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London bouts to provide answers

Henderson-Jackson matchup will unify the light-heavyweight title for mixed martial arts.

September 08, 2007|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

LONDON -- Ultimate Fighting Championship's return to the motherland might've sold out simply for Michael Bisping, the Liverpudlian light-heavyweight whose entry to a March bout in Manchester loosed a roar that ransacked eardrums.

"I can't even remember going in there," he said Thursday. "The adrenaline was ridiculous."

Or UFC's return might've drawn attention simply for Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, the heavyweight Croatian legislator facing his first fight since that same night, when Gabriel Gonzaga's shocking kick to his parliamentarian head rendered him unconscious.

"I trained harder than ever," Filipovic said Thursday.

Still, the docket for the 20,000-seat O2 Arena in East London tonight boasts a bigger matter, one that rouses the word "history" from breathless commentators and even measured fighters.

"It's the biggest fight in mixed martial arts history," said the measured 37-year-old light-heavyweight Dan Henderson of Temecula, adding, "Definitely the biggest fight of my career."

Henderson's bout with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson does what critics long have moaned boxing doesn't do -- that is, merges the champions of two sanctioning bodies, unifies the titles and settles the debates.

Henderson, the champion in two weight divisions in the PRIDE organization, will oppose Jackson, the champion at 205 pounds in the UFC, with the winner holding the UFC title, what with UFC having gobbled up PRIDE last March.

Just before that purchase, the six-year ruler of PRIDE, Wanderlei Silva, had suffered a knockout loss to Henderson in Las Vegas on Feb. 24. Not so long after the sale, the acknowledged mastodon of UFC, Chuck Liddell, had gone down in a mere 1:53 to Jackson in Las Vegas on May 26.

"All anybody was talking about for years was Wanderlei versus Chuck, Wanderlei versus Chuck, Wanderlei versus Chuck," UFC President Dana White said, recalling when he couldn't get Wanderlei versus Chuck. "These are the two guys who knocked out Wanderlei and Chuck."

The guy who knocked out Chuck got booed for knocking out Chuck, so Jackson, a Memphis, Tenn., native who starred in Japan, alighted in London feigning relief at not having to "get booed after knocking somebody out, in my own country."

A reborn star at 29 after jettisoning old trainers, he delighted an audience pronto at a Docklands Museum news conference with his capable wit. He volunteered a response to a general question about a British Medical Assn. announcement that it hopes to ban mixed martial arts in addition to boxing.

"They need to ban the ballet," Jackson said. "It's very dangerous. Those guys can get a hernia or something. Those tight . . . pants. Who's with me to start a campaign to ban ballet?"

As parallel universes collide, White said, "Now we've got 'em all," then corrected himself to say, "We've almost got 'em all." He said, "We're a Fedor away from answering all the questions," a reference to Fedor Emelianenko, the PRIDE heavyweight champion who has not signed with UFC, even as PRIDE has drifted into inertia for want of a TV contract.

No such lack dogs UFC, with UFC 75 available on pay TV in the U.K. and delayed on cable TV's Spike in the U.S., and with an old TV rivalry reheating.

The unbeaten Bisping, the winner in the third season of the reality series "The Ultimate Fighter," will face the unbeaten Matt Hamill, the Cincinnatian he would've opposed in the show's semifinal had Hamill not injured himself while training with Bisping.

That will follow another glimpse at Houston Alexander, the Nebraska light-heavyweight who stunned Keith Jardine in 48 seconds in May (he'll face Italy's Alessio Sakara), and Filipovic, the heavyweight last seen prone in the Manchester cage and too woozy to lend any post-fight reflections.

--

THE FACTS

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (27-6) vs. Dan Henderson (22-5)

for UFC-PRIDE undisputed light-heavyweight title

Michael Bisping (14-0) vs. Matt Hamill (5-0), light-heavyweights;

Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (22-5-2) vs. Cheick Kongo (20-3-1), heavyweights.

* When: today.

* Where: O2 Arena, London.

* TV: Spike TV, 6 p.m. (delayed).

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