"Rampage" made his long-awaited debut for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) back on Feb. 3, 2007, knocking out Marvin Eastman in the second round of their UFC 67 contest, which at the time, was a commercial for his inevitable rematch against Chuck Liddell.
And, just like their first go-round at PRIDE FC: "Final Conflict" in late 2003, "The Iceman" would be finished off by way of technical knockout.
This time, the victory was good enough to earn Jackson the 205-pound strap, which he then successfully defended against fellow PRIDE import (and former champion) Dan Henderson at UFC 71 less than four months later. With three straight wins inside the Octagon, two of them coming against a pair of the world's finest, it's safe to say his 2007 fight campaign was the best of his career.
Then, something happened.
I spoke to "Rampage" shortly after he bested "Hendo" (read it here) and while he was entertaining, there was an air of invincibility in his voice. A coaching stint on season seven of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) would soon follow, culminating in his shocking upset loss to his opposing coach, Forrest Griffin, at UFC 86.
Coughing up his title was the least of his concerns.
Two weeks after surrendering his place atop the light heavyweight throne, Jackson was arrested at gunpoint on felony hit-and-run charges. His bizarre behavior, which included another brush with authorities just days after the arrest, was attributed to a bout of "delirium" caused by a lack of sleep and an overabundance of energy drinks.
It didn't end there.
Longtime trainer Juanito Ibarra jumped ship and his former pupil aligned himself with Michael Bisping at the Wolfslair Academy in England. If 2007 was the best year of his professional career, than 2008 was clearly his worst. His only saving grace was a highlight-reel knockout over Wanderlei Silva during their UFC 98 rematch in Las Vegas.
Wandy had brutalized the Memphis-native -- twice -- when they first went to war in PRIDE.
So too, did Mauricio Rua, who ended their 2005 affair with a face full of soccer kicks. Jackson attributed the loss to a dislocated ankle and he -- as well as most fans -- were itching to find out how "Shogun" would fare in an Octagon rematch under the unified rules of mixed martial arts (MMA).
There was little else for them at this stage of their respective careers.
After all, both "Rampage" and "Shogun," 3-3 over their last six fights, had their crack at the crown, held by reigning division champion Jon Jones, and both faltered in spectacular fashion. In addition, neither fighter was able to withstand their recent match-ups against the new guard.
By now, a rematch was not only one of the few remaining options for the thirty-something strikers, but seemingly a foregone conclusion. Even Rua called their collision "inevitable." Two weeks after that comment, the fight was booked. Two days after that, it was unbooked.
"Rampage," already under fire for TRT use in Japan, opted for knee surgery instead.
It was the second time in the span of 18 months the "Shogun" ship had run aground with Jackson at the helm. In fact, he was offered a title fight against the Chute Boxe legend at UFC 128 when Rashad Evans blew out his knee, but was forced to turn it down because he was too fat.
To be fair, Rua was also responsible for torpedoing their planned rematch when he was upended by Forrest Griffin at UFC 76, opening the door for the New York Times best-selling author to take his place in the UFC 86 main event. That was the first of three strikes and it's safe to say the "Rua vs. Jackson" rematch is out.
Perhaps it just wasn't meant to be.
The artist once known as B.A. Baracus will instead battle rising star Glover Teixeira at this weekend's (Jan. 26, 2013) UFC on FOX 6 event from the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Win or lose, he's leaving the promotion for good because of this.
But once Jackson leaves, so does his rematch against Rua. As desperately as he wanted it, it will long live in his (and our) memories as the one that got away. They say that "PRIDE never die," but come Saturday night, it won't have to. It's just going to fade away.
One fighter at a time.