When we look back on the UFC career of Quinton Jackson, what will we think?
I don't mean the entirety of his career. Jackson has done enough to earn the legendary status he's been afforded from hardcore fans. Of course, the only real requirement for being considered a legend by a certain subset of MMA fandom is that you fought in PRIDE a couple of times and maybe did a few big moves like power bombs. After you've reached that point, you can pretty much do no wrong for the rest of your career; see Kazushi Sakuraba for a perfect example.
This is not to say that Jackson isn't revered as a legend for his accomplishments in PRIDE; it's only saying that the requirements for attaining superstardom with PRIDE fans was a little different than it is for today's modern UFC fan.
What I'm wondering today—and we're being very specific and granular here, so please don't start referencing his PRIDE run when you start typing up comments; I will completely ignore you if you do—is Jackson's time in the UFC, from the time he debuted against Marvin Eastman on February 3, 2007 until today.
I'm wondering what his UFC legacy will be, and I'm wondering how he'll be viewed by fans who come around to the sport in, say, 20 years or more. Will they even know Rampage Jackson?
And if not, will it matter?
Not to Jackson. Being remembered as a great martial artist isn't all that high on the priority list in the Jackson household. Rampage would much rather be remembered as an exciting fighter, a guy who went in the cage and gave the fans something memorable and exciting in exchange for plopping down their hard-earned dollars.
And, as he's repeatedly said in recent interviews, he's much more concerned with the number of zeroes on his paycheck than he is with the number of people who are tuning in to watch him fight. And if that means fighting for one fly-by-night organization after another, well, that's fine too.
If you haven't seen it already, I urge you to watch Ariel Helwani's one-hour interview with Jackson while the two are walking around the streets of New York City. It's a fascinating look at one of the more complex men involved in this sport. Jackson is calm, honest and collected, revealing far more information about his now-sour relationship with former teammate Michael Bisping than he ever has before. Jackson also discusses—again in great detail—the 2008 traffic incident that led to a woman suing him after his out-of-control truck swiped the side of her car.
But there's one refrain from Jackson, one thing we constantly hear, that troubles me—his assertion that today's version of mixed martial arts is not, in fact, martial arts. Jackson has a real problem with the way the sport has evolved and turned from a striking and excitement-heavy game into the often wrestling-based thing it has become. I understand where he's coming from, even if I don't agree. Jackson's career and legend, such that it is, was made in Japan, where he was revered for his exciting style and willingness to put it all on the line.
Nowadays, Jackson often finds himself matched up with guys who are looking to take him to the ground, to take as little punishment as possible while seeking a win. There's a different mindset in Japan, where wins and losses didn't matter; the only point of going into that ring was to have an exciting fight, to show your warrior spirit. If you did that, you were rewarded with piles of money and the adoration of a respectful fanbase. If you didn't, well, the chances were pretty good that you wouldn't be used again.
Again, I understand where Jackson is coming from and why he might find all of this so frustrating. But the sport is evolving—as things tend to do—and making the leap from a niche product followed by thousands to a mainstream powerhouse followed by millions will cause a few things to be lost along the way. There's more at stake in today's MMA world than ever before: Endorsements, title shots and even the security of your employment is up for grabs every time you walk into that cage.
Other fighters understand this. They know their livelihood is always at stake, and so they respond accordingly, by going for the win at all costs, regardless of fan opinion. It's not the most exciting thing in the world, but it's the name of the modern game.
Jackson doesn't understand this, and he likely never will. And that's why his UFC career, if it indeed comes to a close after his next-contracted fight, will go down as a disappointment.
Jackson had his high-water marks, to be sure: The big knockout win over Chuck Liddell, the revenge he finally exacted on Wanderlei Silva. But despite those big moments, his tenure in the UFC has been one of a fighter who is unwilling to evolve, despite having the skills to do so. He firmly believes that his style of fighting is the right one and that everyone else who chooses to wrestle or grapple or go for points in order to secure a win is dead wrong.
I wish this weren't the case. I wish Jackson could see what the modern fight game has to offer and accept it for what it is, instead of sticking to his outdated beliefs. But it hasn't happened yet, and I don't think it's going to happen.
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