In probably the most curious moment in the long and storied career of Quinton Jackson, "Rampage" won the Pride FC middleweight title -- a championship he fought, punched, wrestled, and got knocked out for in the past -- at a UFC event. Against Dan Henderson. In England.
I'm sure Jackson dreamed of winning the belt surrounded by 60 or 70,000 applauding Japanese fans with a bloody and unconscious Wanderlei Silva at his feet.
But dreams rarely come true. At least, not how you'd expect them to.
In defeating Dan Henderson at UFC 75: "Champion vs. Champion," Jackson achieved the dream of winning the title that eluded him for so long. He also unified two of the most prestigious belts in the sport and became the undisputed number one 205-pounder in the process.
Before he steps into the cage tonight (May 28) at UFC 130: "Rampage vs. Hamill," we'll take a look at this historic bout and Jackson's date with destiny.
Let's jump in.
"Rampage" was flying high.
He had just knocked out Chuck Liddell -- for the second time in his career -- and won the UFC light heavyweight title. He was a bonafide superstar now. His personality always made him a fan favorite but now he made the Zuffa Machine behind him and there was only one direction to go: up.
Dan Henderson had defeated Wanderlei Silva, the long-time Pride FC 205-pound champion, six months prior at the company's penultimate event. Despite having foregone a career at light heavyweight two years prior, "Hendo" was given the title shot.
Whether or not he deserved it doesn't matter because a win is a win is a win and Henderson knocked out Silva in brutal fashion to wrest the title away from him. And he suddenly became a big factor in the UFC's plans following their purchase of Pride.
By summer of 2007, the fight was announced.
Representing the UFC: Quinton Jackson.
Representing Pride FC: Dan Henderson.
And at stake was the claim to be the undisputed number one light heavyweight in the world.
When the dust settled and the hypotheticals became reality, none of those names ended up settling the argument.
Instead it was "Rampage" and "Hollywood."
Let's take a look.
Pre-fight instructions and Henderson offers a handshake. Jackson refuses and "Hendo" can only smile.
"Rampage" comes out inspired and swings a looping hook right over his opponent's head. He lands an uppercut and a body shot that would crumple your average joe on the street.
They clinch up against the fence and it seems like every punch, every elbow, every knee each of these knockout artists throw lands with more intensity than any other strike I've seen.
Along the cage, the Team Quest fighter lands several knees meant to make Jackson's leg feel like cooked spaghetti. Soon after, a perfect trip gets "Rampage" on his back.
"Hendo" begins to chip away at his fellow American, grinding elbows along Jackson's jaw and delivering short punches to his ribs.
Jackson scrambles out from underneath but quickly finds his back once again against the cage. The Pride champion continues to make this a battle of attrition, hoping to tire out the UFC kingpin.
"Rampage" is able to create distance and a blistering exchange takes place. Henderson cracks his opponent with an uppercut that he merely shrugs off. The chin on that Memphis kid is absolutely insane.
A minute into the second round, Henderson gets a takedown and takes side mount. He begins landing knees to the body and follows up with punches to Jackson's head. Midway through the round, "Rampage" explodes out and clinches his opponent against the cage.
"Hollywood" botches his third takedown attempt and ends up with a frustrated and angry Quinton Jackson on top. "Rampage" begins to throw elbows to the body, each landing with a sickening thud I can only imagine resembles what a baseball bat connecting to the ribcage sounds like.
Henderson's been making this a wrestling match and Jackson has been happy to oblige, being a great wrestler in his own right. But the third opens up with what seemed to be "Rampage's" desire from jump street: a boxing match.
Having since honed since stand up with Juanito Ibarra, the UFC champ easily bests Henderson for the first 90 seconds. He opens up with a combination that forces "Hendo" to backpedal and throw a high risk/low reward knee to the body.
The knee is caught and Henderson quickly finds himself on his back, victim to more damaging punches and elbows to the ribs.
The Pride champion begins searching for a kimura and secures it enough that "Rampage" is forced to roll over to avoid getting his shoulder ripped out of socket. In doing so, Henderson ends up on top of his opponent, ready to give him a little comeuppance for the previous two minutes.
Another nail-biting exchange ends the round but neither fighter finds their mark.
Entering the championship rounds, we will see fatigue and conditioning start to play a factor. In fights as close as this one, it's those attributes in the later minutes that determine the winner.
Henderson launches that bomb of a overhand right, missing, and narrowly avoids a counter right uppercut from Jackson. But a left hook from "Rampage" finds a home on the side of his opponent's head and the Pride champion falls backwards onto the mat.
Jackson follows him into his guard and begins punishing the body and head. Shades of a Nogueira brother, "Hendo" forces a stop to the onslaught as he teases an armbar. Forced to defend, the UFC champion gives his opponent a momentary reprieve.
After the submission attempt is squashed, Jackson uses dominant top control to move forward on the scorecards. But with only 60 seconds remaining the round, the fights are stood up to engage.
A combination lands against Henderson's cinder block-like skull to end the round as he reach the final five minutes that will determine the best 205-pounder in the world.
The boxing prowess of Jackson immediately comes into play at the beginning of the final round. Henderson has power but "Rampage" has the superior technique. A counter uppercut that catches the Pride champion right on chin proves this point.
Realizing his best success was in the first round, "Hollywood" begins to employ the gameplan from the first five minutes: grind his opponent against the cage and attack the body.
Henderson creates distance and lands a vicious elbow against the head of his opponent. They begin to exchange, each fighter landing until the Pride champ staggers Jackson with a straight before getting a takedown.
With the fight being as close as it is, Henderson is doing all he can to make his mark on the judges' scorecards. He punches, elbows, and controls his opponent's legs in an attempt to keep him on his back.
Having worked too hard to get this close to the Pride FC championship to be denied, Jackson gets back to his feet and delivers two devastating knees to his Henderson's body. Then "Rampage" almost ragdolls Henderson down to the mat as the Team Quest fighter tries to regain his composure.
The fight ends with Jackson standing over a nearly prone Henderson and unloading punches. The picture paints a dominant performance by "Rampage" by the fight was anything but. Jackson hopes that the image is enough to earn him the round.
When the scores are read, Jackson didn't have to worry about the last round. Two of the judges had him winning all rounds save one. The other judge scored the bout 48-47.
A unanimous decision for the Memphis-born wrestler was music to his ears. He retained his UFC belt and finally won the Pride belt he sought for so long.
No longer the champion and with Tinseltown whispering his name, Jackson's devotion to MMA has been called into question for some time now.
Perhaps he feels -- after his win at UFC 75 -- that he has nothing left to prove.
Or maybe everyone is jumping to conclusions and Jackson will show everyone -- especially Matt Hamill -- that he's got one more title run left in him.