Quinton Jackson has been at the very top of the mixed martial arts (MMA) world.
In spring 2007, he made his Octagon debut and quickly made good on his promise to win the company’s light heavyweight title. He did so by viciously knocking out long-time champion and UFC poster boy Chuck Liddell.
Then "Rampage" made history by defeating Dan Henderson and unifying the UFC and Pride Fighting Championships (Pride) 205-pound titles. After years of coming up short against Chute Box fighters in Japan, he was finally recognized as the best light heavyweight in the world.
But by the next summer, the ranking and the belt were both gone. It’s been a series of dizzying highs and dark lows for the former champ since then, punctuated by wins over Wanderlei Silva and Lyoto Machida on one end and a police chase and arrest on the other.
Now more than three years removed from his last title fight, "Rampage" stands on the cusp of once again becoming the number one 205-pounder in the world. Standing in his way at UFC 135 is current champion Jon Jones, who many say is the future of not only the division, but of the entire sport itself.
Tonight is Jackson’s eighth UFC main event and it might be his last if he doesn’t get his hand raised. This very well could be the final opportunity the former champ gets to reclaim the title he once called his.
Why? Well, keep reading to find out!
Much like I posited in yesterday's piece about Josh Koscheck's status as an outsider looking in on the welterweight title picture, a definitive loss tonight for "Rampage" would put the former Pride star in the same boat. But whereas "Kos" only briefly flirted with title contention, Jackson has been a stalwart contender for the light heavyweight title for years.
His performance in Pride’s 2003 grand prix along with knockout wins over Kevin Randleman and Ricardo Arona placed "Rampage" second on the totem pole behind rival Wanderlei Silva. It wasn’t until the emergence of Mauricio Rua that Jackson’s status in the Japanese company began to dip.
Jackson only fought twice more for Pride after his loss to "Shogun" and eventually made his way stateside and to the UFC. Having defeated Liddell in the aforementioned tournament made him the obvious choice for number one contender and a win over Marvin Eastman solidified that.
"The Iceman" was on a rematch tour of sorts and had taken on Jeremy Horn, Randy Couture, Renato Sobral, and Tito Ortiz, all fighters he had previously stepped inside the Octagon with. A match-up with "Rampage" fight the bill perfectly.
That night, at UFC 71, "Rampage" got his first taste of gold. Four months later, he finally won the belt that had eluded him for years across the Pacific Ocean. He outlasted Dan Henderson – who had recently won Pride’s 203-pound title from "The Axe Murderer" – over the course of 25 minutes and became the first undisputed light heavyweight champion in the sport’s history.
After years of furious debate with names like Randy Couture , Wanderlei Silva, Chuck Liddell, and Mauricio Rua being argued for and against, the discussion of who was the best 205-pounder in the world at long last had an answer.
It wasn't any of those men. It was "Rampage."
But what goes up must come down. And after his first stint as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), Jackson lost his title in a closely contested bout to Forrest Griffin.
Ten days later, the former champion was arrested after hitting two vehicles with his truck and leading police on a short chase. Jackson claimed it was the result of not enough sleep and too many energy drinks, but the excuse was as shaky as his future seemed to be.
An immediate rematch against Griffin – which had been discussed and extrapolated – was put on the backburner while Jackson tended to his legal matters. "Rampage" finally made his return at UFC 92, knocking out and exacting a measure of revenge against Wanderlei Silva, who had bested him twice before in Pride.
Shortly thereafter, he entered into a plea agreement to help put his – ahem – "rampage" behind him. Since then Jackson became a number one contender only to bow out because of injury, coached another season of TUF, retired, and starred in a blockbluster action movie.
It’s been quite a ride for Jackson in the 12 years since he made his debut. Every time he slipped up and found himself outside the title picture, he managed to work his way back to the top. His loss to Rashad Evans last year was supposed to affirm he no longer had what it takes to compete at the highest level. Two wins -- one against Machida -- later, he's got one final chance to once again prove the naysayers wrong.
I say it's his last chance because it took "Rampage" 1,176 days since his loss to Griffin to get back to this stage. Should he fail tonight, another 1,176 days would put him at 36-years old with a decade and a half worth of fighting having already ravaged his body.
It’s safe to say that the Memphis native wouldn’t have it in him to once again claw his way back up ... very few people would. At UFC 135, it’s do or die for "Rampage."