rebney calls a “weird, funky, freaky kind of a Cirque du Soleil-esque type of fight.” There’s been a lot of criticism of this fight, but this seems like pretty fine matchmaking to me?
-Official over/under on pay-per-view buys is 35,000.
Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter.