Rampage Jackson is arguably the biggest draw in Bellator. He’s also one of the biggest malcontents in the history of MMA. A few weeks ago Jackson seemed to be unhappy that Bjorn Rebney was out and Scott Coker was now the guy running Bellator. Jackson tweeted over the weekend that he met with Coker and “he is cool people” so hopefully everything is good between the two and we will see the former UFC light heavyweight champion back in the cage sometime later this year.
With World Series of Fighting nipping at Bellator’s heels for the #2 spot in the MMA hierarchy, Coker needs to do something to get people talking about Bellator again. WSOF has been very aggressive in signing big name free agents such as Jake Shields, Melvin Guillard and Jon Fitch recently. WSOF is now airing shows on NBC, and Bellator needs to be proactive and use their big names to keep rival promotions from gaining any traction. This is where Rampage comes into play, but where exactly does he go from here?
Now that Bellator has abandoned the tournament format they can pick and choose who will get a title shot. Jackson has expressed his disinterest in fighting 205 champ Emanuel Newton because the two share the same coach. And honestly that fight not happening is not a big deal. If Newton did fight Jackson and beat him it would really hurt his drawing power and that’s something that Bellator shouldn’t risk right now. Rampage doesn’t need the belt to sell pay per views or put butts in seats. That’s what Coker needs to keep in mind when he books Jackson’s next fight.
A rematch with King Mo makes a lot of sense too but Bellator should save that for another big show down the road. That fight is already made and will sell regardless if either man takes a loss in the next few months. It’s easy to sell grudge matches and Mo and Rampage have been jawing at each other off an on for years. There’s no need to rush the rematch; fans will want to see again it when it happens.
A fight with Tito Ortiz could be in the cards but neither man really needs to lose a fight right now if Bellator wants to keep them viable and not seen as a has been. Ortiz and Jackson were going to fight last year but an injury to Ortiz caused the bout to be canceled. It would be easy to book that fight and draw a lot of interest. But Ortiz is already viewed as being on the downside of his career due to winning only two fights out of his last eight. His last win was against a middleweight who came up to 205 and the bout looked like a sideshow due to Ortiz being so much bigger than his opponent. Ortiz should be fed a light heavyweight he can beat then have a showdown with Rampage.
If you look at Bellator’s light heavyweight roster there really aren’t any names that jump out at you that make you want to drop what you are doing to see fight Rampage. I’m not saying there aren’t any talented fighters in that weight class but outside of Rameau Sokoudjou there aren’t many guys that casual MMA fans know. And that is who Bellator should be trying to reach when they put Rampage back in the cage.
What Bellator should do is take Rampage’s popularity and over the top WWE-like persona and put him on TV. Bellator’s first reality show, “Fight Master” two years ago didn’t do very well in the ratings. But having Jackson front and center in his own show could really bring in not only hardcore fans, but also casual fans who know of Jackson from the UFC, TNA and his role in “The A-Team”. Call it “Fighting Rampage”.
Bring in 8 or 16 up and coming light heavyweights and set up a tournament similar to the Ultimate Fighter or Fight Master. You can even bring in Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture as opposing coaches if you wanted to bring in some more star power. Instead of getting a “six figure contract” or Bellator title shot, the winner of the show gets to fight Jackson at the end of the season. But the big twist is to have Rampage involved throughout the show. Have him present when each fight takes place. Let him coach one of the guys fighting, do play by play commentary, or conduct the post-fight interview where he can talk trash to the winner each week after the fight. Bellator should use his name recognition to their advantage and feature him somehow each week with the guys on the show.
They can add a “name” to the cast like Keith Jardine or Joey Beltran who have already lost to Rampage and want a shot to avenge the defeat. Bellator did something similar with Joe Riggs when they did Fight Master. He was hyped each week as the favorite to win the show. Do the same thing with a guy like Jardine or Beltran. If he wins, he’s supposed to. If not, they can talk about the guy who beat the “name” as he is progressing through the show and build up a new fighter to add to the roster after the show if he doesn’t win.
Whoever wins the tournament will be a new marketable fighter who Bellator could portray as Rocky to Rampage’s Apollo Creed. The winner of the show won’t be expected to beat Rampage, but if he does suddenly Bellator has another star to build around.
The show could air on Spike and each week they can hype upcoming Bellator events so the casual fans who are watching to see Rampage might tune in to see the Bellator product. There are so many ways that it could be done that it gets people talking about Bellator again.
If the show is successful it’s something Bellator can do once or twice a year with some of their bigger names. They could do the same thing with Tito in season 2.
Rampage is the biggest name Bellator has and Coker need to take advantage of that. If they throw him in a bout with another light heavyweight under contract like Laim McGeary or Malik Merad and he loses, Bellator will take a step backwards. A reality show featuring Rampage and a new generation of fighters would be groundbreaking and could potentially be a game-changer for Bellator.
Jackson seems pretty optimistic on Twitter about Coker, hopefully he knows something we don’t and it includes a reality show.