Quinton “Rampage” Jackson appears to have fought his last fight for the UFC. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
UFC on Fox 6 was a night for building, for the most part. For Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, it was a night say goodbye and to audition for a job-to-be-named-later.
None of Saturday’s brightest stars - not Demetrious Johnson, not Glover Teixeira, not Ricardo Lamas and, no, not even Anthony Pettis -- are household names among the type of viewer who spent the weekend looking for a way to bridge the gap between the NFL conference championships and the Super Bowl. At best, that audience might be familiar with Pettis’ sensational “Showtime” kick that closed the curtain on the World Extreme Cagefighting era. However, that highlight occurred a few years ago in a lesser-known promotion, meaning that Joe Six Pack might have already forgotten about Pettis’ 15 minutes of highlight-reel fame on ESPN. Instead, UFC on Fox 6 was about making memorable introductions for a stable of top-tier athletes.
Part of the goal of the UFC on Fox series is to build the brand of some of the promotion’s up-and-coming talent. It happened in December, when Benson Henderson, Alexander Gustafsson and Rory MacDonald each scored emphatic victories at UFC on Fox 5. It happened again at the United Center in Chicago, as all of the aforementioned UFC on Fox 6 competitors received unprecedented exposure, which should, at least in theory, increase interest in a pay-per-view card featuring any of the above down the road.
The building process comes at a price, namely a big-name veteran with a large following and gaudy resume but a few less skills than he had in his prime. Last month, MacDonald battered and taunted a faded B.J. Penn, while Gustafsson outclassed Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. MacDonald and Gustafsson were the ones getting the push, but it was Penn and Rua, a pair of former champions, who attracted the casual fan.
In Chicago, it was Jackson’s turn to provide the marquee appeal. Ardent followers of mixed martial arts knew the former Pride Fighting Championships standout was but a shell of the fighter who had captured the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight crown with a memorable knockout of Chuck Liddell in his second Octagon appearance five and a half years ago. They knew that “Rampage” had not scored a knockout since 2008, despite all the promotional vehicles trumpeting his devastating power. They knew that Jackson had shown up overweight and injured for his last bout and that he had thrown his employer under the bus after losing a lackluster decision to Ryan Bader at UFC 144. It was no secret that Jackson already had one foot out the door.
While Teixeira had been impressive in his first two UFC bouts, Kyle Kingsbury and Fabio Maldonado are hardly springboard material. The Brazilian needed a brighter feather to add to his cap, and “Rampage” fit that bill perfectly. Jackson appears to have no long-term future with Zuffa.
While UFC President Dana White would not rule out re-signing the former champion, the fighter himself remained disgruntled during the week of the bout, complaining during a UFC on Fox 6 conference call about -- among other things -- being unable to wear the gear of his latest sponsor, Reebok, to the Octagon on fight night.
The fact that Jackson can ink a prominent endorsement deal despite having seen better days in the competitive arena speaks volumes about his star power.
“We think his personality will transcend where he is at,” Reebok head of U.S. marketing John Lynch said in an interview with Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports. “I understand the UFC is the 800-pound gorilla in this sport. We get that. But we believe he’s got a tremendous amount of juice on his own. He’s a guy people have looked to as someone who transcends the sport that he’s in. He has appeal simply beyond [fighting] and we just liked the fit of who he is.”
Rather than burying Jackson on a card to fulfill the final fight on his deal with the promotion, the UFC wisely chose to put its soured star in a prominent position for his farewell. If there were some who questioned why Jackson received a co-headlining spot on Fox after such a poor performance against Bader, there were others who probably tuned in specifically to see the guy who played B.A. Baracus in “The A-Team” remake. More than Pettis’ kick in the WEC, they would remember how Jackson knocked out the iconic Liddell after the mohawked fighter appeared on the cover of ESPN the Magazine. Those who had no interest in watching a flyweight feature might be persuaded to turn to Fox to see the guy with the mean mug and chain stroll to the Octagon one final time.
All things considered, Jackson put up a valiant effort in his UFC swan song. He looked to be in decent shape, and despite being largely outgunned by Teixeira, Jackson left nothing in the chamber, swinging for the fences at every opportunity. The result -- a unanimous decision win for Teixeira -- was not surprising, but Jackson was not completely embarrassed, either.
“I’m a fan,” Teixeira said after the conclusion of the fight to Jackson, who responded in turn: “Now I’m your fan. Go get the title.”
If there was any doubt about Jackson following through with his plans to leave the world’s largest MMA organization, he made his intentions clear during a conversation with White.
“‘Rampage’ just walked out right now and said, ‘You’re going to miss me.’ I said, ‘I miss you already, buddy,’” White told reporters not long after the conclusion of the event.
Where Jackson goes next remains a mystery. Maybe he tries to coax a big contract from Bellator Fighting Championships or perhaps he gives up fighting altogether and makes a serious run at Hollywood. What is clear is that his time with the UFC has run its course.
“No one ever wrote on their tombstone: ‘I wish I spent less time with my kids.’ Remember what’s important,” Jackson tweeted earlier this month.
When all was said and done, Jackson served the UFC well, even with the occasional mishap along the way. His arrival helped the promotion grow shortly after “The Ultimate Fighter” exposed the sport to a wider audience, and he ended his tenure by hastening the ascent of an up-and-coming talent.
UFC on Fox 6, perhaps the promotion’s best offering on the network to date, will be remembered for the emergence of several new stars, but it will also be significant for closing the book on the “Rampage” era in the UFC. Like the NFL, and most any major sports organization, for that matter, the UFC has a pretty firm yet unwritten Next-Man-Up policy. When one star fades, another rises to take his place.