Join Date: Jun 2006
| | Part 2
And fight he did - anywhere and everywhere. But eventually the young ‘Rampage’ got a talking to from an uncle, and coupled with his own mental fortitude and a move to a more stable environment, Jackson suddenly had reason to leave the dead-end life behind.
“One of my uncles once sat me down and told me that if I didn’t change the way I was living and the way I was acting, I wasn’t going to live long,” remembered Jackson in 2003. “I saw a lot of my friends disappearing, either going to prison or getting killed, and I didn’t want that type of life. Strangely, something changed when we moved out of the neighborhood and we moved to a place where they had better things. They had wrestling in school and a lot of other things. Normally I was going to an all-black school, but there I went to a mixed school and got surrounded by a mixture of people. It was more positive for me and I felt how good I could be. My grades got better and I stopped doing the hustling I was doing. I got a job and I changed. And I kinda liked it. It was cool to try and do something positive. Sometimes it was hard for me to be totally good. I still went back to my roots when I had to, but I liked the change. I was wrestling and I wasn’t fighting as much on the streets.”
A few years after his first exposure to organized wrestling, his friend and former wrestling rival Dave Roberts exposed him to MMA. Jackson fell in love.
“I went off to college to wrestle and when I got back he took me to one of these fights,” remembered Jackson in 2003. “These wrestlers were fighting and kicking everybody’s ass. I was like, ‘damn.’ I grew up fighting all the time, but I always got in trouble for it. I was thinking, ‘damn, I can fight without getting in trouble.’ That’s all I was thinking about. I started doing it, and I got pretty good at it, I guess.”
He’s being modest. After a loss to his February 3rd opponent, Eastman, in his pro debut in June of 2000, Jackson would go on to win eight in a row before getting the call to be the sacrificial lamb to Japanese superstar Kazushi Sakuraba in the Pride organization. There was a catch though, as Jackson was forced to cut a substantial amount of weight to get closer to Sakuraba’s size, and Pride initially wanted ‘Rampage’ to weigh in on the day of the fight. Add to this a marketing campaign that painted Jackson as homeless and living in a bus, and the deck appeared to be stacked from the get go.
Ironically though, Jackson now admits that the marketing of him for his first fight in Japan was accurate.
“It was actually very true,” said Jackson shortly before the UFC 66 weigh-ins on December 29th. “I left my family in Memphis and I moved out to California just to train and fight. I had no money and there were times I was just gonna go home. My friend who was hooking me up was thinking about sending me home, but God told me ‘don’t give up’ and look what happened. God told me that everything in my life happened for a reason and he planned everything for me. He planned for me to go into mixed martial arts, and I don’t know why yet, but it was all his plan, and I just hope he keeps me going.”
Jackson would get submitted by Sakuraba in that July 2001 bout, but he made enough of an impression that he kept getting called back and soon became a fan favorite known for his charisma and the trademark heavy chain he wore around his neck. Over the next two years in Pride, he would only lose once (via a controversial disqualification to Daijiro Matsui) while beating the likes of Igor Vovchanchyn, Kevin Randleman, Murilo Bustamante, and current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell.
But from the tail end of 2003, Jackson started to get a bit disillusioned with fighting in Japan, and coupled with disappointing losses to Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio Rua, a conversion to Christianity in 2004, and the explosion in popularity of the UFC in 2005, the idea of coming home to the States to reap the rewards of his hard work began to take shape.
“I still like the show Pride puts on, but they started treating me bad and I don’t know why they did that,” said Jackson, who started to become more visible at various MMA shows Stateside.
“As soon as Spike TV had their UFC premiere (‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality show), I said, ‘bam, mixed martial arts is gonna blow up,’” he continues. “Then I watched ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ a couple of times and when I saw that dude pissing on a pillow, I said, ‘It’s on.’ The UFC capitalized on it, and I’m not the jealous type and I don’t hate on people, so I was very proud of those guys. Then I became a fan of the UFC. Dana White came and did his thing, and then I started going to the UFCs.”
Jackson would leave Pride after his February 2006 win over Yoon Dong Sik, and after a brief stay in the now defunct WFA (a decision Jackson now says was the “biggest mistake of my life.”) for a win over Matt Lindland, ‘Rampage’ has finally arrived for a stay in the world famous Octagon.
“I think everything happens for a reason, and God has everything in his plans, so hopefully he has some bigger and better things in the plan for me to come to the UFC and show the world something new, something different, something they’ve never seen before in their lives,” said the 22-6 Jackson. Did he ever think this day was going to come though?
“Honestly, I didn’t know,” he admits. “Me and (former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion) Tito (Ortiz) are real tight, and he was the champion over here, and I didn’t want to come over here out of respect because he was the man in the UFC. But now, I’ve got bills to pay, I haven’t worked in a while, and Tito understands. That was really the only reason I didn’t want to come here a long time ago. And then after I beat Chuck, I said, ‘those guys aren’t gonna promote me because I beat their boy, and Chuck has been so loyal to them.’ But now, I’m gonna take my chances. Even if the UFC just wants me to come and get my ass kicked by Chuck, I’ve got to prove them wrong, do my stuff, train hard, and promote myself.”
Promotion won’t be necessary, as you’ll see when February approaches. Jackson is a natural quote machine, a media darling, and the type of fighter who will never prompt you to ask for your money back. Now all he has to do is win. He does that, and later in 2007, the biggest rematch in all of mixed martial arts will be Rampage vs Liddell II.
“When I first fought Chuck, I was eating bad food all the time, I wasn’t even really training the hardest, and now I try to eat better and do things right,” said Jackson, who stopped Liddell in the second round of their first bout. “My standup has changed a lot, and I just wish I didn’t have a big gap in between fights, but now I’ve got four weeks until the next one, I get by that, I want to fight another warm-up fight, and then I’ll be primed and ready to go. I just want to show the world that I’m a new guy.”
He may be a ‘new guy’ to newer fans of the sport, but for those who have followed mixed martial arts for years, the arrival of ‘Rampage’ to the UFC is front page news. That’s a lot to have on your shoulders – introducing yourself to one crowd while performing at the level expected of you from another. As noted earlier though, Jackson knows only one way to attack anything he faces in life – full on.
“I’ll probably be nervous fighting a guy who beat me before and it’s my first time in the UFC, so they’ll be a lot of pressure on me, but my last fight (against Lindland) there was a lot of pressure on me,” he admits. “If I would have lost to that guy, my career would have been over. But every fight I fight, there’s a lot of pressure on me and I think I perform well under pressure. I’m not a gym guy, I think I’m a night of the fight guy, and God willing, everything will be okay, and I’ll be victorious.”
We’ll definitely be watching.
JOIN THE TRIGG RESISTANCE!!!