History tells us there are no Hollywood endings in mixed martial arts, and I'm sure Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, also known as B.A. Baracus, has heard the same morality tale ahead of Saturday's (May 28) light-heavyweight bout with Matt 'The Hammer' Hamill. Fighter-turned-actor-turned-fighter, 'Rampage' continues to flourish inside the UFC's Octagon, all the while resisting a clear desire to one day break free of the rigours of training and competition and pursue his acting dream. He is back to doing what he does best at UFC 130 this weekend, though continues to deflect questions surrounding the extent of his motivation for combat. Well, sort of.
"If you really get to know me, you'll know I'm not really excited about anybody I fight," says Jackson, who starred in last year's blockbuster hit The A-Team. "It's just my job and my career. I don't get excited anymore, as I've got almost 40 fights to my name. Yes, I want to do movies after I get done fighting. You can't fight until you're 60, and you need an exit strategy."
The assumption of fans is that the more time Rampage spends with the likes of Liam Neeson and Jessica Biel, the less likely he is to want to clinch and roll around with half-naked fighters for a fraction of the financial pleasure. It's a fair and legitimate concern, yet one Rampage doesn't necessarily agree with, especially when grouchy during fight week.
"My main motivation is always to win, but I think Matt Hamill made a mistake when he said he's going to break my will and that I'm going to overlook him," says Jackson, 31-8 in his mixed martial arts career. "That actually lit a fire under my ass and made me train harder, just so that I can break his will. I want to outclass him.
"That's why I worked a lot on my wrestling, extra on my cardio, and extra on getting up off my back, just in case he does take me down. Honestly, in the beginning, I wasn't 100% motivated until he said that."
So, come Saturday night, Hamill, the most humble, reserved and quiet individual in the UFC will have sufficiently riled Rampage to the point where the 32-year-old has forgotten Hollywood and rediscovered a passion for knockouts. If true, fight fans could be in for one hell of a night, despite the fact that many critics doubt the merits of Jackson vs. Hamill as a meaningful main event bout.
Sure, the three-round light-heavyweight contest doesn't come garnisheed with bad blood, title implications or Fight-of-the-Year hyperbole, but it remains intriguing from a styles perspective, and rarely have two title-less characters been more contrasting and interesting. Rampage, the swaggering, inconsistent and dynamic slugger-slash-movie star versus Hamill, the inspirational deaf wrestler who happens to have had a movie made about his incredible life journey. You couldn't write it if you tried.
"I didn't think Rampage would take the fight, simply because I'm not one of the top guys in the division as far as the rankings go," admits Hamill, 10-2 in his mixed martial arts career. "I figured that he'd be eyeing up Rashad Evans or a rematch with Forrest Griffin. I just thought that Rampage would think that I am not in his league -- but this is my chance to prove that I am in his league.
"I don't blame Rampage for thinking he deserved a bigger fight. Rampage should be thinking about fighting the top five guys in the world, but I feel like I can beat him and I just want to thank him for giving me the opportunity. I see Rampage as a big name and as somebody who can bring me to the next level."
Okay, so here's the real intriguing aspect to Saturday's replacement headline fight. If, as some expect, Rampage is fed up with the sport and thus no longer enamoured by competition the way he once was, it goes without saying that the fiercely determined Hamill is the worst guy he'd want to face under such a handicap. Unlike recent Rampage victims Machida and Jardine, the physically imposing Hamill will make Jackson work, make him hurt and put him in the kind of situations he headed to Hollywood to escape. The 34-year-old Hamill is the real deal in wrestling terms and, though he'd concede inferiority to Rampage in any striking comparison, hits hard and often enough to at least also ask a few questions on his feet.
Of course, while many see the danger in Hamill's game, most believe Saturday's result is solely dependent on where Rampage's head is at and whether his body still willingly functions the way it once did. In case you need reminding, Rampage at his best -- see UFC knockout wins over Chuck Liddell and Rampage Jackson -- remains the most potent pure puncher in all of mixed martial arts. He generates lights out power in both left and right fists and carries the kind of granite jaw that allows him to take chances, close the range and capitalise on situations less sturdy foes shy away from.
At his most confrontational, Rampage is as exciting as any mixed martial artist in the world. From his colourful entrances and stare-downs to his intensity and fight-changing punch power, Rampage is a bonafide star of the sport and it is, therefore, no fluke that his name, personality and fearsome look is a wanted commodity on camera.
If given time and space to land his patented power punches, Rampage hits hard enough to scramble the senses of any leading light-heavyweight, hard-headed Hamill included. However, if Hamill is able to take Rampage south and make the most of his top-level wrestling credentials, Rampage could start to experience the same sinking feeling he endured when losing to Rashad Evans in 2010.
The consensus opinion is that the Rampage of 2011 is what he is now and, while fellow veterans seek out improvement and development in order to keep up with the next generation, the man from Memphis is content to consult the two heaviest fists in all of mixed martial arts. Dangerous though he still undoubtedly is, Rampage's stubborn approach to the game in 2011 could be his downfall on Saturday night.
A victory over Hamill may not land Rampage the title shot he wants, nor the fulfilment he is, undoubtedly, still searching for, but it will go some way to answering, once and for all, where the former champion's focus lies at this juncture in his complex career. That alone is a potential plot twist worth tuning in for this Saturday night.