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LAS VEGAS – Quinton "Rampage" Jackson would be on any short list of the greatest mixed martial arts fighters of all time, but it's always seemed like, despite all of his accomplishments, something was missing.
He won the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title by knocking out Chuck Liddell at UFC 71. He became the first man to simultaneously hold UFC and the PRIDE Fighting Championship belts when he defeated Dan Henderson at UFC 75.
Yet, for much of his career, the sum of his parts was greater than the whole.
Jackson is rarely what you expect him to be. For instance at Wednesday's news conference to promote his grudge match with Rashad Evans at UFC 114 on Saturday, many sought the wise-cracking, fun-loving guy he is at most public appearances. Instead, onlookers got the serious, almost brooding man who seemed miserable as he sat through the hour-long session in the Hollywood Theater at the MGM Grand.
Expect the lazy, unmotivated athlete who relied on brute strength and physical prowess to defeat world-class opposition and you sometimes get the elite athlete who pushed himself every day during a grueling, 13-week training camp.
Because of his dislike for Evans, Jackson discovered a newfound passion for training. He gives the impression of a guy ready to finally harness his immense talents.
Jackson snarled as much as he smiled Wednesday, clearly sick of talking, sick of promoting and, mostly, sick of Evans. What has become the most intense grudge match in UFC history has left Jackson ready to explode, eager to unleash his fury on a man he believes is beneath him athletically and whom he feels has disrespected him personally and professionally.
When Evans repeatedly referred to Jackson on Wednesday as an Uncle Tom and urged him to "quit acting stupid," Jackson gritted his teeth and stared straight ahead.
Much has been made about whether Jackson can control his emotions and fight a smart fight. Those asking the questions weren't in his training camp working alongside him daily like Michael Bisping, who says that Jackson can keep the ultimate goal in mind, but it's not a bad thing if he gets angry when the bell rings.
"Personally, I think he fights way better when he's like he is now," said Bisping, who meets Dan Miller in the semi-main event on Saturday.
Bisping got a first-hand look for the better part of three months. He saw Jackson push like he'd never pushed before and watched as Jackson was intense in every practice.
"Every fighter in training has the aches and pains and you might ask a training partner, 'Hey, don't hit me here because it's a bit sore,'" Bisping said. "Somebody accidentally did it and you could see the look on Rampage's face change. He almost killed the guy. He just landed some big shots. … He wants this fight so badly and you can see the change in him in the way he has worked and the way he's gone about his business, getting himself ready."
The fight is one of the most anticipated in UFC history. Company president Dana White spent much of Wednesday trying to figure where he'd put the many celebrities, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Jessica Biel, who plan to attend. White said the ticket has been the toughest one ever to get in Las Vegas and said the pay-per-view is tracking for between 800,000-850,000 sales. Much of that is because of the public's fascination with Jackson, who does things in the cage that few men can do. He hits like an MMA version of Mike Tyson.
"I fought Rashad and I've been in there with Rampage and I can tell you he hits way, way harder than Rashad," Bisping said. "Honestly, it's not even close. Wherever Rampage hits you, you feel it."
Unlike someone like Randy Couture, who squeezed every bit out of his talent, Jackson too often coasted and took shortcuts in training. Jackson is nearly 32 now, though, and clearly a different man. He doesn't want to waste his peak years while he's at the height of his earning power. And he's developed a resolve he rarely showed.
He desperately wanted to play B.A. Baracus in "The A-Team" movie, a role that was offered to him last year. Growing up in Memphis, Tenn., Jackson watched "The A-Team" on television with his father. The movie offer was the chance of a lifetime, working alongside such A-list actors as Liam Neeson and Biel.
Jackson, though, was contractually committed to fight Evans in the main event of UFC 107. Jackson and Evans had served as coaches on Season 9 of "The Ultimate Fighter" and one of the payoffs was a fight between them, which was held at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.
The entire fight card was designed around Jackson and UFC president Dana White was apoplectic when Jackson said he was going to pull out.
"That hurt us," White said. "At the time, it hurt a lot."
Jackson, though, was in no mood to discuss the movie, which hits theaters June 11, on Wednesday. Asked by a local television reporter what his favorite line in the movie was, Jackson got snippy.
"I don't even remember one line from the movie," he said, refusing to play along even when prodded.
He's in fight mode, ready to do damage, and was of no mind to be cute and playful.
"I like it when he's this way," White said.
Jackson hasn't fought since March of 2009, an uninspiring victory over Keith Jardine at UFC 96. This has been the longest layoff of his career. Such is his disdain for Evans, whom he repeatedly calls a tune-up, that he's hardly worried about the impact the rust will have upon him.
"I was ring rusty against Jardine, and I may be in this fight in Las Vegas," Jackson said. "That gives Rashad a teeny-tiny chance. Not a good chance, just a teen-weeny chance. Like 0.05 percent. If I had fought more recently? He’d have no chance, he wouldn’t have needed to show up. He’d have fainted in the hotel room and we could have sent the referee with room service to wake his ass up and call that a KO."
Evans won his title from Forrest Griffin, the man who took the belt from Jackson, a defeat that Jackson still seethes about, but much of it was his own doing. He wasn't prepared and he wasn't focused, expecting to easily deal with Griffin. The memory of his poor training camp has helped fuel him in his preparations for Evans.
Despite Jackson's frequently derogatory words about Evans, he knows Evans is talented and dangerous.
"I'm not underestimating Rashad at all," Jackson said. "He's got fast punches and he's got a pretty good takedown. I'm not underestimating him at all. This is going to be a really good fight for me. This is going to be a really good test for me. And I'm not underestimating anybody else. I learned that from Forrest. I underestimated Forrest. I didn't train properly for him and I was way over weight and just didn't do things right.
"So I learned my lesson over and over again. Things like that would prepare me for days like this, when it really counts. I think everything happens for a reason. I lost that fight to Forrest. I beat myself. I didn't train hard, but for this fight I trained the hardest I ever trained."
A properly trained and motivated Jackson can be a dangerous thing. And he might finally start taking advantage of all of that talent.
- Rashad Evans
- Michael Bisping