Of all the stars who landed in the Ultimate Fighting Championship either shortly before or immediately after the collapse of Pride Fighting Championships, few carried the same buzz as Quinton Jackson. It was not that he was some unbeatable juggernaut—he had lost twice to Pride poster child Wanderlei Silva and once to Silva's Chute Boxe compatriot Mauricio Rua—nor was he even the most decorated American to be coming home, as Dan Henderson left Pride as a two-division champion.
However, “Rampage” had a number of factors working in his favor which seemed to set him up favorably for stateside success. He was a big, powerful light heavyweight, especially by the standards of the time, given to showing off his physical prowess with high-amplitude slams. He had the kind of wrestling background that was necessary in order to thrive in the UFC 205-pound division, but preferred to use it to facilitate his standup game, much like Chuck Liddell. And speaking of Liddell, Jackson already had a knockout win over the UFC champ, which he had earned when the UFC had sent Liddell over to Pride on loan for the 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix. All told, by the time Jackson finally made his UFC debut in 2007, he had wins over three former or future UFC champions: Liddell, Murilo Bustamante and Kevin Randleman.
That UFC debut, which took place at UFC 67, served as more or less a warm-up for Jackson, while allowing him to avenge an early career loss to Marvin Eastman. With that out of the way, the stage was set for a shot at Liddell’s title. So dominant was “The Iceman” at the time that despite Jackson’s win in Pride, and despite Jackson being eight years younger, Liddell was the betting favorite going into their matchup at UFC 71 on May 26, 2007.
On the night of the fight, reality hit hard and fast. As Liddell settled into his trademark gunslinger stance, feet wide and hands low, Jackson pursued him in a tight boxer’s stance, using solid footwork to cut Liddell off rather than chase him around the periphery of the cage. After a tense 90 seconds or so, Jackson countered a Liddell left with a sweeping right hook of his own that short-circuited the champ instantly. “Rampage” pounced and landed another two big shots to close the door. Referee “Big” John McCarthy swooped in for the stop at 1:53 of Round 1 and talked to a dazed Liddell as Jackson, on the other side of the Octagon, howled to the rafters. It remains one of the iconic images in UFC history.
UFC 71 turned out to be a fork in the road for both men’s careers. Liddell would lose four of his next five fights before being semi-forced into retirement by UFC President Dana White. Three of the losses were by brutal knockout and the only win was a decision win against Silva that was so far past its expiration date that it had no real title implications. Jackson, for his part, managed to defend the title once—unifying the UFC belt with the lineal Pride belt by beating Henderson—before losing to Forrest Griffin at UFC 86. From there, Jackson remained a borderline contender and strangely persistent star for more than a decade in the UFC as well as Bellator MMA.