In a Bar on Main Street...
I sit, drinking a beer, watching the fights. It is January 26, 2013, and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is about to take center stage. Because I'm in a bar, the television is silent, but I can imagine the sound of wolf howls-Rampage's trademark battle-cry-echoing throughout the arena. I first became familiar with Rampage at the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. A former UFC champion, he's come far since then. His opponent tonight is Glover Teixeira, a Brazilian, and one of the top light-heavyweights in the world.
The co-main event of UFC on Fox 6 is about to begin. I sit and drink my beer. Above the octagon the lights flicker mutely; and then, suddenly, go dim.
Quinton Jackson was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on June 20, 1978. It was to the hardscrabble streets of Memphis that he'd credit his initial interest in fighting and in high-school he joined the wrestling team, garnering All-State honors. Shortly after, hearing of the success of other wrestlers in mixed martial arts, he abandoned his goals of professional wrestling, and pursued a career in no-holds-barred fighting. He'd made the right decision. Soon, Jackson had amassed an impressive record of 10-1 (a loss he'd one day avenge), fighting in a multitude of venues, such as King of the Cage and Gladiator Challenge.
And still, his sights were set even higher. As with all fighters who've tasted the thrill of battle, of having their throbbing knuckles raised above their heads, feeling the roar of the crowd sweep over them, Jackson was hooked. His eyes gleamed with the prospects of competition.
He wanted more. Japan was calling.
Pride Fighting Championships was a Japanese mixed martial arts event, first held at the Tokyo Dome on October 11, 1997. It utilized a ring, as opposed to a cage, and fighters at these events were treated like rock stars; gods; cheered for and bet against with an almost peerless intensity. Watching a Pride event, you could picture the samurai of old receiving similar treatment, as they marched off to war.
Jackson was invited to compete at Pride 15, against superstar Kuzashi, "the Gracie Hunter" Sakuraba. Hardly an idea matchup. Sakuraba was famous for his victories over members of the storied Gracie family, and was-at the time-the Empire's most promising son. And Jackson, well Jackson was an unknown. The outlier. A nobody.
He met Sakuraba head on. Though he lost the bout due to a rear-naked-choke, Jackson was praised for his performance. He was urged to participate at Pride 17, where he scored a knockout against Yuki Isikawa. He then lost his next bout via disqualification, but went on to defeat Masaaki Satake, Igor Vovchanchy, Kevin Randleman, and Mikhail Illoukhine in ruthless succession. Jackson was quickly carving out a name for himself.
The time of Rampage had come.
In 2003, Rampage entered into the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. In the opening round of the tournament, he defeated Murilo Bustamante. Three months later, he beat Chuck Liddell into a corner, flogging the kickboxer without mercy. The referee was forced to intervene. Liddell would go on to claim the UFC light-heavyweight belt, defending it many times. But he'd never forget his brutal loss to Rampage Jackson. And there'd be rumors of the rematch, whispers of revenge, long before that particular fight was actually realized.
By beating Liddell, Rampage earned a spot in the finals that night against Wanderlei Silva. The Axe Murderer. A savage Vale Tudo fighter with a reputation for his vicious style and stunning knockout power.
Jackson was unperturbed.
He fought an incredible, violent bout against Silva. It was hailed later as a potential "Fight of the Year" candidate. There was blood and saliva. You could see it flying. Rampage gave all he could, but in the end the Brazilian proved too much; he knocked out the American with a series of knee strikes to the head.
And that was it. Sayonara, as they say in Japan.
Rampage continued fighting in Pride, punching and slamming his way towards a rematch. He fought with relentless intensity. Beat Ikuhisa Minowa to the canvas and slammed Ricardo Arona so hard it knocked him unconscious. Those watching at home could almost feel the rumble of the floor as Arona's skull bounced and his eyes closed. The crowds went insane. I went insane. It was an "Oh Shit" moment if I ever saw one, and it's since been ensconced in MMA lore.
But always, always, he thought of Silva. And, at last, he got his rematch.
As the fight began, it seemed this time around things would be different. Rampage landed a solid blow that sent Silva reeling to the canvas. As the round closed, he managed to wrestle the staggered Axe Murderer to his back, landing several combinations of knees and elbows. The second round was much the same. However, after enduring another takedown, Silva was able to get to his feet and-as with their last bout-score multiple knees to Rampage's head.
Once again, he'd been defeated. He closed his eyes to the image of Silva's leering stare; Silva's kneecap erupting from the floor.
CHECK BACK SOON FOR PART 2 OF THE GUTTERING STORM: THE RISE AND FALL OF RAMPAGE JACKSON