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LAS VEGAS – UFC president Dana White said the reason his company purchased the World Fighting Alliance last year was simply to acquire the rights to light heavyweight Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
And while Jackson is one of the world's elite fighters, White's interest in him extended beyond the ring. Jackson's as charismatic a fighter as there is and could be a standup comic were the power to leave his fists.
"The guy breaks me up," said Chuck Liddell, who will defend his 205-pound belt against Jackson Saturday in UFC 71 at the MGM Grand Garden. "He's hilarious."
When Jackson was a star in the Pride Fighting Championship, he would walk around Tokyo playing pranks on people, frequently with a friend who carried a video camera in hand. He gave up on that fairly quickly, though, as his friend, however well-intentioned, wasn't getting the job done.
"I'd do something and everybody would be laughing and I'd look over and he'd be like this (imitating his friend holding the camera and pointing it at himself)," Jackson said. "My best stuff, lost forever."
Jackson was a cult hero in Japan for his strength and fearsome slams, as well as his humor. But Jackson – the last man to have beaten Liddell, having stopped him in a 2003 fight in Japan – is far from a joke as a fighter. He is one of the few who has been able to take a clean shot from Liddell and still return fire.
He might be the strongest man in his division and, as strong as Liddell is, he was no match for Jackson in their first fight.
"Quinton definitely has the style to beat Chuck and to give him a hard time every time," said UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture, who also has a win over Liddell, as well as a pair of knockout losses. "It's an interesting fight because it's one of the ones where their styles mesh together so well."
Liddell has been dominating UFC the last three years by using his superb takedown defense and his pulverizing punching power. Few UFC fighters have been able to get Liddell, a former wrestler at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, to the mat.
But Jackson did so repeatedly in their first meeting – and he enjoyed every second of it.
"Hell, yes, I did," said Jackson, who was a high school wrestling star in Memphis, Tenn. "Where I'm from, you get thrown in jail for a long time for beating up on white folks. Here, they let me do it and pay me a lot of money to do it."
He concedes he didn't look good in his last two fights, a split decision over Matt Lindland on July 22, 2006, and a second-round knockout of Marvin Eastman on Feb. 3.
He was nervous for the Eastman fight, he said, because not only had he lost to Eastman earlier in his career but it was his first UFC match. He had little explanation for his struggles against Lindland, who usually fights at middleweight, other than "the man stunk. He really stunk and it's hard to fight a guy who smells like that."
He promised, though, he won't have excuses against Liddell.
"When you whoop someone like I'm going to whoop Chuck," Jackson said, "you don't need any excuses. Chuck says he wants revenge, but I got something I want, too. And that's to do a little butt-whipping on that Mohawk head of his."