Rampage Jackson would be the first to tell you that there’s more to being a professional fighter than pulling on a pair of shorts, stepping into a cage and knocking someone senseless.
Jackson, the mercurial former UFC light heavyweight champion, likes that part of his job.
On second thought, change that: Jackson loves that part.
It’s the rest of being an MMA fighter – training, doing interviews, negotiating contracts – that Jackson isn’t so keen about.
He’s 38, soon to be 39, and is the father of three boys and a girl. The not-so-secret truth is that Jackson is just a big kid, a lover of video games, R-rated jokes and having fun.
The end of his career is near, and while he’s one of the elite fighters of MMA’s first quarter century, when he retires he’ll best be remembered not for the knockout of the legendary Chuck Liddell but as potential unfulfilled.
He’s had a good career when he had the ability to have a great one.
Jackson will fight Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal in a heavyweight bout on Friday at Bellator 175 in Rosemont, Ill., in what will be one of the final matches of his career. He’s the same congenial, life-of-the-party guy he always has been, but he’s no longer even trying to cover up his disdain for training.
“People misunderstood me or they tried to censor me or took what I said out of context,” Jackson said. “I’ve always been honest with what I have said. I hate training and I love fighting.”
Jackson has developed a reputation over the last several years, and whether it’s fair or not depends upon your point of view.
He’s been vocal about his disdain for fighting wrestlers, who he says want to take him down and hold him there. He concedes to not being crazy about that and admits he’s been vocal, but says on that subject, too, he’s been misunderstood.
“I do complain about that, but it has nothing to do with me not having my heart into it,” Jackson said. “That just shows how much heart I have and how much emotion I have, because I think those guys are messing up our sport. Our sport has gotten so popular with all the excitement and the people like Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Chuck Liddell, Vitor Belfort, Tito Ortiz. Tito was a wrestler, but he’d take you down and ground and pound you. Those are the guys who made this sport super popular.
“But then you get guys like King Mo and, with all due respect, Rashad Evans and D.C. [Daniel Cormier], who just like hugging people on the ground. You hear the people complaining about that, and I don’t want to fight that way. I want to have exciting fights. If we ask fans to buy tickets and come down and sit there and watch fights for hours, we have to give them their money’s worth.”
Professional fighters are tasked with many things, but their No. 1 responsibility is winning. If a fighter keeps winning, it’s hard to get rid of him, no matter his style.
Jackson, though, became popular for two reasons: He could punch and he could talk.
He referenced the popularity of UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, and said he likes how McGregor talks but comes to fight when the bell sounds.
“That guy ain’t laying on top of no one,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he was doing what McGregor is doing now long ago, but said he’s been criticized for it.
“I was the first Conor. I was Conor Mc-[N-word].”
He repeated it several times.
“He can talk and say what he wants and talk about money and say he’s in it for the money and nobody opens their mouth and says anything negative about what he is saying,” Jackson said.
“I’ve been doing the same stuff, but everybody’s trying to shut me up. And then there are people who take me out of context and say, ‘Oh, he’s just in it for the money. He don’t love this no more.’ You know what? What I do is try to entertain people. It’s all I’ve ever tried to do. I’m an entertainer and I’m always going to try to entertain people.”
He blasted Lawal, whom he defeated by unanimous decision at Bellator 120, and ridiculed his wrestling. Lawal was knocked out in his previous fight, a match against Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.
“He’s not the wrestler he used to be,” Jackson said of Lawal. “He couldn’t take down a kickboxer.”
Jackson went on to blast Lawal for trying to “hump” his opponents and said it’s not a style that fans want to see.
For as long as he fights – and it’s probably not going to be all that much longer – Jackson is going to fight one way.
He’s not the most complete mixed martial artist, and he never was, but he’s had a terrific career nonetheless.
You can complain about what Jackson is not, but all he asks is that you appreciate him for what he is.
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