Before the UFC 135 bout, I opined a loss for the Memphis native would spell the end for him as a title contender. At the time, Rashad Evans was on the brink of scoring a second title shot while former champions Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua were also looking to get back to the top of the 205-pound mountain. The upper echelon of the light heavyweight division has always been packed and one loss could derail a career for years. Ask Evans who the lost the title all the way back at UFC 98 and is only now getting another crack.
Despite clocking in at only 33 years old, Jackson has been in the fight game for over a decade and has spent most of it fighting only the best of the best. In addition to the wear and tear his body has accumulated over 41 fights, "Rampage" has made it no secret that training doesn't rank very high as a favorite pastime. I'm sure his disdain for it has only grown as he grows older.
So it didn't take a rocket scientist to put two and two together when the PRIDE Fighting Championships (PRIDE) veteran openly campaigned for a slot at UFC 144 held in the defunct Japanese promotion's favorite haunt, Saitama Super Arena. The writing was on the wall. And after coming in six pounds overweight and suffering a demoralizing loss to The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 8 winner Ryan Bader, many were left wondering the same thing.
Is the "Rampage" over?
It's fitting Jackson's career might end up coming to a close in the same building where it took off over a decade ago. "Rampage" showed up at the Saitama Super Arena at PRIDE 15 to take on company ace Kazushi Sakuraba. He was big, he was scary and he was American. He was the perfect villain to "Saku's" hero. With a giant chain around his neck and an inhuman howl coming from his mouth, "Rampage" became an instant star in Japan and would fight in country nearly 20 more times before making the jump to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
It was inside the Octagon Jackson would find the success that eluded him across the Pacific. Inside the PRIDE ring, he always played second fiddle to Wanderlei Silva. Stateside, he quickly deposed Chuck Liddell from the top of the light heavyweight mountain and became a champion. Less than four months later, he finally won the title he never could in Japan when he defeated Dan Henderson who had taken the title from "The Axe Murderer" at PRIDE's penultimate show.
Jackson's career following the unification bout was punctuated by joyous highs and desperate lows. He would lose his title and his number one ranking to Forrest Griffin in his next fight. Soon after, he fired his trainer and went on a -- no pun intended -- rampage fueled by energy drinks and a lack of sleep. His monster truck led police on a short chase and soon Jackson's photo was appearing more often on TMZ's website than the UFC's.
He put all the drama behind him by finally besting longtime rival Silva and putting the Brazilian to sleep with a vicious hook at UFC 92. He added a second consecutive win by defeating Keith Jardine which also secured a title shot for the Memphis wrestler. Injuries kept him from cashing it in however and Machida took his place.
Another season coaching TUF, an A-Team feature film and a retirement shorter than Joseph Benavidez followed. "Rampage" finally faced off against Evans at UFC 114 but the TUF 2 winner kept Jackson on his back and earned the unanimous decision. The former champion would have to beat "The Dragon" and Matt Hamill before having to re-earn the title shot he never should have lost in the first place..
Over three years of waiting was rendered fruitless after 16 minutes when "Bones" forced Jackson to submit. Now, after a lethargic showing against Bader, Jackson finds himself even further removed from the throne he was occupied. The former champion blamed his performance on a knee injury, one severe enough to consider pulling out of the fight. "Rampage" ignored medical advice and stepped inside the ring anyway.
At the post-fight press conference, Jackson claimed he was feeling as good as ever before the injury and hopes to continue fighting for a few more years. The rumors of an impending retirement were squashed right then and there. When the time finally comes for Jackson to call it a day, however, it will be a sad day in mixed martial arts (MMA). No one wants to see a fighter with the talent and personality Jackson has walk away from the sport.
Regardless, "Rampage" will have earned it.