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Jackson is beyond dispute

UFC champion beats PRIDE's Henderson by unanimous decision to unify mixed martial arts light-heavyweight title.

September 09, 2007|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

LONDON -- The imposing fighter and gifted humorist Quinton "Rampage" Jackson has annexed an adjective unprecedented in the disputed world of mixed martial arts.

He's undisputed.

"I can't spell it," he said, "but I am it."

After years of dogged quibble when the sport mushroomed into a phenomenon with separate, elite leagues, it figured that dispute could linger through an East London Saturday night.

So it did, through five taut, tense, tactical rounds between the Ultimate Fighting Championship's light-heavyweight champion, Jackson, and the PRIDE division's light-heavyweight champion, Dan Henderson. Advantage came hard. Two mutually respectful friends spent extended phases clotted on the mat or against the fences, pressed against each other.

From the occasional punch flurries, Jackson learned that Henderson has "a rock head."

"Man, my fists hurt right now," he said, but his feelings certainly didn't, what with three judges having unanimously ruled him the champion at 205 pounds, a distinction he holds alone for now as UFC grinds toward unification in all five divisions after its late-winter purchase of PRIDE.

While the Irvine-based Jackson spoke of fearing his Temecula-based friend could "knock me out if I went out there half-stepping," Henderson grinned and said of Jackson, "I don't think he thought I was his friend out there."

While Henderson (22-6-2), the first man to hold belts in two weight divisions, remains the PRIDE middleweight champion, he feels comfortable at light-heavyweight and plans to remain. For his part, Jackson (28-6) plans to "whup up on the folks that whupped up on me in the past."

Queried for names, he said, "Anybody who's whupped up on me in the past." He claimed to like everything about London but the currency-exchange rate.

A sellout crowd of 16,235 in O2 Arena that broke the Rolling Stones' merchandising record also ate up Jackson's protracted entry to the building, photographed him en masse in his trademark chain-link necklace and cheered his victory even after it whistled through some of the fight's stagnant moments.

It also seemed respectful of both fighters and amenable to the verdict, a departure from the previous fight on a night of loopy judging, a "Cro Cop" flop and a very hot Houston.

For questionable judging, the night had the light-heavyweight attraction of Michael Bisping from Liverpool and Matt Hamill of Cincinnati, former rivals from the third series of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show.

The former collegiate champion wrestler Hamill had entered the ring to Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," before Bisping entered to another gigantic roar from fellow Britons and the Clash's "London Calling."

From the get-go, Hamill was the aggressor and seemed the better fighter, even as the crowd implored Bisping to rally in the closing half-minute. Having lampooned Hamill as "probably the most one-dimensional fighter in UFC" in the pre-match video, Hamill rendered Bisping almost a no-dimensional fighter, often chasing him around. At the conclusion, one of Hamill's coaches picked him up in celebration.

Yet when judges Cecil Peoples and Jeff Mullen went for Bisping, 29-28, while judge Chris Watts went for Hamill, 30-27, many spectators booed.

As Marshall Zelaznik, president of UFC's United Kingdom division, reassured reporters that "two professional judges" made the decision, Bisping bristled at any doubt of the decision, saying, "Don't insult me. . . . Seriously. You want to go three rounds?"

No such doubt visited the heavyweight bout between France's Cheick Kongo and Croatia's Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, as the Croatian member of parliament made it 0 for 2 in England in 2007. Unlike in April in Manchester against Gabriel Gonzaga, he did not take a kick to the head and topple unconscious, but he did pose no threat against Kongo, whose victory was unanimous.

Similarly, doubt hasn't come within a shout of Houston Alexander lately. His two UFC bouts have lasted a collective 1:49, with two strong opponents felled. First was Keith Jardine in 48 seconds in May in Las Vegas; Saturday it was Italy's Alessio Sakara in a ferocious 1:01 that delighted the audience.

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