Sure, it's a holiday weekend, and as such you'll likely be kicking back with family and friends, relaxing. But there's good news for folks who like a little blood with their mellow: Saturday night promises one of the most interesting bouts in the history of mixed martial arts: the light heavyweight title tilt between Rashad Evans and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 114.
Both fighters have held the light heavyweight belt before, and both have fallen from their once lofty perches. For one, Saturday promises to be a return to glory; for the other, it'll mean a long road back to the top of the heap. Needless to say, expectations are high. Complex got with Rampage during his training to discuss where his MMA career is at; we ain't pickin' sides, but if he wins...well, that's our dude!
Interview by Toshitaka Kondo
Complex: During your training, when do you say: "I'm ready for this"?
Rampage: It's kind of a strange sign to it. I know when I'm ready to go, and every time it's like two or three days before the fight I get real fast. I'm hitting the pads. My wrestling gets really good. My jujitsu gets real good. Everything just comes together. Three or four days before the fight, that's when I can tell. Everybody can see I'm hitting harder. That's when I know I'm ready. Couple days, when the pressure on. When you get to the venue in Vegas, now you're in Vegas. That's when I always feel I'm ready.
Complex: There's been plenty of trash-talking going on prior to this fight. Are you anxious in any way?
Rampage: Yeah, yeah. I guess I'm anxious. It's too soon to say. I guess I'm anxious to get back in there because I am a fighter and it's been a year since I fought. But really, it's like another day at the office. When you think about it, it's my job to fight. I don't know how anxious I can be to fight, to get my payday. But it's like another day at the office. It's the day I get paid. I'm just anxious to get that check.
Complex: You've talked before about your quick temper. Is that still there after all these years?
Rampage: I still got the worst temper on the planet, but now I just know how to control it.
Complex: What did it take for you to learn how to control it?
Rampage: It took me getting into trouble a lot. I got in trouble too many times because of the temper. As I matured, I just know what type of things will set me off. So I just try my best to avoid it. There's just certain people in this world that do certain things and say certain things that can set you off. Some people might get cussed out—some people might get cussed the fuck out. I'm not a violent person at all, but if someone attacks me then there's no way to control my temper at all. That's the only way I can lose my temper like that, if somebody attacks me. I don't consider fighting to be violent. So I don't really lose my temper, I only did that once. Other times I don't lose my temper while I'm fighting. I don't think the person is hitting me because he's trying to kill me or is angry at me, it's a sport. But if I'm out in the street and someone attacks me...
Complex: If it's on the street it's more malice, but if it's in the ring you're like, "Yo, that guy is doing his job just like I'm doing my job."
Rampage: Exactly. In the ring, it's a sport. In a cage I feel very safe because there's a referee there. But on the street, there's no safety. I fear for my life. A guy could have a gun, or knife, or anything. He could be doing that Mexican judo: "Judo know I got the knife. Judo know I got the gun."
Complex: MMA dudes get knocked the fuck out. I've seen some very violent things happen in the ring. It's interesting you say you feel very safe in the ring.
Rampage: Yeah, I feel safe. That's the safest situation for me, ever. I live in Orange County. I feel safer in the cage than I do going to the beach. In the cage it's just you, your opponent, and the referee. You get knocked out, it's OK. It don't hurt. You get knocked out, and hopefully you don't suffer no brain damage. You just let your brain heal up. Your body is a machine that heals itself. You let your brain heal up, you don't fight no time soon, you don't get punched no time soon, and it heal up. If somebody catch you on the street and you get knocked out on the street, your head hit the concrete, then anything can happen. I seen things happen. You get knocked out, a car could run over you. People got weapons. It's dangerous out there.
Complex: But is anyone really stupid enough to come at you in the street?
Rampage: It hasn't happened in years, but don't underestimate the stupidity of some people.
Complex: Has it happened since you've been known as a fighter?
Rampage: I been a fighter for a long time but American people didn't know me. So when I come back to America, I could live the good life. I miss those days, a beautiful life. I could make a living and come home and nobody would bother me. One guy didn't know who I was. He started looking at me in a nightclub. He hit me and I lost my temper. I been going to the club a long time and the bouncers knew me. So it took like four bouncers to hold me. But they didn't do nothing to me. They kicked him out. They know I never started anything. They told him later who I was. I guess he felt stupid 'cause I didn't have no gloves, so I was elbowing him so I wouldn't break my fist. I had broke my fists couple months earlier and my fists just healed up. So I was elbowing him in the head.
Complex: How long ago was this?
Rampage: This was years ago. I don't think he ever had someone do something like that to him. He learned a lesson. I think people like that need to learn a lesson. You never know what the other man knows. I always hated bullies growing up. You never know what the next person knows. So I think he learned a valuable lesson.
Complex: It's interesting, you were talking about getting knocked out, and that's been a big thing with football, the severe traumas to the head. Obviously fighters get hit in the head a lot, do you ever worry about the long-term effects?
Rampage Jackson: No, actually I don't. You can see it in football players and boxers right now, but actually MMA fighters, we don't take that much of head trauma.
Complex: Really? But you're on the ground, elbowing each other.
Rampage: You rarely seen people get knocked out from elbows. Elbows just cut you up and put knots on your head, but they don't really knock you out. People can't get knocked out getting punched on the ground. Rarely do you see people getting knocked out while getting punched on the ground. We kept those smaller gloves so the gloves weigh less, so it's nothing of mass hitting your head. And if you don't defend yourself and you get hurt, the referee stops the fight really fast. Like boxing you get hurt, but they only give you an eight count and they put you back in there, but your brain not ready. Like, "Yo, he need to stop this right now. He just got dropped. He got a fast knockout." But then you go out there and get some more head trauma. And in football, you crash but then you got another play in a couple of seconds. And then you go out there and do it again. My sport is really fast. There's more things you can do than hit people in the head. Some boxers get punched like a 100 times in a round, and if it's a 12-round fight, they got punched 1,200 times in that one fight. Out of 1,200 punches you can guarantee that over 800 went to the head, so he got punched 800 times in the head. And I haven't gotten punched 800 times in my whole career, probably even including sparring.
Complex: You're talking about how safe the sport is. Does it bother you that in some states it's still outlawed?
Rampage: Yeah. It's illegal in a lot of states because a lot of states really backed boxing. And I can go ahead and say it, I think boxing has been hating on us for a while. For the longest time, the commission was called the Boxing Commission, so that should give you a hint right there. We're not boxing, but we fall under the boxing commission. A lot of times people have traditions and stuff like that, and it's hard to break that stuff sometimes. What people need to do is get educated about it. Stop hating it. Right now boxing ain't doing a whole lot. And everybody is talking about the economy is bad, but our sport is making a lot of money for places. The UFC went to Memphis, my hometown, in December, and from what I heard they brought a lot of money into that place. And Memphis is one of those places in the South that really needs that financial help. So my sport is doing really good for the economy. So for someone to still have it illegal, I think they're just uneducated on the sport and they're just plain fuckin' hating on it. It's the fastest growing sport in the world and I think Americans should embrace it. Every other country did. Why should we be the only country that's behind? It's been popular in Japan for years. In Japan I had just as many female fans, kids, old ladies, old men who come up to me. In America, just now recently maybe here and there a girl or two will come up and know who I am. And if a girl approach me, most times I know she got a boyfriend or a brother who got her into it. But in Japan just as many girls are fans as guys. In America, I don't know why we want to outlaw things. I think we should educate ourselves about it, and embrace it, and we should all make money.
Complex: I wanted to ask about your kids. Do they have a hard time understanding that it's a sport and it's safe? They just see someone trying to hurt their father. So is it hard for you to explain it?
Rampage: Oh no, my kids they understand. It's in their blood. I personally don't like my kids to watch my fights live. I would never bring my kid to a fight. Maybe if I'm still fighting and my kids are old enough to be a teenager and come themselves, maybe I give them tickets. But right now my kids are young and I'm not there when I'm fighting live. I tell their mom not to let them watch me. But somehow even my youngest kids, they 3 and 4 and they know when I'm fighting and they ask they momma to put it on. I don't know what it is. I told them several times not to let them watch it but she like to watch it herself. I keep that separate, I don't want them to see me in a fight. Really, it's just my occupation. I don't think a person who's a lawyer wants to come home and talk law with his kids. So I don't do that. My kids just know me as their father. But it's in their blood, even my daughter. They just automatically understand.
One time I saw this sumo wrestler in Japan, he decided to come to MMA and be a fighter. His first fight, he fought this real big dude that used to play football named Bob Sapp, you may know who he is. And this guy, his first big MMA fight and he brings his wife and kids and they sit in the front row. And the sumo wrestler never had a fight before in his life, he gets knocked the hell out real fast. And he laying face down, and he still jiggling for five minutes because he so fat. But he just sitting there, not moving. I looked at his kids and his wife, I saw the look on their faces. His wife looked like she had a heart attack and his kids, they was terrified. Those kids was young kids. And they will never forget the memory of their dad getting knocked out and looking like he was dead. They didn't know, he looked dead. And the other guy cheering over their dad. I mean, it's a sport he did, and he did the ultimate thing, he knocked the guy out. That's like the peak of the thing. God forbid anything like that ever happens to me, I don't want my kids to see that.
Complex: So if you're sitting and watching with them, even if you did get knocked out, you're sitting right next to them.
Rampage: If I ever did get knocked out, I would never let my kids watch that fight. [Laughs.] Like, "You don't want to watch that fight, you don't want to watch that." One time I did get knocked out and they was showing previews of different fights. And my 9-year-old was watching TV and he saw the fight and he saw me getting knocked out. He was like, "Dad, was that you getting knocked out?" I was like, "Nope, that wasn't me." He was like, "That sure look like you." I said, "Yeah, he sure look like me." "He had the same shorts that you wear, everything." I said, "Man what's the world coming to." He started laughing, so maybe he knew it was me but he let me get away with that.