LAS VEGAS – Mike Massenzio walked to the cage for his match at UFC 92 against C.B. Dollaway on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden as AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" blared over the arena's sound system.
But the real thunder strike was about 10 minutes earlier, when Quinton "Rampage" Jackson did what he's been waiting for more than four years to do.
Jackson won the blood feud with Wanderlei Silva on Saturday when he cracked the Brazilian with a counter left hook that landed on the point of the chin. Silva was out immediately, but Jackson landed three hard shots while Silva was on his back, two after referee Yves Lavigne had stopped the bout.
It was a brutal ending to one of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's hottest feuds.
Silva had stopped Jackson twice while they were both in Japan's PRIDE Fighting Championship, once in the first round and the other in the second.
Both desperately needed a victory Saturday and had vowed to knock the other man out. Jackson conceded it was a difficult bout for him given what had occurred in the fights in Japan.
"This was like a big mental fight for me," Jackson said. "I was the most nervous I've ever been in my life. A lot of people thought the personal problems I'm going through would disturb me. But I'm not that type of person. I put all that stuff behind me. I always have problems a lot of times when I fight. I just keep them on the down low. This one, everyone happened to know about it."
Silva entered the bout having lost three of his last four and beginning to show the wear and tear that a long and glorious career had wrought. Silva was one of those guys who was always willing to take three shots to land one, believing so much in both the quality of his chin and the power in his fists.
The former PRIDE 205-pound champion never landed a serious punch Saturday and couldn't take the sledgehammer hook from a fired up Jackson.
Jackson lost the light heavyweight title to Forrest Griffin six months earlier, dropping a disputed decision at UFC 86. The colorful and outspoken Jackson was not his usual self throughout the promotion for Saturday's card, going to England to train and speaking with a grim determination when he did face the media.
He went into a funk after losing to Griffin and faces a court date on two felony charges in a reckless driving incident that occurred about two weeks after he dropped the title.
On top of that, Jackson had a falling out with his former trainer, Juanito Ibarra.
It left Jackson in a questionable frame of mind entering what had to be the most significant bout of his career.
"The last time I fought here, it wasn't right," Jackson said. "I went to the Wolfslair in the U.K. and got my wolf on. Rampage is back, baby."
Silva remains one of the most popular UFC fighters, but whether he'll be able to reach the heights he's attained in the past is open to debate. One of the great fighters in the history of mixed martial arts, Silva now faces a very uncertain future. He's lost four of his last five and was knocked out brutally in several of them.
He didn't move for several minutes after Jackson coldcocked him and walked very unsteadily as he left the cage. He was taken to a local hospital for a precautionary examination.
Silva will undoubtedly fight on, but he's going to drop significantly in what is the UFC's deepest division. Rashad Evans won the title by stopping Griffin later on the card Saturday, but there are 10 fighters good enough to be the champion.
Silva has built a state-of-the-art gym in Las Vegas that is set to open early next year and had said before the bout that he was anxious to continue fighting, regardless of the outcome.
But after such a hard knockout, he's clearly fallen to second-tier status in the division's pecking order. For a man who has accomplished as much as Silva and who has been such an icon of the sport, that's not a very good place to be.
It will be hard for the UFC to keep giving him shots against men who are in the title mix, so that likely relegates him for a while to facing up-and-coming fighters anxious to make a name by beating a legend.
UFC president Dana White suggested Saturday he'd consider making a rematch between Silva and former champion Chuck Liddell, but said he needed to talk with Silva first.
Jackson put himself back in the mix Saturday with a victory that ranks with his title-winning first-round knockout of Liddell in the same MGM cage about 18 months earlier as the signature performance of his career.
Jackson established himself as the elite 205-pounder in the world with that knockout of Liddell and a subsequent title defense against ex-PRIDE champion Dan Henderson.
The loss to Griffin, the split with Ibarra and the traffic incident raised serious questions, though, about whether Jackson could deal with the pressure that goes along with being one of the UFC's biggest stars.
Jackson, who has pleaded not guilty, has a court date in Orange County, Calif., in January, but as long as he avoids jail time he'll again be the man that other 205-pounders in the UFC must measure themselves against.
Jackson wants another shot at the title, and White said "it makes sense" for Jackson to get it. But Jackson said he'd rather face Griffin, to avenge that defeat.
"Forrest is the fight that haunts me," Jackson said. "That's the fight that haunts me when I go to sleep. It's the fight I have nightmares about."
There are numerous big-fight possibilities for him, including bouts against Evans, Griffin and Shogun Rua.
"If I can't promote this guy, then I have problems," White said.
It's Jackson who supposedly had the problems, but he fought as if he were as carefree as ever.
But it came down to one simple fact.
"I hate losing, man," Jackson said.
If he keeps landing that left, he won't have to worry about it much longer.
- Wanderlei Silva
- Forrest Griffin