BIG BEAR CITY, Calif. - Down in the valley it’s burning hotter than a tortilla on the griddle as we head up the mountains to Big Bear City. That’s where Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is working into shape.
It’s not an easy ride. The road winds round and round up the one-lane highway toward the top.
Finally we arrive, with temperatures outside hovering around 85 degrees. Inside the gym where Jackson and 20 others are working on technique, the needle on the thermostat probably reads about 109 degrees.
It’s hot in there, too.
Jackson and his cohorts work diligently on jujitsu holds and escapes in the small makeshift cage that emulates the UFC octagon he’ll be fighting in against Pride Fighting Championship welterweight and middleweight champion Dan Henderson (22-5) on Sept. 8 in London. The fight card will be televised on SPIKE television.
“It is the biggest fight in MMA history,” Jackson, 29, said. “It don’t get bigger than this.”
Three months ago, after Jackson bludgeoned Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell with a roundhouse right hand for a technical knockout victory, the majority of the crowd at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas unexpectedly booed the new champion. It struck him worse than the blows from Liddell.
“I was just doing my job,” said Jackson (27-6) of his first-round knockout of Liddell. “I honestly think the reason they booed me is I’m more unknown in the UFC, and Chuck is pretty much the favorite.”
Jackson had toiled for years in Japan for Pride FC and had signed with another promotion company that was bought earlier in the year by UFC. Now he’s in the media spotlight in his home country, but fans seem to refuse to accept him — at least those in the arena when he jumped on Liddell with fists pumping, forcing the referee to halt the fight.
“There was a little bit of controversy,” he says. “People say it was a lucky punch.”
Jackson also points out history was repeating itself.
“If they go back and watch the first fight, I caught him but I just didn’t finish him,” says Jackson of his first encounter with Liddell nearly four years ago in Japan.
The public response affects him because in spite of a gruff exterior and powerful physical tools, Jackson loves people. He likes to mingle and greet fans and regular folk. It’s one of the many surprises of the UFC light heavyweight champion.
“He’s a very spiritual person,” says Juanito Ibarra, his trainer. “He has strong Christian beliefs.”
It’s not the impression opponents get when looking across the ring or cage at the fearsome figure of Jackson. You don't expect someone with a nickname of "Rampage" to be friendly, after all.
Even during sparring in his Big Bear camp, Jackson doesn’t resemble the fierce warrior who rummaged through opponents from 1999 to the present. He almost meekly goes through drills and sparring as if a lost rookie. The other fighters seem to adapt his rather Zen-like approach to training regimens in the mountaintop gym.
But don’t try to bust him up during practice.
“I hold back until the guy (sparring opponent) tries to go off on me,” Jackson said of the sparring wars. “It happens a lot. Some people have egos you know, trying to make a reputation.”
Anyone who does experience Jackson's rage will remember it, a sparring partner said.
“Rampage’s strength are his strength,” says Jason “Mayhem” Miller, a regular sparring partner for Jackson in recent times. “He’s a beast.”
But aside from overzealous sparring partners, it’s live and let live for Rampage.
In the near 100 years of the Tour de France, almost nothing has changed. A victor is crowned and their lives forever changed with the distinction of being a Tour de France champion. Join us as we preview France’s great cycling spectacle.
While riders may not agree, cycling crashes are the most fascinating of any sport. With little to no protection, a rider coming up bloodied is a common sight. Join as we take a look at some of the most gruesome crashes from Tour de France history.