Kimbo Slice may have been the first MMA fighter who ever intrigued me, and Fedor Emelianenko may have been the first MMA fighter who ever amazed me, but “Rampage” Jackson was the first MMA fighter who ever scared me. Which is why he’ll always hold a special place in my heart.
When I first saw highlights of this howling tough guy wearing an eight-pound chain as a necklace and power-slamming Ricardo Arona (who, by the way, also scares me) through the floor in Japan, I was terrified. If Jackson could do that to a man who looked like Arona, what in god’s name could he do to me? And what could a whole bunch of Jackson’s do to society at large? For the first time since I started following MMA I began to think about the ramifications of a culture where tens of thousands of people around the world were training to be professional destroyers of other human beings.
Whereas in other sports, love and amazement are enough to command loyalty, the relationship between fighters and fans isn’t entirely benevolent. Inside every MMA fan, whether he or she is willing to admit it or not, lives the fascination with something they’re terrified by. And I think that’s an enormous part of what drives MMA fans to keep watching. The same adrenaline a fighter feels fighting, we (on a smaller scale) feel watching them fight. It’s an adrenaline borne not just out of bloodlust (though that exists, too) but also out of the terror we feel for, and of, the people doing the fighting.
So it’ll be interesting to watch Rampage fight tomorrow in Chicago – not only because he’s fighting the current scariest man in the UFC, Glover Teixeira, but also because it looks like this might just be Jackson’s last fight for the promotion. For the past month Jackson has been attacking the UFC for being an organization that doesn’t take care of its fighters. The fact that Jackson has threatened to retire before (and that UFC President Dana White recently announced that the UFC had taken care of Jackson to the tune of $15 million over the last six years) doesn’t change the fact that Jackson must realize that his time as a viable contender, much less as the scariest man in MMA, has long since passed and that it's probably time for him to call it a day. He hasn't power-slammed anything in years.
I’m conflicted by this. On the one hand, I don’t want to see Rampage puttering around in the Octagon getting his brains bashed in by younger, faster, more well-trained fighters. I love him far too much for that. On the other hand, the end of Jackson’s career will be one more nail in the coffin of my early innocent MMA life – my pure years. Fedor has become a suit. Mirko Cro Cop is a shell of the fighter he once was. One-time killers like Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Wanderlei Silva are good-natured family men who lose more often than they win. Kenny Florian talks for a living. And Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes are sitting behind desks at UFC headquarters. My first generation of MMA idols is settled. And I don’t know whether to cry or laugh about it.
Rampage, we'll miss you. And we miss you.
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