LAS VEGAS – Quinton “Rampage” Jackson admitted that he was told over and over about ring rust.
Jackson kept denying it was an issue, but after losing to Rashad Evans in what may have been the most anticipated non-championship match in UFC history on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he admitted he recognized it was a problem all along.
The big question going forward for the star of the soon-to-be-released "A-Team" movie is this: Where does he go from here in his attempt to balance fighting and acting? Even Jackson said it's something he’s going to have to think hard about.
“I feel like tonight wasn’t the real me,” Jackson (30-8) said after his UFC 114 main-event loss. “I feel I hesitated too much. I’m not going to make excuses.
"Rashad is a good fighter. He had a good strategy. He’s a good wrestler. I was surprised he took me down. I still feel I’m at another level [than Evans as a fighter]. I feel if I hadn’t taken a long time off the fight it would have been a different fight. He may still have beaten me, but it would have been more competitive.” Jackson, the former UFC light heavyweight champion, hadn’t fought since winning a split decision over Evans’ training partner and good friend Keith Jardine nearly 15 months ago – the night the public war of words between Jackson and Evans started when Evans got into the cage and confronted Jackson.
The long delay came initially when Jackson turned down a shot at Evans due to a jaw injury. Then Evans lost the light heavyweight title to Lyoto Machida, Jackson’s replacement. The two then coached on Season 10 of "The Ultimate Fighter," and with the delay between filming and airing, it would have meant a break until all the episodes aired in mid-December.
But after filming, Jackson got the "A-Team" lead role as B.A. Baracus and pulled out of the fight. After filming, Jackson came to camp at 251 pounds, meaning he had to drop significant weight.
There was some thought that the delay would lessen interest in the fight, with the reality-show hype fading from people’s memories. But in recent weeks it was pretty clear that the opposite was true. The live attendance of 15,081 fans, heavily pro-Jackson, was the largest for a UFC event in its home market of Las Vegas. There were several closed-circuit locations opened up around the city for the overflow, the first for a UFC event that didn’t include a championship match.
“It was a killer weekend,” said UFC president Dana White, who ran a Fan Expo convention in conjunction with the fight that drew a total of 125,000 people to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on Friday and Saturday. “People were asking me if the fact the fight was put off made it more dramatic. I’m happy it all came together. [Jackson] made a great movie, he really killed it, it’s going to be a big summer hit, and we still got to do this fight. People who aren’t normally into MMA were into this fight.”
While most fighters take a vacation after a big fight, Jackson has to leave immediately to help promote the movie, which is being released on June 11.
Jackson's reality is that while he’s acting and touring to promote his movie, his competition in a deep light heavyweight division is focusing on only one goal instead of having their attention divided.
“I never had any kind of pressure like this in my whole career,” he said. “I kind of regret doing this movie. I normally perform well under pressure. I’m happy everything’s over with. I’ve got to leave on tour for this movie.
"When I did it [the movie] I never knew about [promotional] tours. When I finish this tour I’ll be with my kids and at last in my house. I got no injures. I’m good.”
Both men embraced after the fight, but depending on where their futures take them, a rematch is certainly possible.
“I was giving him his respect,” Evans said about the reaction. “He came back from doing a movie and he has a lot of things on his plate. It was hard for him to commit himself. He fought a lot harder than I thought he was going to fight. When you fight someone for 15 minutes and you give him everything you got, you have to respect him.”
Exactly where Jackson goes from here is unknown, other than he made it clear he needs to fight more often. He noted that people were telling him he needed a tune-up fight before Evans, but he felt that in the UFC, there's no such thing as a tune-up. After the event, White said he didn’t know what would be next for Jackson but he did mention someone like Machida, now a former champion after having lost to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua three weeks ago in Montreal, as a possibility.
“I’d like to get in there as soon as possible,” said Jackson. “This fight is going to haunt me for a long time.”
With the win, Evans (20-1-1), will get the first title shot at Rua. Evans, like Jackson, said he came out of Saturday’s fight injury free, so he would be ready for the title fight with a relatively short turnaround, with a fall date looking likely.
Evans would match up completely different with Rua than Jackson. The Brazilian-born champion is quicker than Jackson, not quite as hard hitting but still with knockout power and with a wider variety of weapons. With Jackson, Evans mainly had to be concerned with the big right hand. Rua brings strong low kicks. He’s also much more dangerous on the ground when it comes to submissions. His takedown defense may not be as strong as Jackson's, but being on top on the ground was safe with Jackson and wouldn’t be with Rua.
Jackson made it clear he wanted a rematch, and Evans seemed fine with that, although he admitted being relieved the first fight was over.
“I’m happy I don’t have to talk about Rampage anymore,” said Evans.
“I talked about him all day, every day. I got tired of it. He was haunting me in my dreams. I couldn‘t even get away from him in my sleep.”
“I think anything can happen,” said White. “It depends on what paths they take. He’s [Evans] going to fight Shogun and we’ll see who Rampage fights, and we’ll see from there. They’re two of the best light heavyweights and they could meet again.”
As parting shots, the two were already starting the build-up.
“Rashad can still kiss my ass,” said Jackson. “He had a good fight. I’m not a sore loser. I still haven’t forgotten all the stuff he said. He can kiss my black ass.”
“He can kiss my ass, too,” said Evans.
- Rashad Evans