It’s Back to Business for Rampage Jackson
The charismatic former UFC light heavyweight champion took time off last year to film the new A-Team movie, which hits theaters on June 11. The role of B.A. Baracus was a lifelong dream for Jackson, who grew up watching the show with his father, and he couldn’t force himself to turn the part down. It also represented a chance to venture outside the realm of mixed martial arts, and that appealed to Jackson on many levels.
The film role meant that Jackson couldn’t face Rashad Evans in a bout that had become, over the course of season ten of The Ultimate Fighter, the most anticipated grudge match in UFC history. Jackson’s decision angered Dana White and caused a temporary rift in their relationship, but it didn’t deter Jackson from moving forward with the film role.
Now, with filming completed, Jackson says he’s all business. “I already forgot I did a damn movie. It’s got nothing to do with this fight,” Jackson says. “A fight is different than a movie. The movie ended a long time ago, and I’ve been training ever since I got off the set. I don’t think about the movie. I’m thinking about this fight.”
For a time, it appeared as though Jackson’s fighting days were through. During his public quarrel with White and the UFC, Jackson swore he’d retired and would never fight again. He eventually changed his mind, as most fighters do, and it was the possibility of fighting Evans that drove him back to training. Six weeks spent with Evans on The Ultimate Fighter set was all the fuel Jackson — a fighter notoriously lazy during training camps — needed to get back in the gym, to work harder than he’d ever worked before.
“It would feel like a moral victory for me. You know, Rashad has no title. He couldn’t even hold on to the belt after one fight,” Jackson says. “So why am I even fighting this guy? But then after I did The Ultimate Fighter, I knew why I was fighting this guy. I want to teach guys like this a lesson to keep his mouth shut when you ain’t on the same level as me. That’s the motivation.”
“He’s accomplished nothing compared to what I’ve done. I’m the first-ever undisputed champion of my sport,” Jackson continues. “It’s like fighting a guy who is a step backwards, but it would be a moral victory.”
Jackson’s intense dislike for Evans is took root during an incident at an independent fighting show called Gladiator Challenge. Evans faced Hector Ramirez, a longtime friend and teammate of Jackson’s, and the bout ended when Ramirez broke his ankle in the cage. Evans celebrated the injury-marred win a little too fervently for Jackson’s taste. Evans approached Jackson after the fight and asked if Jackson wanted to train with him, and Jackson told him no.
“I thought it was real disrespectful because he just fought my teammate in the tournament. He disrespected him by talking about his wrestling and dancing around the cage and stuff like that,” Jackson says. “I told him I didn’t want to train with him because he just fought my teammate. But I never had nothing personal with him.”
That changed after Jackson defeated Evans’ teammate Keith Jardine. Much to Jackson’s surprise, Evans was brought into the cage after the fight for a face-off with the exhausted winner. It was a way to set up a future bout between two dynamic light heavyweights, but Jackson took it personally.
“Everything was cool until he got in my face after the Jardine fight. This guy comes in the cage after I did my job and fought his teammate, and it was supposed to be him in the cage with me,” Jackson says. “And then I watched the pay per view and he’s commenting on my fight, talking bad about me the whole time. And that’s when I stopped liking him, right then and there. I didn’t want to have nothing else to do with him.”
The grudge match instantly turned white hot, and smoldered during the Ultimate Fighter season. The trash talk and bravado only served to turn the rivalry into a feud fans were dying to see settled in the cage. “I think these two have eclipsed any grudge match we’ve ever had. You can tell this is genuine and these guys don’t like each other and they really want to fight,” says White. “Rampage is now an actor, but I don’t think anybody can say that these guys are putting on an act. Not at all.”
Despite the dislike and the trash talk, Jackson says he’s not taking Evans lightly. He spent thirteen long weeks in training camp for the fight, pushing his cardio to levels he never cared to reach before. He believes he’s in prime athletic condition, that the world is about to see the best version of Rampage Jackson that we’ve ever seen.
“I’m not underestimating anybody else. I learned that from Forrest. I underestimated Forrest. I didn’t train properly for him and I was way over weight. I just didn’t do things correctly,” Jackson says. “I think everything happens for a reason. I beat myself. I didn’t train properly for that fight, but for this fight, I trained the hardest I’ve ever trained in my life.”
“I’m very proud of myself because I know that win, lose or draw on May 29th, I’m going to be proud of myself because I’m not known to be good in the gym,” Jackson says. “I feel like I’ve already won, like the fight is already mine.”