There are a lot of things you absolutely can’t question about Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
If, right now, you were to draw up a list of the greatest light heavyweight fighters of all time, there’s no doubt that Jackson would be on there somewhere. It’d just be a matter of where, of how high. You can’t question his toughness, his near 80 percent winning percentage or his longevity. The man is just 32 years old, but with a 12-year career already behind him he’ll enter his 40th MMA fight this weekend at UFC 130. That’s pretty staggering.
Perhaps above all else, you can’t question his popularity. “Rampage” Jackson’s status as a fan favorite has endured abortive retirements, a 16-month period in 2003-05 when he lost three of six fights and even the occasional psychotic break, followed by a crazy police chase. He is undoubtedly one of the most well-liked and recognizable figures in the history of the sport. Period.
Yet as Jackson prepares to battle Matt Hamill on Saturday in Las Vegas, there are questions.
Over the past few weeks, Rampage has given us reason to be concerned about his dedication. There is a lot riding on this fight for him, after all. There is wide speculation that a win over Hamill – who opened as a shade more than a 2-1 underdog – that it might vault him into a 205-pound title bout. There are a lot of other factors at play in that decision obviously, but Jackson’s name is on the short list of challengers for champion Jon Jones nonetheless.
That’s why it’s troubling that for so long “Rampage” appeared to be so disinterested in a bout with Hamill and, really, with MMA in general.
For a few weeks leading up to UFC 130 all we heard from him was how “not excited” (his words) he was about this sort of middling matchup. We heard him talk about how he was really just sticking around in MMA until he landed another quality movie role, after appearing in the “A-Team” last summer. We heard he wasn’t bothering (or paying) to work with nutritionist Mike Dolce, who’s helped with his weight cut during his last couple of appearances. He also said no matter what happens, he plans to retire in a couple of years when he turns 35.
All that talk was thrust a bit more under the microscope when Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard both dropped off this card with injuries a couple weeks back and Jackson vs. Hamill was promoted to main event status. Several days ago, Jackson’s narrative changed. He started saying that Hamill had successfully “lit a fire” under him. He started posting shirtless pictures to his Twitter account to show how in-shape and ready he is for this fight. He started saying he likes to finish people and is out to put on a good show for the fans in Las Vegas.
That sounds good, certainly, but there is no guarantee that it will translate to the cage. If Hamill can succeed in turning this bout into a war of attrition, if he can use his noted wrestling skills to make it a grind, will Jackson be up to it? And if he isn’t, what will the UFC do with him?
Certainly a guy like Rampage will be a promotable fighter win, lose or draw this weekend. But by his own admission, we’re working with a limited window here. If Jackson is to remain among the top contenders in the UFC light heavyweight division, this weekend he needs to have an answer for the lingering questions about his dedication.