When Quinton Jackson and Lyoto Machida meet at UFC 123 it will be more than two former UFC champs fighting for a second shot at the belt. Anytime Rampage Jackson steps into the Octagon, it's living MMA history.
For the past decade, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson's career has been synonymous with the pinnacle of MMA. From 2001 to 2006 he was one of the top contenders in Pride's toughest division. That's when Pride was indisputably the sport's top promotion. Then as the UFC exploded, Rampage made the jump to the Octagon where he ended the reign of Chuck Liddell, the UFC's first breakout star, and eventually became one of the promotion's biggest draws.
We'll talk about his UFC career in part 2 tomorrow, today let's take a look at Rampage's Pride years.
Early Losses Build a Myth
Rampage was no neophyte when he made his Pride debut against Kazushi Sakuraba at Pride 15 in July, 2001. He'd already racked up a 10-1 record in two years of pro fighting in the U.S. but he'd never fought in a truly big-time show. Sakuraba was a rude welcome to the top. The "Gracie Hunter" was at the pinnacle of the sport and the height of his powers. Sakuraba had only lost twice at that point. One of his losses came in the semi-finals of the legendary Pride Grand Prix 2000 to Igor Vovchanchyn after he'd already fought Royce Gracie for over 90 minutes in the same night. His second loss had come that March to Wanderlei Silva, in a fight that was closer than most remember now. The relatively green Rampage was his come back fight.
But according to Jackson, Pride officials took no chances and let him know back stage that he'd be paid $10,000 if he won and $12,000 if he lost by KO or submission. Jackson brushed off the offers and tried his best to win. Despite ultimately losing via choke to the wily Sakuraba, Jackson put on a star-making performance. He slammed Sakuraba several times and his brutally unpolished style combined with Pride's cynical marketing of him as a homeless wild man went over big with Japanese fans.
He went on to reel off a string of vicious wins over a string of well-known Japanese fighters like Alexander Otsuka and Masaaki Satake, even his DQ loss to Daijiro Matsui only enhanced his reputation as a formidable brawler.
We'll look at the rest of Rampage's storied Pride career in the full entry.
Rampage Peaks in Pride
Then he successfully stepped up to a higher level of competition in 2002. First he ground out the legendary Igor Vovchanchyn with a combination of slams and ground and pound that shattered Igor's ribs. Then he KO'd former UFC champ Kevin Randleman in a hyper violent bout between two trained wrestlers who chose to let their hands go. The Randleman fight is a perfect example of what Jackson would later infamously refer to as "black-on-black crime".
Jackson went on to brutalize the veteran Mikhail Illoukhine with knees to the body in what would prove to be the veteran Russian champ's swan song in top-level MMA.
That string of wins set Rampage up to participate in the most important tournament ever held in the 205lb division Pride. The UFC sent over their top contender (but not then-champ) Chuck Liddell. They also involuntarily sent over their 185lb champ Murilo Bustamante who jumped ship for more money. Pride pulled out all the stops with three of Japan's most-formidable stars Sakuraba, RINGS champ Kiyoshi Tamura and gold medal Olympic judoka Hidehiko Yoshida, plus the Axe Murderer Wanderlei Silva, then at the peak of his powers, Rampage, and the up and coming Alistair Overeem.
Rampage took a controversial split decision over Bustamante in the first round, but it was in the semi-finals where his reputation was made. Dana White sent Chuck Liddell to show his stuff and represent the UFC, but his real goal was to get a crack at the feared Axe Murderer. Everyone at the time felt that Liddell's size and more disciplined striking would be the perfect answer to Silva's all-out Muay Thai blitz.
Unfortunately for Dana and Chuck, the tournament brackets put Rampage between Chuck and his shot at Wandy. And Rampage just plain presented a bad stylistic match for Liddell. Quinton hadn't yet developed the polished defensive boxing style that Juanito Ibarra would teach him, instead his raw wrestler-boxing style had Liddell's number. He could trade with Chuck on the feet without getting KTFO'd and in the Pride ring, he could force Chuck into the corner and trip him to the ground. Once on the ground, Rampage's brutal ground and pound was just too much for Liddell.
Rampage vs the Brazilians
Unfortunately for Rampage, MMA's brutal rock-paper-scissors reality quickly turned on him. Whereas his style presented insoluble problems for Liddell's outside punching sprawl-and-brawl game, it played right into Wanderlei Silva's vicious clinch-fighting game. Aided by a questionable referee stand-up, Wanderlei landed a barrage of knees to Quinton's face and took the tournament prize.
After a quick tune up win over Ikuhisa Minowa, Rampage faced the Brazilian Top Team's Ricardo Arona. Arona came into this bout an 8-1 phenom whose only loss was a very debatable decision against Fedor Emelianenko in Rings. After this fight, Arona would be known as the man Rampage nearly slammed through the mat.
This led to a rematch with Wanderlei that went even worse than the first for Quinton. He seemed tentative throughout the fight and ended up infamously hanging out of the Pride ring totally unconscious after eating a long succession of knees to the ribs and face.
From there he took a very controversial split decision over Murilo "Ninja" Rua which bought him a ticket to the 2005 Pride Middleweight (93kg/205lb) Grand Prix. Sadly, he drew Ninja's brother Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the first round. Rampage didn't even appear to want to be in the ring against Shogun and that was the wrong approach to take against the surging Chute Boxe star. Shogun battered Quinton even worse than Wanderlei had.
Even though he went on to collect two further wins over Asian fighters Hirotaka Yokoi and Dong Sik Yoon, his losses to the Chute Boxe stars had ended his days as a top contender in Pride and he soon moved his MMA career back to the States.
Tomorrow we'll talk about Rampage's WFA run and his UFC career.