After the purchase, and later shutdown, of Pride Fighting Championships by Zuffa many moons ago the first thoughts of many were to all the potential dream fights that could happen. Pride may have been shut down, of course, but the best fighters in the world would be making their way over. There was plenty of reason to be excited; no longer would the best in the world be separated by major companies.
Now we could have the best all in one place, where MMA began, and there were any number of high profile fighters that people were enthusiastically waiting to come over.
The potential of Fedor challenging for the UFC title, Cro Cop head-kicking heavyweights into unconsciousness inside the Octagon, fresh matchups for Chuck Liddell in Shogun Rua and Wanderlei Silva alongside a wide array of top tier fighters like Dan Henderson and others migrating over to the UFC was unprecedented. The excitement was something else, too, as now the debates between MMA fans could be settled. All the dream matchups at the time would take place. In the rush, however, one man was overlooked. The most intriguing fighter in all of this, the one not nearly as many people thought of at the time, was Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
Jackson was straight out of central casting for UFC fans. Howling in victory, walking to the cage in camouflage shorts with an oversized chain around his neck, Jackson did two things exceptionally well inside the cage: knocking guys out and slamming them from top position if he couldn’t do the former. There was an authenticity to him that not many fighters had: when he spoke it wasn’t him getting character like Chael Sonnen or giving you an image of who he thinks you want like Jon Jones. He was just Quinton Jackson, nothing more.
If there was a guy who one imagines that Vince McMahon drooled over on the MMA scene it’d have been Jackson. Insanely charismatic as a start, Jackson had all the tools to be a top tier guy but hadn’t shown it yet. He did own a victory over Liddell four years prior to his UFC debut, of course, but he had losses to guys who were then at the top tier of the division. Jackson was in the same spot as Josh Thomson is now in the Strikeforce merger: potentially a title challenger but hadn’t quite shown it yet. And then something magical happened: he opened his fight career with two epic knockouts, winning the UFC title over ESPN the Magazine cover-boy Liddell in the latter.
The sky seemed to be the limit for Jackson, who would coach “The Ultimate Fighter” against Forrest Griffin (who had stunned Rua with a last second submission), and going into the Griffin fight it seemed almost perfunctory. Griffin wasn’t in his league and the Rua win seemed like a fluke given Rua’s knee injury. Jackson, who had survived the storm that is Dan Henderson to unify the Pride and UFC titles, was on top of the world. He was clearly the best LHW out there, a star in the making and someone people thought of as being able to close in on Tito Ortiz’s record for title defenses.
An off performance against Griffin cost him his title … and Jackson never really got back to the summit. In fact Rampage hasn’t been the same since. It’s a tale of two fighters struggling to come to grips with one career.
On the one hand he talks about finding his groove and taking the UFC light heavyweight title again after coming up short against Jon Jones the first time. Jackson still feels like he could be the best in the world and wants to win the belt. There’s a side to him that still wants to be the best in the world, to hold that title and for that brief moment be recognized as the best of the world. It’s why he’s gone on record as saying he could beat Jon Jones if they matched up a second time. It’s the talk of someone who thinks they still have time as an elite fighter remaining in their career. Jackson still sees himself as a Top Five fighter in the division, as do most people, and wants to fight for the big checks against the best guys. He wouldn’t complain about money, et al, if he was just fighting for a check.
He even got a shot at the champ and was thoroughly dominated by the Jackson’s MMA product; Jon Jones tooled the former Pride stalwart and choked him out after out-classing Jackson for the bulk of the fight. He’s now a contender, waiting in line to try and get another streak together in a division being quickly thinned out. Or at least that’s what his career arc would dictate. Ja\
Jackson is an oddity in that he has all of these desires to be the best … and then he complains that he’s just matched up with wrestlers and not allowed to be “exciting” in mismatches, et al. He speaks about how he dislikes Ryan Bader’s style and that he “sucks” despite losing a one-sided decision to him because the fight was “boring.” Apparently Jackson has a problem in that Bader fights to win as opposed to entertain the “Just Bleed” types that Jackson seemingly wants to cater to at this point in his career. Jackson’s complaints are fairly legendary at this point; first and foremost is that he’s not making enough money and unnamed promoters are offering him significantly more (per Jackson, mind you) to fight outside the UFC. He wants to “entertain” more than fight and sees the allure of Hollywood and freak show fights on the kickboxing and boxing circuits as something that intrigues him more than fighting the best in the world.
This isn’t the talk of someone who wants to contend for a title.
It’s an odd dichotomy now, for Jackson the fighter. On one hand he wants to be the best, be recognized as such and then rewarded handsomely. On the other hand he doesn’t want to fight guys who’ve made it to the top if they’re “boring” because he views himself as an “entertainer” as opposed to an athlete. You don’t hear someone jockeying for position in any other division complaining that the best are boring; they just want to fight. Guys who want entertaining fights, first and foremost, generally tend to be those who are okay with not being in the title picture. Jackson wants the best of both worlds, to be put in entertaining fights but also to be in the title picture as well.
If he wasn’t an elite fighter, or spoke of himself as one, it’d be one thing. But sometimes in MMA you can’t get what you want and fans didn’t get to see the sort of stint for Quinton Jackson in the UFC we thought he could have. He was supposed to be the LHW version of Anderson Silva, the fighter that was good in Pride but brilliant in the UFC. Regardless of the outcomes against Glover Teixiera this weekend at the United Center, live on Fox, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson leaves the UFC as someone who never really reached the zenith in his career many thought he would.