So how much "ring rust" can a fighter have after a 14-month layoff? After watching Quinton "Rampage" Jackson drop a unanimous decision to Rashad Evans at UFC 114, the answer is, "quite a lot."
Jackson was caught almost immediately by a shot from Evans. He recovered but it was clear from the beginning that Evans had a clear edge in speed and quickness that Jackson wouldn't be able to overcome.
Although Jackson was taken down on multiple occasions throughout the fight, he showed great skills making his way back to his feet. He also showed good ground-and-pound skills in the third round, despite the fact he was unable to finish Evans.
No one doubts Jackson's talent as a fighter, but he has now lost two of his last four fights. Forrest Griffin leg-kicked the title away from him, and now Rashad Evans out-quicked him for a shot against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua for the UFC light-heavyweight title.
In order to regain his title and sit atop the best division in the sport, Jackson needs to evolve as a fighter.
Jackson has always been known for powerful punching and good wrestling. He also may be the strongest fighter in the division. He needs to enhance his strong skills, while adding an array of weapons to make him a more complete fighter.
To start with, Jackson should be more aggressive with his wrestling. Everyone knows he is strong enough to power bomb his opponents, so he should work on his quickness to improve his wrestling take downs.
Jackson is a big light-heavyweight and he could use his size as a big advantage on top of his opponents on the ground.
Secondly, he should re-watch his fight with Griffin and implement more leg kicks into his arsenal. Leg kicks would slow down his opponents and diminish their punching power and also their ability to shoot in on him.
He has very good takedown defense, so he shouldn't be so worried about throwing kicks and possibly be taken down.
Finally, Jackson needs to work on his jiu-jitsu. Shogun Rua, Lyoto Machida, and Rogerio Nogueira are at or near the top of the light-heavyweight division. All three would own Jackson on the ground with their jiu-jitsu skills.
His power on the ground can be neutralized quite easily by fighters with dynamic submission skills. Jackson doesn't need to become a black belt, but having a strong jiu-jitsu base could go along way to making him a complete fighter.
So where does Rampage go from here? There are plenty of potential fights out there for him. A match-up with Lyoto Machida was brought up at the UFC 114 post-fight press conference, but that may be a fight Jackson doesn't want to take yet.
A re-match with Griffin could be exactly what he needs to get his career back on track.
Rampage Jackson could still be the vast majority of fighters in the light-heavyweight division with making no changes in his game.
However, if he ever wants to regain his belt again, he needs to realize that MMA is constantly evolving, and if he doesn't evolve with it, his best days are far behind him.
To read more by Jesse Motiff, click here .
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