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How has 'Rampage' Jackson had a career so typical, yet also so unique?

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During a conference call with reporters to promote their rematch at Bellator 175, Quinton Jackson and Muhammed Lawal had a verbal exchange that summed up a lot about Jackson’s career in MMA, which has been long and strange and yet entirely predictable in certain ways.

It started with a conversation about weight. Specifically, it started with a conversation about what weight the two men will fight at, with Lawal (20-6 MMA, 9-4 BMMA) explaining that he’d turned down a catchweight offer in order to fight Jackson (37-11 MMA, 4-0 BMMA) at heavyweight. Then this happened:

Jackson: Guess what? You ain’t fighting me at heavyweight. You fighting me at a catchweight.

Lawal: No. Heavyweight, player. Ain’t no catchweight here. It’s at heavyweight, dog, 265 is the weight class. Heavyweight. I don’t do no catchweights.

Jackson: Wait, wait, you’re telling me I can weigh 265? Is this what you’re telling me?

Lawal: Yes, yes you can!

Again, this was last week. This was less than two weeks before the fight itself. If we’re to take this exchange at face value, that means “Rampage” Jackson didn’t know what division he was fighting in until his opponent told him – in public, with reporters listening and writing it all down – and when he did hear the news, his first reaction was one of relief as much as astonishment.

If it were any other fighter, we probably wouldn’t believe it. We’d assume it was all a deft troll job. How are you not going to know what weight class you’re fighting in? As Lawal would later point out, the posters for the fight clearly said heavyweight. So did the reports after the fight was announced. How did Jackson not hear about this before now?

The answer, according to him, is that his coach lied to him, which would also be borderline unbelievable with anyone else and yet totally plausible when it comes to Jackson.

This is the same guy who, according to former nutritionist Mike Dolce, used to hide candy under his pillow during his training camp. Is it really so hard to imagine him having a working relationship with his coach that involves at least a few lies for Jackson’s own good? Can’t you picture someone telling him that he has to weigh 235 pounds, then conveniently leaving out the fact that this is not so much a contractual requirement as it is just a really good idea?

If you’ve been paying attention to Jackson’s career over the last 17 years, this all makes a specific kind of sense. The same is true of the rest of the conversation with Lawal, which included “Rampage” trotting out some of his customary zingers (“We can tell weight don’t matter to ‘King Mo’; look at his girlfriend”) and then immediately pivoting to a sympathy-seeking personal health disclosure (“I’m an older fighter,” Jackson said, “and I have a thyroid problem that is hard for me”).

That mix of confusion and certainty and jokes and genuine vulnerability is vintage “Rampage.” He’s the guy who can be making fun of his opponent’s bad breath in one sentence, then turn right around and tell you that PRIDE officials poisoned his food before he fought Kazushi Sakuraba. He’s the guy who’s been talking about how much he hates this sport for at least a decade, but still can’t seem to leave it alone.

Just recently he was telling ESPN that his biggest regret was ever starting MMA in the first place, since he’d have rather been at home with his family. Of course, as anyone who followed his journey from the UFC to Bellator to the UFC to Bellator already knows, the one place Jackson never seems to want to be is wherever he is at the present moment.

He’s hit all the major notes of a career in MMA. He got soccer-kicked in PRIDE tournaments. He claimed a piece of history as a UFC champion. He got himself arrested in truly bizarre fashion. He fell in and out of love with a Hollywood acting career. He rode the synthetic testosterone train during the TRT era. He was the centerpiece of a UFC vs. Bellator legal battle. He even fought for one of those overly ambitious MMA upstarts, back when those were popping up everywhere and then disappearing just as fast.

Even now, as he splits his time between streaming video games and preparing for a grudge match in MMA’s version of the seniors tour, Jackson is following the MMA script, yet doing it with a style that is very clearly his own. There will only ever be one “Rampage” Jackson: weirdly charismatic and bafflingly juvenile, richly talented and frustratingly inconsistent.

There might be no one who has gained so much from this sport while disliking it this much. There might be no one as indifferent to his own success. A master of excuses and self-pity. Stubbornly compelling, despite his best efforts to convince us to look away and leave him alone.

Rematching a rival like Lawal in a heavyweight fight that he thought was a catchweight? That’s exactly what “Rampage” would do at this point in the overall MMA arc. And watching it, even though we can’t pinpoint why we’re still interested, is probably exactly what many of the rest of us would do in response.

For more on Bellator 175, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.



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