by Alex Donno
At UFC 130, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson finds himself in a familiar place: the main event. Originally touted as “Edgar vs Maynard III,” UFC 130 lost its original main event mere weeks ago, when both lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and top contender Gray Maynard pulled out of the fight with injury. Now, Rampage vs Matt “The Hammer” Hamill sits at the top of the fight card. Though not guaranteed, it’s possible the winner will be next in line for a title shot against light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones.
Saturday will mark the seventh time that Rampage has fought in a UFC main event. He’s 4-2 in his previous 6, with notable wins over Chuck Liddell (to win the title), Dan Henderson (to unify the Pride FC and UFC titles), and most recently over Lyoto Machida at UFC 123.
Despite fighting so many times on MMA’s biggest stage, the amazing thing about Rampage is, he doesn’t seem to be trying particularly hard. He’s notorious for abhorring hard training, and admits that it’s no longer easy to find the motivation to go 100% in the gym. Lately, he’s been getting noticeably out of shape between fights, and nearly retired from the UFC after starring in “The A-Team” in 2010. He’s 1-1 in the Octagon since returning from that hiatus. On the surface, he seems to lack the motivation that most fighters require to stay at the highest level of the sport. He even turned down a March title shot against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, citing that five weeks would not be sufficient time to prepare (Jon Jones accepted the fight after Rampage refused it.) It’s rare for a UFC fighter to turn down a title shot, even under such non ideal circumstances. So how does Rampage manage to keep fighting at such a high level despite his borderline apathy? In my opinion, his sustained success in the Octagon comes from killer instinct coupled with God-given athletic abilities. He’s talented enough to cut a few corners in the gym, and prideful enough to find just enough motivation needed to keep competing at an elite level. To put it in simple terms: to some, fighting is life. A part of Rampage wanted to walk away from fighting to pursue a budding acting career. A bigger part of him could not sit idly by while Rashad Evans accused him of being a coward. And of course, earning 6-figure paydays per fight must also be a nice perk.
Surely there was a time, probably during his Pride FC days and early in his UFC tenure, when Rampage had that raw determination and pure desire that creates champions in a sport where hard work is not only rewarded, but absolutely necessary. But some time along the way, he lost a spark or two. Originally, Rampage made headlines by saying he wasn’t particularly excited to face Matt Hamill. On a recent conference call, he went even farther than that, saying he “no longer gets excited about facing anyone.” Comments like that sound uncharacteristically apathetic for a UFC fighter. But to Rampage’s credit, he says his motivation is “to win,” and that’s probably motivation enough for a man with brute strength, lethal knockout power, and a well rounded skill set.
Now though, Matt Hamill is trying his best to motivate Rampage, whether deliberately or not. The former elite college wrestler was quoted saying he would “break [Rampage’s] will.” That comment made Rampage raise an eyebrow. “When he said that, that motivated me as much as I’ve been motivated in a fight.” It may be the spark he needed. Suddenly, Hamill is more than just another nameless opponent. To Rampage, a fight with Hamill is now personal. Hamill may have woken up a sleeping giant.
Does Rampage have another run at the title in his future? Rashad Evans is risking a title shot by fighting prospect Phil Davis at UFC 133 in August. Even with a victory over Davis, the timing of that fight may not coincide with champion Jon Jones’ return from a hand injury. As a result, the Rampage/Hamill winner may very well be next in line for a crack at the belt, likely in October or November.
Rampage insists that he will retire at age 35. He turns 33 next month. The final two years of the Rampage era begin this Saturday, May 28th, at UFC 130. Hopefully, we continue to see an intense, focused Rampage in the cage, not an apathetic former champion merely doing the bare minimum to keep collecting a paycheck. I’m expecting and hoping for the former, not the latter.