Few if any fighters have better personified the long, strange trip of MMA over the past decade than Rampage Jackson. Starting in 1999 when he was one of hundreds of young fighters starting out in the then booming indy MMA scene in the states, Rampage's career has paralleled the rise of the sport.
After those early days, Rampage was invited to fight in Japan where he became one of the biggest gaijin stars of Pride when it was the biggest promotion in MMA. As we saw yesterday, Rampage never quite reached the peak in Pride simply because he didn't have an answer for the Muay Thai style of Chute Boxe stars Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio Rua aka "Shogun".
But when Rampage came to the UFC, Chuck Liddell had the belt and had already cleaned out the division. And as we learned in 2003, Rampage had the answer to Liddell's sprawl-and-brawl style. That meant Rampage would blow up to super-stardom just as the UFC did.
A Sojourn in the WFA
Unlike most of his Pride contemporaries, Rampage didn't come to the UFC after Zuffa bought Pride. He actually left Pride before the acquisition, signing with a short-lived promotion called the World Fighting Alliance. The WFA was probably the first major attempt to capitalize on the success of The Ultimate Fighter with a cash-in promotion.
Two Las Vegas lawyers bought a defunct promotion and immediately went on a free agent signing frenzy. They snapped up Rampage, Matt Lindland, Urijah Faber, Lyoto Machida, Heath Herring, Bas Rutten and Ricco Rodriguez.
Rampage vs Lindland headlined the ill-fated WFA's one and only PPV on July 22, 2006. The show may have lost a ton of money, but Jackson and Lindland put on a great fight. It's almost a pre-view of Jackson's later UFC title defence against Dan Henderson. The smaller Lindland gave Rampage everything he could handle and Quinton was lucky to escape with a narrow split decision win.
That December 11, Zuffa bought out the WFA and finally brought Rampage Jackson into the UFC fold.
Welcome to the UFC
The UFC was in an aggressive expansion mode in early 2007. In addition to the WFA, they would soon buy out Pride but even before they made that acquisition, they had begun picking off free agents from that organization by signing Mirko Filopovic, aka Cro Cop.
Zuffa pushed their new signings hard. First they heavily hyped the UFC debut of Heath Herring on Spike TV in January 2007. Unfortunately Herring's opponent Jake O'Brien didn't get the memo and layed and prayed Herring to a tedious decision loss that Herring's career never recovered from.
That didn't stop the hype train from pushing Rampage and Cro Cop who both debuted on the next month's UFC 67. Cro Cop was given journeyman Eddie Sanchez in the hopes of delivering a highlight reel KO. Jackson was given a chance to avenge his first career loss against Marvin Eastman. Rampage promised "black-on-black crime" and though he did beat Eastman via KO in the second round, most watching thought his performance fell short.
When Cro Cop likewise won an underwhelming bout against Sanchez a buzz built that the former Pride stars just weren't delivering for the UFC and wouldn't "get over" with American fans.
Taking the Title
That didn't stop the UFC from booking Jackson to challenge for Chuck Liddell's light heavyweight title on Memorial Day weekend 2007. The fight was the most hyped bout in UFC history up to that point and it was intended to build on Chuck Liddell's emergence as the sport's first break out star. It was sold very similarly to Liddell's previous title defense against Jeremy Horn -- more as a chance for Liddell to avenge one of his few losses than a truly competitive bout. Liddell was featured on the cover of ESPN magazine and the sports network gave a then-unprecedented amount of coverage to the event.
Rampage wasn't on board with the plan though and he made short work of a sloppy and visibly out of shape Liddell. When the Iceman fired off an ill-advised and un-set up body punch, Rampage answered with one of the short sharp hook counters that his new trainer, boxing veteran Juanito Ibarra had shown him. The punch dropped Chuck to the canvas and Jackson quickly capitalized by pounding out the champ with a barrage of ground and pound.
The crowd response was ugly as they booed the new champion. Initial analysis focused on the racial politics of UFC fans and condemned many as racist for rejecting Rampage.
A Short Run at the Top
The UFC cannily booked Rampage's first title defense, against fellow Pride veteran Dan Henderson, for England so that the show could air for free on Spike TV. The bout drew great numbers on cable, becoming one of the most watched MMA fights in American history at that point.
It was a great five round fight that had the skilled but undersized Henderson pulling a Lindland and giving Rampage all he could handle. Fortunately for Quinton, the judges all saw it going his way. The bout went a long way towards earning Jackson the respect of UFC fans.
To really get Rampage over, the UFC booked him to coach the seventh season of The Ultimate Fighter opposite Forrest Griffin. Griffin had earned his title shot by choking out Mauricio Rua, aka Shogun. The season on TUF went a long way towards helping fans warm up to Rampage, although he showed a different side of his personality than the wise-cracking character many had expected to see.
Then Jackson got in the cage with Griffin in a fight he was heavily favored to win. Forrest threw a wrench in those plans by using leg kicks and his range to stymie and frustrate Jackson. Rampage landed the harder shots, but Griffin stole enough rounds for all three judges to score the fight in his favor. Just like that, Rampage's tenure as UFC champ was over.
Ups and Downs
After he lost his belt, Rampage went through a strange time that saw him involved in an energy drink fueled hit and run incident that landed him in jail. He ended up splitting with trainer Juanito Ibarra shortly thereafter.
He rebounded with a definitive win over long-time nemesis Wanderlei Silva at UFC 92. The boxing lessons Ibarra had imparted paid dividends as Jackson was able to cover and counter Silva's aggressive attacks.
From there he faced Keith Jardine at UFC 96 in what had been hyped as a title eliminator bout for Jackson. He barely edged out Jardine in an ugly fight. Despite an epic in-cage encounter with the new champ Rashad Evans, Rampage didn't get his title shot. Instead that went to Lyoto Machida due to a tragi-comic series of timing conflicts. When Machida disposed of Evans, the UFC booked Rampage and Rashad to coach The Ultimate Fighter.
The Big Time
That season also saw YouTube sensation Kimbo Slice as one of the fighters trying out for the UFC guaranteeing blockbuster ratings. The new fans who tuned in to see Kimbo got to see Rampage and Rashad talk epic amounts of trash and build a very real and very heated feud. Anticipation was high for their match which was expected to headline the UFC's first ever show in Rampage's home town of Memphis Tennessee.
But Rampage had another engagement. He was offered the part of B.A. Baracus in the A-Team movie. Reprising the role made famous by the iconic Mr. T was something that Jackson couldn't resist. The ensuing drama between Rampage and Dana White kept bloggers busy for months.
The delay didn't dampen interest in the Rampage vs Rashad bout though. When the two men finally met at UFC 114 it was one of the biggest PPV's in UFC history. Unfortunately for Rampage and fans hoping for an epic brawl, Rashad had learned his lesson in his loss to Lyoto Machida and used his wrestling to dominate Rampage en route to a decision.
Now Quinton has a chance to redeem himself against fellow former champ Lyoto Machida at UFC 123. We'll find out Saturday if this is the beginning of a turnaround for Rampage or the beginning of the end.