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'Career-Defining' Moment for Matt Hamill vs. Rampage Jackson

LAS VEGAS – Of all the fighters in the UFC's reasonably stacked light heavyweight division, Matt Hamill is among the hottest.

And despite five straight wins, he doesn't seem to mind being a little overlooked – for now. Sure, one of those wins was a disqualification victory against Jon Jones, Jones' only loss, on a technicality in a fight he was dominating. But Hamill has been asking for the kind of fights that will move him from middle-of-the-pack fighter to top contender.

Against Quinton Jackson on Saturday in the main event of UFC 130, a win would quickly elevate him in the division. Jackson is a nearly 3/1 favorite, but that doesn't bother Hamill (10-2, 9-2 UFC).

"I've probably been the underdog for the last five fights," Hamill said at Wednesday's pre-fight press conference at the MGM Grand. "I love to be the underdog."

A closer look at Hamill's history with the oddsmakers reveals that this is only the fourth time he's been an underdog in the UFC – and the first three were against his Season 3 housemate on "The Ultimate Fighter," Michael Bisping, Rich Franklin and Jon Jones. Along with Jackson, underdog status is understandable for all those fights.

But Hamill's point is not lost – he's kicked around in the middle of the division, and he's ready to make the leap. Count UFC president Dana White as someone who has noticed.

"Obviously Rampage Jackson is one of the best in the world at 205 pounds," White said. "This is a huge fight for Matt Hamill. He's had some good wins – he beat (Keith) Jardine, (Mark) Munoz, Tito (Ortiz). A win over Rampage would be huge. This is one of those career-defining moments for Matt Hamill should he be able to pull off the win on Saturday night."

Considering White also said a win by Rampage puts him "in the mix for a title shot," a Hamill upset could disrupt a potential title fight between Jackson and Jones.

But Hamill last week alluded to the stair-step mentality he has taken in his career. His dominant unanimous decision win at UFC 121 last fall over Ortiz, his coach on Season 3 of TUF, is what he believes pushed him to the level that has him a shot against Jackson, a former light heavyweight champ, on Saturday.

"It's going to help me improve my career," Hamill said through his translator. "Beating Tito definitely put me in line to get some big fights like this, and I knew I was ready for the next level. I'm just really glad I'm here."

It was a fight that Jackson initially didn't want much to do with, and Hamill said he understood why and didn't blame him – that Jackson should be taking on fighters in the Top 5. But when Hamill said his goal was to break Jackson's will, Jackson emerged from the land of apathy and got into the fight.

"I think Matt made a mistake when he actually said that he's going to break my will and that I'm going to overlook him," Jackson said. "It actually lit a fire up under my ass and made me try a little bit harder just so I can break his will – so I can make sure I outclass him. That's why I worked a lot on my wrestling, a lot extra on my cardio and extra on getting up off my back just in case he does take me down."

That's just where Hamill plans on taking the fight, saying he believes Jackson has become too reliant upon his standup game through the years and less focused on his wrestling. "That's why I want him," Hamill said.

Six straight wins in the light heavyweight division, a feat matched right now only by Phil Davis thanks to Jones' DQ loss, would be enough to put the upper echelon of the class on notice. Forget questions about Jackson's motivation for the fight. Hamill has his own motivation.

"I figured Rampage would be eying Rashad Evans or a rematch with Forrest Griffin or what have you," Hamill said. "I thought that Rampage would believe that this match is not in his league. But it's my next chance to prove that I am in his league."

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