The Rising of a Star

Quinton Rampage JacksonQuinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson blasted onto the American MMA scene last year when he knocked out the UFC’s biggest star, Chuck Liddell. Hardcore fans of the sport had followed Jackson for years in Japan as a fighter for the now-defunct PRIDE Fighting Championships. He’s always possessed the qualities necessary to be a superstar in the U.S. The problem was he wasn’t fighting state-side when the UFC was blowing up into the monster it is today.

Instead, it was Chuck Liddell who was rising to stardom, the same man who Rampage had dominated in Japan just a couple years before. That all changed on May 26, 2007, at UFC 71. Jackson was with the UFC; he had made his debut a few months prior at UFC 67, where he avenged his first career loss, against Marvin Eastman. At this point, Chuck was on top of the world. He was more than just a fighter; he was MMA’s rock star. Liddell’s win-streak stood at seven; his last loss—Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. The stage was set for a showdown between a superstar and a man the casual fan barely knew, if at all. One minute, fifty-three seconds into the first round a new star was on the rise. Quinton might have been booed that night, but he was the new UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, and America was about to see a lot more of him.

After a UFC Countdown, All Access, and a successful title defense against another highly accomplished but relatively unknown fighter, Dan Henderson, Rampage’s proper introduction to the American audience was complete.

Now, it’s time to get to know him.

Fast Forward – The Ultimate Fighter Season Seven

I’ve never been a huge fan of The Ultimate Fighter for a variety of reasons, but I started looking forward to this season when it was announced that Rampage would be one of the coaches. Anyone who has followed his career knows he’s hilarious, charismatic, and very watchable.

While expecting he would bring his sense of humor to the show, I didn’t anticipate much from him as a coach. Rampage admittedly hates training, so, how could he be a good coach teaching something he hates. Last night’s episode, only one training session in, explained a lot about the man.

It would be easy for a guy like Rampage to walk into the whole experience with a massive ego and a condescending attitude. He’s fought on the sport’s two biggest stages, against some of its biggest names: Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, Ricardo Arona, the list goes on. But he didn’t. Instead, he’s taking it as a learning experience. In last night’s episode, he said: “My goal is to learn as well as teach ‘cause who knows? Maybe one day when I stop being so lazy I’ll want to train people after I retire from fighting…” The genuine desire to learn is a huge step in becoming great at anything. Years into his career, he still has it, only now it’s for learning to coach. And his humility is duly noted. There’s nothing lazy about a fighter with a 28-6-0 record.

That statement alone wouldn’t be enough to be a great coach, but it’s what he did later in the episode that was. Everyone’s had that boss or superior who only cared about themselves, not about their employees, and treats them as such. If not, maybe you saw how Matt Hughes treated his team during season six. It became quite clear he cared a lot more about beating Matt Serra than he did about his fighters. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked for and been coached by two individuals who were the exact opposite. Rampage reminded me of them a lot last night in his visit to the house to hang out with his team. Pat Schultz, the replacement fighter for Paul Bradley, said it best:

He’s a great coach. You see him howling out in the ring and knocking people out and you just think he’s going to be straight badass from the hood. Then he starts talking about his kids and life in general and you really want to win for Rampage.

And that’s the key. Some people possess that inherent ability to lead people. You want to win for them, you want to go beyond what you’re capable of, not because you have to, but because you want to. I would be willing to bet every one of the guys on his team had a new level of respect for Rampage after he left the house that night. He treated them like equals when it would have been almost natural for him to look down on them.

Regardless of what’s in the win-loss column at the end of the season and whether or not he passes a vast amount of knowledge on to his fighters, Rampage may very well be one of the best coaches The Ultimate Fighter’s ever had. He’s the kind of guy you go to war for. And viewers at home are going to love him for that.

Looking Forward

Quinton Rampage Jackson will face his opposing coach, Forrest Griffin, on July 5 at UFC 86. It will be his first fight since his win over Dan Henderson last September. Will TUF have made him a superstar by then? A star as big as Chuck Liddell? By itself, probably not, but if he beats Forrest and TUF’s portrayal of him doesn’t take a turn for the worse, it’s certainly possible he’ll be close.

The funny thing is, he doesn’t even want the fame that comes with it. In its latest issue, Black Belt magazine asked him how the increased exposure has affected his life. Rampage responded:

That’s something I’m dealing with. I’ve got to get used to being more popular. Back when I was fighting in Japan, I was more popular, but I could come home and just be a normal guy. In all honesty, I wish I could still be that guy…

You see, I’m not fighting to be popular or famous. I’m fighting to make money and save money for my kids so they can have it better than I had it growing up.

…It’s hard to believe that people want my autograph because I still think of myself as an everyday guy.

How could you not like him?