JOE Meets: Quinton "Rampage" Jackson - Rampage by name Rampage by nature?
JOE caught up with Mixed Martial Arts and movie superstar Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in an exclusive Irish interview and found a more thoughtful man than his reputation suggests.
Prior to interviewing Quinton “Rampage” Jackson for the launch of his new smartphone app Rampage Punch you realise you have to brace yourself.
Rampage is one of the most colourful, ebullient and outrageous fighters in Mixed Martial Art’s short history. More recently his fame has hit a new stratosphere as he portrayed the iconic B.A Baracus in the new A-Team movie.
He has always been open, forthright and at times hilarious in interviews. He says things others won't get away with becuase outside the octagon he always carries a wink and a smile and a charm that no other fighter can replicate.
Here’s a sample of some of the 6’’1, sixteen stone, former UFC light-heavyweight champions past utterances to give you a picture:
“I don’t want people to know that I like fat Japanese chicks with stretch marks from ear to ear. I don’t like people to know that I like flabby labby. Yeah, that s**t would get out, so don’t you tell nobody I like the flabby labby.” – boxingtalk.com, March 2007
On first hearing about Mixed Martial Arts
“Whoa, you mean I can beat up white folks and not go to jail? I ain’t racist or nothing... I’m from the South...that’s like unheard of where I’m from.” – theformula.com, March 2007
As I confided to a friend and Mixed Martial Arts fan - if you can’t get good copy out of Rampage, you might as well give up.
When Jackson comes on the line for the interview it isn’t quite Rampage by name, Rampage by nature - he’s chilled, pensive even.
Jackson’s record recently has suggested that he may soon start concentrating on his acting and business ventures more than fighting – he’s 34, was competetive but lost his last two fights against Jon “Bones” Jones and Ryan Bader, but prior to that beat Matt Hamill and Lyoto Machida. He can still bang, but for how long more?
Quinton is promoting his new smartphone app that measures the speed and strenght of your punch as you hold your phone in your hand and Rampage taunts or praises your efforts. Think of a virtual version of those arcade punchball games you’d smack with your friends at 5am on a sun holiday and you’ve got the idea. That seems a good place to start the interview.
You mention that you were talking to his friend Tito Ortiz a few months back, a man Jackson likes so much that he didn’t come to the UFC for a long time in case he’d have to fight him. You mention that Ortiz said in the conversation that young fighters need to brand themselves and make a business of their name for after their fighting careers. Quinton seems to be doing that with this app, does he agree with Tito’s assertion?
“Yeah, I firmly agree,” replies Quinton.
One sentence, four word answer, not the start I was hoping for, thankfully it got better, as Rampage warmed up.
Does this app and your recent movie and business ventures mean that you’re looking at retirement a tiny bit more now?
“Yeah ‘cause fightin’ only lasts a short time you know? You can’t draw a pension, you don’t have a great retirement plan when you’re fighting, you gotta’ brand yourself because you have to think about what’s after fighting.”
Jackson first caught the eye in Japan where the Japanese promoters of PRIDE, borrowing from pro-wrestling, billed Jackson as a homeless man.
Jackson borrowed something real from pro-wrestling though, the powerbomb.
It’s a move that requires extraordinary strenght to use in a real fight and it caught the eye, as well as his hard wrestling takedowns and later developed precision striking, it made him a star quickly.
You once said “win or lose you have to be entertaining the people” did you have a lot of influence in the game to make the game like your fighting style?
“I put a lot of influence into the game; I want it to be very entertaining for the people who choose to play it, you know what I’m sayin’? I want it to be the kind of game that people will play it over and over again. It’s not like a game where when you beat it you’re like ‘aw, I’m done.’ You get the highest score? You gonna’ want to show your friends you can get the highest score again! You’re going to want to hear the trash-talk! I wanted it to be kind of amusing and you’re going to want to play it over and over again!”
You mention that you tested it out on the commuter train home from Dublin city centre the night before, you got a few odd looks from people as Quinton’s recorded voice mocked and encouraged tour efforts as you shadowboxed standing by toilets.
Quinton chuckles, “Yeah! It’s something kinda’ new…I’d say like some people don’t understand it, especially for the small amount of people who don’t have smartphones - they’d probably have no idea what’s going on! They don’t know what the phones are capable of!
I’ve heard ‘bout people getting’ weird looks, but you know what I’m sayin’ the technology is gold.”
Jackson's trademark powerbombs
Quinton got his nickname of “Rampage” because of the temper tantrums he had as a child. As the child grew into an adolescent he started hanging out with the wrong crowd. When his grandmother had a dream that all her grandchildren would be successful and told her daughter about it, little Rampage’s mother responded with the question “Even Quinton?”
It’s a long way from there to being a multi-millionaire athlete and businessman.
“Yeah my Mom really didn’t believe I’d amount to anything. I guess I was a problem child – the black sheep of the family… I guess it’s hard for me to believe sometimes, even when I look in the mirror in the morning sometimes when I’m getting up, I don’t see the same kid I was growing up.
People out there recognize me every day and I’m shocked because I don’t recognize me, people see me as this superstar, except for my family and my mother.”
Jackson credits his uncle and a high-school wrestling coach called Peter Bolego for turning his life around.
“Yeah they sent me messages to go on the right path and stay on the right path,” says Jackson.
“You know life a lot of times throws you curve balls and stuff like that, but if you want to change and do something for yourself, make the most of your opportunities... You need to have the right people around you to tell you where you need to go... You know when I was younger, I was hangin’ around with all the wrong kinda’ people, thug-kinda’ of people and once I realized where that would get me, I started hanging out with better kinda’ people and my uncle and Bolego helped me out a lot.”
Rampage displaying his tight striking skills on Shogun Rua
There’s been a lot of talk of retirement for Jackson, the man who unified the PRIDE and UFC light-heavyweight title, maybe too much, Quinton feels that the talk about his future implies that there might be no present for him. Outside the fan-friendly, entertaining figure he is, he sometimes wishes that the effort he and other fighters go to entertain fans was appreciated more.
“I think I still have a lot of fights left in me, but I’m the type of guy who puts a lot on the line and do my job… I just want to be appreciated for what type of person I am and what I bring to the table,” he says a little wearily, “I think some people don’t really realize that even though MMA is one of the safest full contact sports there is, we still put our life on the line when we fight, sometimes we just want a ‘lil appreciation.”
The extremes of positive and negative emotions while competing in combat sports is what gets Rampage sometimes, they can both be equally damaging he explains, “It’s tough being a fighter, it’s tougher than being a basketball player or a football player – it’s harder when you win and when you lose. The weird thing is it hits you real hard when you lose, when you fight and you win it hits you hard too; It’s like “Yeah, I just did that!” and when you lose it’s like ‘that’s all on you…’”
Jackson struggles to elaborate on what it is like to be in the mind of a fighter, “At the end of the day you train hard and try your best….it’s really hard to put into words,” Jackson pauses to consider his next sentence, “It’s like your manhood ‘cos you just, you just ‘Fought’ somebody and you’re a ‘Fighter’ and whether you win or lose you just 'Fought' somebody in combat hand-to-hand and it might bring you up really high or bring you down really low.
I just feel like the American fans that we fight for could put themselves in a fighter’s shoes to really understand what we go through on a daily basis. I just want people to appreciate me for the stuff I do.”
That seems to be in line with Jackson’s past statements that fighting is all mental. You ask can he elaborate on his theory that despite the high-level of athleticism that needs to be developed, the bones that can be broken and the pain that has to be endured, he finds the mental aspect of fighting the most strenuous facet of the sport.
“I think fighting is like 95percent mental because after my fights, whether I win or lose, I think about my state of mind, where I’m at and my training. I know sometimes when I’m hurt or injured in training, my mind isn’t as strong as usual and I’m just going through the motions,” he answers.
“I remember times when I train really hard and I just feel unbeatable,” he pauses as if to recall that feeling, “then again with the fight with Jon Jones I felt overconfident because that was the best shape I’ve ever been in and there’s a fine line.”
He continues to talk about his state of mind in his losing effort in his light-heavyweight title shot against the prodigious talent of twenty-four year-old Jon ‘Bones’ Jones last September.
“I felt like ‘there is no way this kid is going to beat me, he’s not that experienced’ – so it is a fine line. It’s all about your state of mind and if you can tweak that fine line, figure out what it is... I mean I’ve got over forty-something fights and I still can’t figure out where it is.”
He concludes, “So fighting is very mental, so if you train really hard you think you’re training your body, but I think you’re actually training your mind and I think that’s the most important thing.”
Jackson blazed a trail for African-American fighters in the UFC and popularizing the sport within that community. ‘Bones’ Jones is the latest great African-American fighter as he proved in beating Jackson in that ‘Fight of the Night’ award-winning match-up at UFC 135. He’s closing in on Tito Ortiz’s record of five straight title defences of the light-heavyweight belt now, his fast, flawless and innovative-style seemingly unbeatable. Some see Jones as the inheritor of Jackson’s crown as the most entertaining style of fighter in the UFC. Jackson, while very complimentarfy to the younger man, isn’t sure yet.
“I don’t know, Jon Jones is… a special type of fighter.
"The kid has a very good mind and he’s really strong and he as some awesome skills. But what kind of fighter is he going to be? I don’t what type of fighter he is trying to be,” says Jackson sounding puzzled by excited by Jones’s development.
“You see he’s made it so far at such a young age… You know… a lot of times things can go into your head and you can get run away with yourself. I hope the best for him, I think he’s an awesome fighter and I think he’s the future of the sport.
At same time I can see him going undefeated for a long time and then slowing down the pace.”
Next up for Jones is a man twenty years his senior, a grizzled old veteran of the fight game enjoying an incredible Indian summer to his career, Dan Henderson.
Hendo’ will be next to take on Jones in September having beaten Fedor Emelianenko, one of the greatest fighters ever and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua in the ‘Fight of the Year’ last year.
Jackson’s greatest MMA achievement came in 2007 in London when he unified the PRIDE middleweight and UFC light-heavyweight titles by beating Henderson by unanimous decision. Jackson is full of admiration for the two-time Olympian in Greco-Roman wrestling.
“You know - Dan Henderson is one of the toughest guys I ever fought,” he says magnanimously.
“He has some great hands he can use if he can get past Jones’s reach, but Jones has some very weird things he can do – the way he can kick your knees out and the way he can keep you at bay with his hands and has reach. Dan Henderson can do some stuff if he can get past that, but I hope it’s just an exciting fight at the end of the day. “
Performing his wolf howl at the weigh-in for UFC 114
Jackson is a family man, he has four kids, three boys and a daughter. Boxer George Foreman famously named all of his sons after himself, Jackson has followed suit by giving all his sons the same middle-name as his fight moniker, Rampage.
You mention to Jackson that you find it hard to square the menacing guy he is when heading to the ring, cold shark-eyed, snarling and making wolf howls, with the media-friendly figure that always talks about his kids and Mom in interviews.
“Well… people may not understand – I have my work and I have my life you know what I’m sayin’? I don’t bring my work back home with me. My kids don’t even know that guy that goes out there and fights for them and I don’t bring that guy home either.
That’s who I am when I’m out there doing my thing! I don’t hate my opponent - that’s just my game face. That’s who Rampage is…” he says as if talking about a different person.
“They don’t know what I do…well they’ve watched some of my fights I suppose, but they think that’s what everybody’s Dad does – everyone’s Dad is a fighter and everyone’s Dad is on TV. They still wonder why people come up to me looking for autographs at Disneyland!” he laughs.
“I think my oldest kids understand, but the youngest have no idea what’s going on! I’m just their Dad!”
Jackson promoting the A-Team movie in which he starred with Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper
Jackson has thankfully loosened up since his initial terse answer, he now seems to be enjoying giving an insight into the mind of a fighter and his life, offering considered, introspective and articulate responses. Unfortunately time is beginning to beat us.
Jackson came from a background in the deep-south of America, where African-American fighters didn’t do Mixed Martial Arts, it wasn’t their thing. Jackson broke the mould and now the UFC features many great black fighters, perhaps inspired by his success.
You mention that Ireland has a new Mixed Martial Arts world champion in Conor McGregor who won the UK promotion Cage Warrior’s featherweight title a few weeks prior to the interview. Yet despite that and the sport’s growing popularity in Ireland, there’s still no Irish-born representation in the UFC. Does Jackson have any thoughts given his own history of breaking down barriers in the sport?
“I would say…you know… it’s in your blood, you guys are known for that [fighting]! I would say this to people from Ireland, or anywhere, focus on what your goal is, train hard and if you keep it in your mind’s eye you can achieve it…no matter where you from and what people say about you, believe in yourself and what you can do and you can achieve.”
With that it’s fair to say Rampage may be a scary man in the Octagon, but Quinton Jackson is an equally intriguing and engaging character outside it.