Welcome back to another edition of Championship Rounds here on Wrestling Rambles.  It’s that time of the week when we put all the WWE and TNA talk to one side and take a look at five big stories in the world of Mixed Martial Arts.

It’s been a busy week for the UFC as a big upcoming PPV fight is cancelled, numerous fights have been announced and there’s some interesting news on proposals to change the threshold for drug test failure as it relates to the use of marijuana.

The biggest story of the week came away from the UFC as Bellator, Spike TV and TNA Wrestling announced a free agent signing of one of the true superstars of MMA and a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion.

So sit back, relax and join me for another edition of Championship Rounds.  Let’s touch gloves and do this.

Round 1 – Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson signs multiyear contract with Bellator MMA, TNA Wrestling and Spike TV.

The wrestling world was buzzing with speculation this week after TNA President Dixie Carter tweeted that TNA Wrestling had signed a huge free agent talent.  Unfortunately her announcement was greeted with a healthy dose of sarcasm and derision from fans online.  In recent years Dixie has become famous for regularly tweeting about ‘huge announcements’ or ‘major game changing signings’ for TNA.  Only for the ‘huge announcement’ to be that TNA had changed the soap in the men’s bathroom and the ‘major game changing signing’ is the walking abomination that is Brick Hogan (my pet name for Hulk’s daughter).  In other words, Dixie has a tendency to overhype anything to do with TNA, to the point where many fans now see her as the MILF who cried wolf.

So when she teased a major free agent signing, the more jaded TNA fans reacted with jokes and rolled eyes.  While those TNA fans who don’t live in the reality the rest of us do, speculated in a wildly inaccurate fashion about the likes of Batista or Goldberg signing with TNA.  Some even thought it could be The Rock – seriously, some people actually thought The Rock would sign with TNA…and we wonder why non wrestling fans think we’re all retarded.

Anyway, not to sound like too much of a ‘told-you-so-twat’ (and I’m going too) but I did correctly predict who the big signing was a few days before it was announced.   That’s why, when the news broke this week that former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson had signed a multiyear contract with Bellator MMA, TNA Wrestling and Spike TV, I was rushing around proclaiming myself to be some kind of all-knowing guru on subjects such as these.

I’m not, I just noticed Dixie mentioned the summer in her tweet, realised Bellator are back for their summer season, had heard rumblings that Jackson would soon announce he had signed for a new promotion after leaving the UFC at the end of his contract in January and knew that realistically Bellator are the only promotion that can afford Rampage.  So while I could pretend I have some kind of insider knowledge, I don’t really, it was just an educated and somewhat lucky guess.  At least I didn’t think it was The Rock.  Anyway, everyone knows he’s really going to ROH.

While most wrestling fans stood around scratching their heads and wondering why it was a big deal that the guy who played BA in the A-Team movie had signed for Bellator and TNA, fans of MMA understood what a huge signing this was in the continued efforts by Spike TV to raise the profile of both Bellator and TNA.

Jackson was one of the UFC’s biggest stars after joining the promotion following a successful career with PRIDE in Japan.  He joined the UFC in 2006 and quickly became a fan favourite thanks to his superstar charisma, tremendously entertaining interviews, trademark giant chain around his neck and wolf-like howl as he walked to the cage (all character traits he took from his favourite wrestler as a child – The Junkyard Dog).  He also had a tendency to knock people the fuck out – always an easy way to become popular in professional cage fighting.

Rampage’s Title unification fight with former PRIDE Light Heavyweight Champion Dan Henderson on Spike TV in 2007 was a huge ratings success (over 5 million viewers) and went along way to solidifying Jackson as a MMA superstar.  It’s still the third most watched fight on cable TV some six years later.  The season he coached opposite Rashad Evans on The Ultimate Fighter drew the biggest ratings in the show’s history (although some credit for those big ratings should go to internet sensation Kimbo Slice who was one of the competitors).

His eventual fight with Evans drew around 1 million buys on PPV.  It was one of the most entertaining and heated feuds in UFC history, with Jackson’s legendary trash talk reaching new heights.  His proclamation that the fight between them was going to be an example of ‘black on black crime’ is one of the most infamous audio clips in UFC history.  The issue of race between two black fighters was one of the more controversial aspects of the build up to the fight and helped to add fuel to the fire which resulted in the huge PPV number.

During his UFC career Rampage scored big knock out wins over fellow MMA superstars Chuck Liddell (to win the Light Heavyweight Title) and his biggest rival from their days in PRIDE, Wanderlei Silva.  His brawler style and great promos made him a star in the UFC.  The promotion made Jackson a millionaire, although he would always make headlines by complaining the company didn’t show him enough respect and pay him the money he believed he was due.  He was miserable during the final year of his contract and seemed to be burnt out from the rigours of competing at the elite level in MMA.

He made his biggest headlines when he drove his giant truck – complete with a drawing of his own face on the side – the wrong way through the streets and on the pavements of Las Vegas.  This incident came on the heels of his UFC Light Heavyweight Title loss to Forrest Griffin – a loss which caused Rampage to go into a very real mental breakdown.  He caused chaos and a lot of damage to property before being chased down and arrested.

Jackson was lucky to avoid jail time for this dangerous incident which did result in tragedy when a pregnant woman, who was driving a car that was rear-ended by Jackson’s truck, suffered a miscarriage.  She sued Jackson but was unsuccessful when medical evidence proved the collision was not the cause of her miscarriage.  Somehow Jackson came through this and remained a highly popular member of the UFC roster.

Jackson’s UFC career did tail off in recent years, with a three fight losing streak and some poor performances.   Although losing to Jon Jones, Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira is hardly something to be embarrassed about.  He was still facing elite level fighters but many questioned if his stand and bang style could still be successful in the modern MMA world, where game-plans and being able to work on the ground have become a central part of the fight game.

To add to his woes, Jackson struggled with weight issues between fights and carried a lot of injuries into his final fights with the promotion.  While his success inside the cage had waned in recent years, his ability to sell a fight and project his larger than life personality was still valuable to the UFC and that has been recognised by Bellator and TNA.

“Rampage is a true superstar both inside and outside the MMA cage,” Bellator CEO and chairman Bjorn Rebney said. “The partnership that we’ve created with Quinton is unlike anything that’s ever been done in the sports and entertainment arena and Rampage is the perfect athlete/entertainer to carry it off.”

The deal Rampage has signed is similar to that of fellow MMA fighter King Mo Lawal, in that Jackson will fight for Bellator and also make appearances in TNA.  He is expected to debut on TNA IMPACT shortly and is likely to fight for Bellator in the autumn.  Although where Jackson fits in Bellator’s tournament format is another issue.   He is a star attraction (an expensive one at that) and it would seem foolish for Bellator to throw him into a tournament where he could potentially be eliminated early in a shock – as happened to King Mo.  There are also questions over if his body could withstand the Bellator tournament schedule.

Jackson is a lifelong wrestling fan and while it isn’t clear if he will work matches, his superstar charisma and promo ability will be more than enough to allow him to stand out in TNA.  What he brings to TNA, apart from his superstar status and unique personality, is a real fighter aura that casual MMA fans know and are entertained by.  TNA will hope Jackson is able to bring those MMA fans to TNA to watch him in action.  Bellator will be hoping that Jackson is able to bring fans from TNA to Bellator, in a similar (although on a much smaller scale) way to Brock Lesnar when he left WWE and eventually signed for the UFC.

Where Jackson’s deal differs from King Mo’s is Spike TV have announced they are producing a reality series with him as the feature personality that is scheduled to air on Spike TV before his Bellator debut.

“We are thrilled to create this opportunity for one of the greatest athletes and personalities in MMA,” Spike TV president Kevin Kay said. “Rampage is a proven ratings driver who brings incredible star power to both Bellator and TNA.”

It’s fair to say those TNA fans that don’t follow MMA may not be overly impressed or excited by this signing.  However those of us who follow MMA and know what Rampage can bring to the table in terms of charisma and star power, see this as a great move for both TNA and Bellator.  Granted, questions remain about how Jackson will perform in the twilight of his career and just exactly what his role in TNA will be.  As King Mo has shown, you can’t just walk into wrestling and immediately start having matches on TV.  Will Jackson be willing to start from the bottom and learn a whole new craft?

Whatever the eventual outcome is, this has to be seen as a positive move for both promotions.  It’s also a gamble but one that’s worth making.  MMA and wrestling are star powered businesses and in Jackson, Bellator and TNA have signed one of the biggest stars available today.  Expect much more on this story in the coming weeks and months.

Round 2 – UFC working increase allowable threshold for marijuana use.

It’s no secret that a lot of people smoke pot.  In fact I would go so far to say that over the last twenty years it has almost become socially acceptable to do so.  While it is, of course, still an illegal drug, the attitudes towards its use a recreational drug have softened in recent years.  The drug has been reclassified in the UK (for a time) and in the US the medicinal use of marijuana has increased in the more liberal states.

MMA fighters are no different from the rest of the populous and in fact the use of pot appears to be significantly higher (pardon the pun) within the MMA community.  Many fighters smoke pot because of its pain killing effect.  They use it to unwind and to help them relax after spending all day training their body and mind to beat the crap out of someone.

The issue of drug use in sports is one that is both contentious and unfairly balanced.  While there’s no doubt that a completely drug free sport would be the preferred options of fans, media and regulators, that is never going to happen.  The question is should every drug and its use be treated the same across the board?  At the moment that is the case and smoking a joint weeks before a fight has cost many fighters hundreds of thousands of dollars in win bonus and time away from the sport on suspension.

It is not a question of fighters entering the cage while high.  The issue at hand is how long pot takes to leave your system and whether or not having trace amounts of marijuana metabolites (the chemical compounds that make up pot) should be punished in the same way as someone who is pumped full of performance enhancing steroids or Human Growth Hormone.

The unbalanced and some would say unfair system that is currently in place is being addressed by the UFC.  As of last Friday UFC officials announced they are raising the testing threshold for marijuana metabolites from 50 ng/mL to 150 ng/mL, following in the footsteps of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“When we self-regulate around the world, we are going to go the WADA standard of 150,” said UFC Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner. “So we’re starting that immediately.”

This decision will cover all UFC regulated international events, including events held in Brazil, and it is intended to address the current unbalance in the system.

Likewise, “preliminary talks seem to indicate” a recommendation will be sent for the Nevada State Athletic Commission to consider raising its own testing threshold from 50 ng/mL to 150 ng/mL, as discussed by the NSAC Steroid and Drug Testing Advisory Panel.

“It could be 10 years from now when the commission will say it’s not the right number, or two years from now, because I can easily see where that would change,” said panel member Dr. James Nave. “Maybe it’s 400. … It’s a different ballgame now. Society is different and everything is different.”

In addition, the Panel deliberated over several proposals to revise the NSAC’s policy on testing for performance enhancing drugs, including considerations to lower the legal testosterone-to-epitestosterone level from 6:1 to 4:1, as well as “the addition of testing for human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), recommendations to require a hematologic passport (or hematocrit) and the requirement for out-of-competition tests to include both urine and blood samples.”

According to the report, an official proposal is expected to be drafted within the next few weeks and introduced to the NSAC in July.

“I want to commend the committee,” Ratner said in closing. “This goes along with the UFC’s thinking, as well as my own, that we’re moving progressively to the future, and times are changing.”

Any efforts to bring a more fair and balanced drug testing system when it comes to the use of marijuana should be welcomed.  It seems ludicrous that someone can smoke a joint a month before a fight, not be affected by it in any way during a fight, win that fight and then fail a drugs test due to tiny amounts of a chemical compound still being present in the fighter’s system.

Granted, you may feel that if a drug is illegal you shouldn’t use it, but let’s not pretend this is some kind of perfect utopia where people don’t use pot as a recreational drug, in the same way many millions of people use alcohol – a much more harmful drug and one that causes serious health and social problems.

It’s also encouraging to hear that the threshold for testosterone could be reduced.  The use of TRT (testosterone replacement therapy) in fighting is one of the most contentious issues surrounding the sport today.  There’s no doubt that using testosterone allows fighters to train harder, heal quicker, increase their muscle mass and heightens their aggressiveness.  Isn’t that a much more dangerous drug to allow in a sport where the aim is to knock out or submit your opponent?  Hopefully this is the first step towards a fair and balanced system that benefits the fighters and the sport they compete in.

Round 3 – UFC on Fox Sports 1 card gets headline fight.

When Dana White stated that the UFC’s debut show on the new Fox Sports 1 channel would be the best televised card they had ever produced, you would be forgiven for doubting this as little more than the usual hyperbole from a promoter.  Over the last few weeks the card has begun to take shape and while arguments could be made about its place as the UFC’s ‘best’ televised card, it’s certainly has the potential to be right at the top of that list.

This week the main event for the show, which will take place in TD Garden in Boston on 17th August, was announced.  In a fight that came about due to an injury to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, his would be opponent at UFC161, Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua will now face the UFC’s premier trash talker and FOX’s favourite fighter, Chael Sonnen.

This fight was originally scheduled to replace the Rua vs. Nogueira contest at UFC161, but due to logistical issues the fight was pulled from the PPV card and will now headline UFC’s debut show on Fox Sports 1 in August.

“We were going to fight in Winnipeg (at UFC 161). We ended up moving the fight, they pulled ‘Shogun’ off the card completely. They’re going to match us up in a couple months,” Sonnen said on FUEL TV’s UFC Tonight.

On his much talked about fight with Wanderlei Silva, which had been expected to be Sonnen’s next fight, he said this to say:

“Look, I went after Wanderlei, and I was quite candid. I went after Wanderlei because he was the worst guy I could find. Record-wise, in fairness, he’s the worst fighter in the UFC. And I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking, ‘What about ‘Cro Cop?’ You’re right, ‘Cro Cop’ was terrible. But Wanderlei’s record is actually a little bit worse. I couldn’t get Wanderlei, so I’m going, ‘Look, why don’t I just do this — why don’t I just fight the guy that destroyed Wanderlei for years in the practice room,’ and that brings us to ‘Shogun.’

“I like ‘Shogun.’ I have nothing against ‘Shogun.’,” Sonnen continued. “This is just good, solid competition. But Wanderlei did this to you, ‘Shogun.’”

With both men coming off losses (Sonnen to Jon Jones and Rua to Alexander Gustafsson) it’s a match up that has certainly been booked with TV ratings in mind, as opposed to one that will have serious ramifications for the division.  As has been said earlier, the UFC is a star driven sport and, for better or worse, there are few bigger stars than Sonnen.

Some of the other stand out fights announced so far for the huge show on Fox Sports 1 include:

Conor McGregor vs. Andy Oglem:  The Irish sensation McGregor (13-2 record with 12 knockouts, 10 of which have come in the first round) faces off with a tough Englishman who made his name on The Ultimate Fighter.  With a huge Irish population in Boston, coupled with this undeniable charisma and exciting fight style, a win or even just a great performance could make McGregor into a star, especially in his native Ireland.

Uriah Hall vs. Nick Ring:  A massive test for the man who should have won the last season of TUF.  Hall looked like an unstoppable killing machine during TUF, but was incredibly disappointing in the live finale.  In Ring he faces a tough and experienced fighter.  Will we see the Uriah Hall who put four men in the hospital during TUF, or will it be Ring who once again spoils the Hall party?

Michael McDonald vs. Brad Pickett:  Two of the premier bantamweight fighters in the world clash in a hugely significant fight for the division.  McDonald is coming off his first loss in MMA to the division’s Interim Champion Renan Barao while Pickett looked great in his recent win over Mike Easton.  This is another fight that has the potential to steal the show.

Round 4 – Michael Bisping undergoes eye surgery, out for six months.

After his controversial win over Alan Belcher at UFC159 following a nasty eye poke, UK fighter Michael Bisping has not been short of potential opponents.  Rich Franklin, Luke Rockhold, Constantinos Philippou and Cung Le have all called out the Manchester-based fighter in recent weeks.

They will all have to wait for their chance to clash with Bisping as he faces a long period on the side lines.  In a strange turn of events it is Bisping who suffered an eye injury (a detached retina) against Belcher and will be out of action for around 6 months.  Belcher, who looked to have sustained a serious eye injury following the accidental poke by Bisping, ended up with a gash on his eye lid which required stitches, but nothing more serious.

Bisping will also undergo a minor surgery to repair slight nerve damage in his neck.  With Bisping on the side lines the middle weight division will certainly be a quieter place.  He should have no problem securing a fight when he makes his return towards the end of the year.

Round 5 – Two major fight announcements.

This week the UFC confirmed two major fights for upcoming cards.  In the welterweight division a fight with potential title ramifications was announced as Carlos Condit and Martin Kampmann will headline a UFC event at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on 28th August.

Condit and Kampmann have clashed before with Kampmann coming out on the winning end of a razor close decision back in 2009.  Both men have recently lost to Jonny Hendrix and a win will help push them back up the rankings and toward a Title shot against the winner of the potential title fight between champion GSP and Hendrix.  This should be a phenomenal fight between two excellent strikers.

While in the Lightweight Division UFC officials confirmed that Benson Henderson will defend his Title on PPV for the first time since mid-2012 against TJ Grant at UFC164 on August 31 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Henderson has been the face of UFC on FOX with two recent Title defences on TV against Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez.  Grant secured his Title shot with a recent win over Grey Maynard at UFC160 last month.

It will be interesting to see if this Title defence follows the usual Henderson formula – either completely outclassing his opponent (Diaz) or a razor close decision that is hotly debated (Edgar, Melendez).  This is a huge opportunity for TJ Grant who is an unknown fighter to all but the most hardcore of fans.  A win for Grant over the popular and highly skilled Henderson would go a long way to bringing him out of the shadows.

So there we have it folks, another week and another edition of Championship Rounds is in the bag.  I’ll be back next week with a review of the TUF Brazil Season 2 finale and four other stories from the world of MMA.

As always, feel free to share any comments or thoughts you’ve got on these stories, or anything else that’s going on in the world of MMA.  You do that here and you can contact me directly on Twitter which is @MFXDuckman.

Also don’t forget, if you’re a wrestling fan, you can hear me and my partner-in-crime Sir Ian Trumps dissecting the week in wrestling in a comedy fashion on the Marks for Xcellence Podcast.  Just check out the podcast page here or head over to www.mfxpodcast.com for the latest and all the previous episodes.  We’re the crystal meth of wrestling podcasts – try us once and you’ll be hooked for life!

Thanks for reading.

Until next time…