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Punch, punch lines make Rampage a star

LAS VEGAS – Quinton "Rampage" Jackson had lost five consecutive matches as a wrestler at Memphis' Raleigh-Egypt High School when his kid brother, Derrick, presented him with a heavy industrial chain and an idea.

"Hey man," Derrick told him, "You ought to wear this chain, it might help you in your next fight. It might intimidate your opponent."

A prefight prop in the ever-serious world of high school wrestling? Seriously?

"He was right, I went undefeated after that," Rampage laughed. "I brought the chain and I brought the pain. I don't know what people thought. Not that many people did that."

Actually, nobody does it. Perhaps not even Rampage, although, perhaps so.

He's not just the Ultimate Fighting Championships' light heavyweight champion, he's its most comical and colorful fighter. You never know what's true, mostly true, a little true or just too true to believe.

Regardless of its origin, Rampage will wear his chain – a new one, he's not sure what happen to that old one – Saturday when he enters the octagon to defend his title against Forrest Griffin at a sold out Mandalay Bay Events Center. The sports books have him as the heavy favorite.

He may even wind up wearing the chain in Hollywood if, as rumor has it, he takes the role of another famous chain-wearing badass in succeeding Mr. T as B.A. Baracus in a remake of "The A-Team."

Whether he gets the part or not – "After this fight, I find out" – America should see a great deal of Rampage in the months to come. He's the ultimate combination of devastating fighter and oversized fun, perhaps the only man in the world capable of headlining a UFC pay-per-view card and a Vegas comedy show.

"I get nervous in front of a bunch of people," Jackson said, ending the idea he might try it. "If they boo me I may jump off stage and start kicking ass."

Jackson conducted a one-minute workout for the media Wednesday and then spent the rest of the hour telling stories, jokes and engaging in put-down sessions with various people. He'd sprinkle in a menacing "I'm going to whip him" comment directed at Griffin, but mostly it was all laughs. He's as entertaining and down to earth as any athlete in any sport. The guy is great.

That combination of power and personality is what made UFC president Dana White desperate to get Jackson in his organization. Rampage had an exclusive deal with a fledgling promotion, the World Fighting Alliance, though. So White bought the entire company and folded it.

Last spring, he set up Jackson against Chuck Liddell, the light heavyweight champion and the guy the UFC was promoting as a mainstream crossover star.

Jackson knocked him out in the first round. He became an overnight sensation, a popularity fueled by another title defense and a just-completed wise-cracking season as a coach on Spike TV's "The Ultimate Fighter." He had been a star in Japan's PRIDE fighting but outside of hard core fans, how many Americans watched that?

"(My family) didn't even know I was in Japan," Jackson laughed. "They didn't even give a damn until I started fighting in the UFC."

Now he's bracing for an onslaught from Memphis.

"I spent about $8,000 on extra tickets because everybody watched me on 'Ultimate Fighter,'–" he said. "I've got uncles and aunts like 80 years old."

Jackson broke into his Hollywood act, reenacting a phone conversation.

"'I'm coming. I'm getting on a plane," he said in old lady voice. "'I ain't never been on a plane before in my life. I'm coming to Vegas and watching. You better get me some tickets. I want front row.'

"'What's your old ass need with front row?'

"'I can't see no way else.'

He laughed.

"So they'll be in the front row with their binoculars."

Then there is Jackson the family man, a reality show just waiting to happen. He has four kids, two 8-year-old boys, a 2-year-old boy, and a 1-year-old girl. All three boys are named "Rampage." ("It's their middle name so they don't have to use it if they don't want to.")

Apparently, Jackson has no control over any of them.

"They come up to (where he trains) on weekends, terrorize the house, make a big mess, piss all over the place and then leave."

The 2-year-old urinates all over the place?

"I'm talking about the eights, the 2-year-old has Pampers," he said. "They just don't care. Those 8-year-olds are bad as hell.

"What am I supposed to do? I'm thinking about counseling. You can't really whip your kids in California. You can whip them but you can't leave bruises, but that's impossible. Punishment doesn't work. You can take video games away from them, but they act like they don't care.

"I'm thinking about military school. But they might blow up the whole school and then I might have to pay for that."

What about a time-out?

"What's that?" he laughed. "Time-out? I give them that, they might shoot me."

On the bright side, he says all these kids keep him hungry as a fighter.

"You don't understand; I've got to save up for tuition and possibly bail money."

Who knows, right? Jackson just keeps laughing. He's deadly serious in the cage but has fun the rest of the time. He's just stunned how many people suddenly know who he is.

"I live in Orange County and I hate to say it but there aren't many black people around. So I feel shy and timid. So I don't look at people, I do my thing. Now they are (saying), 'Hey, man.' They know everything about me."

MMA has a reputation of being full of tattooed white guys. Jackson was such a rarity that when he was in PRIDE, the Japanese hyped him as a homeless man, a rather ugly stereotype. These days the sport is by no means homogenous – the current UFC champions consists of a Hawaiian, a French-Canadian, two Brazilians and Jackson, an African-American.

Actually, just call him black. He gave up the term African-American when he met a white guy from Africa who moved to America. It completely messed with his mind.

"He was a white African-American. (I said to him) 'How can you be African-American? (Of course,) I've never been to Africa and I'm African-American.'"

No matter what the term, he isn't trying to be Jackie Robinson.

"I'm not fighting so more black people get into fighting. Black people can do whatever they want. White people can do whatever they want to do.

"Be honest, white folks needed a sport like MMA because blacks and Mexicans took over boxing and basketball has black folks," Jackson said, laughing the entire time to convey he's joking. "I'm happy for white folks. I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not a hater. I'm happy for white folks they've got MMA."

So why did a black guy from South Memphis ("the dirty, dirty") dedicate himself to MMA?

"Because I can beat up white people and not get in trouble."

He waited to see the reaction and then laughed the hardest of all.

"I'm joking. I just had to put that out there."