Boasting leg kicks, head kicks, elbows, combinations to the body and knees from the Muay Thai clinch in his repertoire for his UFC return on Saturday night, it might have been the most diverse striking assault we have ever seen from Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson.
He might have failed to close the show against the notoriously tough Brazilian Fabio Maldonado after three rounds, but he still did plenty to secure the unanimous decision win. The enhanced arsenal was amazing to see from the cult hero who initially burst onto the scene over a decade ago with little more than heavy hands and his wrestling base to rely on, especially when you consider the scrutiny he came under during his previous UFC tenure.
In July 2001 Rampage was thrust into the hornet’s nest for his debut at Pride Fighting Championships. His ever-present, boisterous personality was evident from his early promos with the Japanese promotion and the American didn’t show any reluctance despite being matched with one of The Land of the Rising Son’s greatest martial artists, Kazushi Sakuraba.
Jackson’s aggressive wrestling style had clocked him up a record of 10-1 at that point and interestingly five of the wins had come by submission. Rampage may have made some noise later on that suggested a somewhat fractious relationship with ‘the gentle art’, but before making his Pride debut he had claimed victories by armbar, rear naked choke and kimura.
Despite landing a series of his infamous slams, a staple of his game that would endear him to the worldwide MMA community, it became clear that Sakuraba’s submission skills were on a different level to anyone Jackson had faced up until that point. Despite the entertaining scrambles of Jackson that won the crowd’s affection, he succumbed to a rear naked choke in what remains a very memorable debut.
Two years later when he met Kevin Randleman, the growth of Jackson’s striking prowess was clear for everyone to see as his counter wrestling kept the fight standing. Knees worked Randleman’s body throughout the seven-minute encounter. Eventually a knee to the solar plexus followed by a right, left hook combination brought ‘The Monster’ down before mounted strikes brought an end to the contest.
A melee between Rampage and Wanderlei Silva after the Randleman win set up that year’s middleweight tournament nicely. A split decision win over jiu jitsu black belt Murilo Bustamante led to a meeting with UFC’s representative at the tournament, Chuck Liddell. ‘The Iceman’ had claimed that he would prove that UFC fighters could mix it up with any of Pride’s charges, but Jackson outclassed his countryman over two rounds. Rampage’s devastating ground and pound was enough to see Liddell’s corner throw in the towel in the second round.
Fans got what they wanted when Silva and Jackson met in the final. Despite utilizing knees to the body quite frequently himself, his knowledge seemed to pale in comparison to ‘The Axe Murderer’, a Muay Thai proponent, whose umpteen unanswered knees to the head brought an end to the tournament final.
UFC landed one of their most lucrative signings ever when Rampage came on board with the banner after ZUFFA acquired select assets from World Fighting Alliance. After much fanfare, Jackson avenged his sole loss before entering the Pride ranks to Marvin Eastman, as he decimated ‘The Beastman’ with his right hand in the second round and confirmed himself as a bona fide knockout artist in doing so.
Jackson’s use of wrestling background to keep his fights standing, coupled with his boxing ability set him apart early in his UFC tenure. He climbed to the top of the mountain in his second UFC outing with his iconic knockout of Chuck Liddell before unifying the Pride and UFC titles with decision victory over Dan Henderson – a victory that gets more impressive the further we are removed from it.
Then some cracks started to appear. Jackson lost his UFC title to Forrest Griffin in July 2008 and many criticized his failure to check Griffin’s leg kicks, among other things, as one of the main reasons his hand wasn’t raised on the night. Despite the loss, Rampage kept his stock high with a ‘Knockout of the Night’ to avenge his two previous losses to Wanderlei Silva and ‘Fight of the Night’ winning performance over Keith Jardine after the Griffin loss. Again, his boxing paved his way to glory on both occasions.
After a brief retirement Rampage returned for a grudge match against Rashad Evans in May 2010 after their TUF: Heavyweights appearances as rival coaches. He might have rocked ‘Suga’ in round three but it didn’t stop the TUF winner from picking Rampage apart with a potent mixture of wrestling and striking. It seemed like Jackson had stopped investing in new techniques as the sport continued to evolve.
His championships meeting with Jon Jones in September 2011 underlined those sentiments, although it was clear that Jackson was facing a different breed of athlete. His submission loss in the fourth round was the first of his career, and the Memphis native made no bones about congratulating Jones after the fight.
In the lead up to his next fight with Ryan Bader, Jackson spoke about his disdain for “fake-ass” Joe Rogan in an interview with Fighters Only. He said that Rogan had claimed he was “one-dimensional” and that he would need to embrace different techniques like “leg kicks”. Jackson argued that the fact that he was facing off against wrestlers didn’t allow him to throw leg kicks, but after suffering losses to Bader and Glover Texeira after him, Rampage joined the Bellator ranks where he clocked up three consecutive wins.
On Saturday night Rampage’s UFC return may not have had the spectacle of his promotional debut against Marvin Eastman back in 2007, but it certainly did provide talking points. You can’t help but think that if Jackson had opened his mind to some of the techniques he utilized in the catchweight bout against Maldonado earlier in his career, we might have seen him stay relevant on the biggest stages for longer.
Against the upper echelon of the division, it’s hard to see him doing any better than in his previous attempts at 36 years of age, but as a man who has done everything in the sport there are still plenty of fun fights for the fans left in him.
Who wouldn’t love to see a rematch between him and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua? Two legends fighting for relevancy after years at the forefront of the sport, it would certainly generate a lot of interest. One thing is certain after Saturday, the majority of fans still have a big place in their hearts for the man from Memphis.
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