LAS VEGAS – Quinton "Rampage" Jackson thought he had hit the big time a few months ago when he walked outside of a Los Angeles nightclub in the wee hours and saw an oversized image of himself on a billboard promoting his UFC debut.
After beating the biggest star in mixed martial arts in resounding fashion Saturday in just his second UFC bout, Jackson can count on seeing his face in a lot more places.
That's a good thing for the sport and for the UFC, as Jackson is as good a personality as he is a fighter.
Jackson knocked out Chuck Liddell with a pulverizing right hand in the first round this weekend at the MGM Grand Garden, lifting the light heavyweight title from the man who UFC president Dana White says "is not just a superstar in MMA but is a superstar in the sports world, period."
It's not going to take long for Jackson to hit that level, either, considering his wit, his accessibility and his entertaining style in the cage.
A few days before the fight, Jackson insisted he didn't care about having the belt around his waist. It was, he said, all about the money.
"Paper. Cheddar. That's it. First and last," Jackson insisted.
He got his share of the cheddar for walloping Liddell, earning $450,000.
As good as banking that money sounded to him – "I want to get me a Bentley," he said, beaming – he clearly was falling in love with the gaudy gold belt he had strapped around his waist.
"The well-dressed black man always needs his share of gold to finish his ensemble," Jackson said while gently stroking his belt, using a faux gentrified accent. Then, kissing it, he said, "It's my baby. I think I'm going to sleep with this thing."
The win was no fluke, though the outcome was clearly unexpected by the vocal pro-Liddell crowd of 14,728 inside the arena.
This was Liddell's show, his shot at redeeming a 2003 loss to Jackson, and these were his people.
Every time Jackson's face was shown on the giant video screens inside the arena, the sellout crowd booed lustily.
And as Jackson spoke to Joe Rogan after the stunningly quick knockout, the boos reached an ear-splitting crescendo.
This, though, is a guy to be cheered. And, I suspect, he's going to hear plenty of raves over the next few months.
"We acquired the WFA so we could get this guy under contract," White said Monday. "I knew what kind of a guy we were getting. I knew he could fight, but I also knew a lot of people here didn't know a lot about him. I really felt that after we do what we do and let people hear him and get to know him, they'd love him.
"The kid's got a great personality. You can't help but have fun and laugh when you're around him. And he knows how to sell himself. We're going to give him the platform and the vehicle to do that."
The bout Saturday was billed as Liddell's shot at redemption. He had only three defeats coming in – to Jeremy Horn, Randy Couture and Jackson – but had already avenged the losses to Horn and Couture.
Jackson would be his final hurdle and was the fight that would finally put Liddell atop of all others.
Jackson, though, never bought into that. And he insisted that he would repeat his 2003 victory, though he always came off as humorous, never boastful or arrogant.
Asked by a television reporter prior to the bout what improvements he had seen in Liddell in the three-plus years since they had fought, Jackson furrowed his brow, put his hand on his chin and pretended to think.
"I see he's got a little bit more," Jackson began, before halting and making another funny facial expression.
"You know, he's the same damn guy," he said. "His haircut's the same. He looks the same. Everything looks the same to me."
The television reporter then asked Jackson if the result would be the same.
"Hell if I know," he said. "I'm not psychic. I hope it will be worse."
Now, White suspects the UFC has another ticket-selling superstar on its hands. The booing fans, White said, simply were expressing their passion for Liddell and aren't really anti-Jackson.
"Did you hear that crowd when Chuck walked out?" White asked. "It was insane. I've never heard an arena that noisy. The people were there for Chuck. They didn't like Rampage that night because they were there to see Chuck beat him. But I'm willing to bet the next time out, you'll see a lot different reaction to Rampage."
Perhaps. And maybe a new personal grooming trend is about to be unleashed.
"I like it when the referees raise my hand," Jackson said. "That's why I always shave my armpits. Got to look good, you know."
- Dana White