Josh Gross
Thursday September 24th, 2009

There's so much silliness with the squabble between the UFC and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson it's hard to know where to start.

In a blog posted on his Web site Tuesday, the mercurial Jackson wrote of his retirement from mixed martial arts, citing a laundry list of what he must have felt were good reasons for leaving the UFC. It was an out-of-left decision that UFC officials are chalking up to the fighter's emotional immaturity.

Don't get sucked in by this. Jackson will fight again. Rampage has always been highly reactionary, and as we saw a year ago in Orange County, not terribly stable. As much as he likes to joke around and rib people -- whether they know him or not -- the 31-year-old fighter has never handled being on the other side of criticism very well.

Practically speaking, Jackson's "retirement" is an extended vacation. The UFC can, and will, freeze the terms of Jackson's contract for as long as he sits out, same as it did with Randy Couture and Roger Huerta. When Jackson raps shooting on The A-Team, it's almost impossible to envision a scenario in which he won't be back. There's too much money on the line, and as Rampage has repeatedly said, he's all about the money.

The irony is that Jackson's tipping point with the UFC and White -- who once again decided it was OK to publicly deride the men who put their lives on the line for his bottom line -- might be rooted in timing. The pair spoke Thursday over the phone while White was in Texas to promote UFC 103. Each walked away from the conversation believing differences had been squared, even if neither was overly happy with how things played out. When media reports surfaced with White's comments from a pre-event press conference in Dallas, Jackson apparently decided it was time to vent.

The UFC invested its most visible promotional platform, The Ultimate Fighter, in selling a fight between Jackson and Rashad Evans for December. When Jackson landed the role of B.A. Baracus and chose against fulfilling his obligation to fight Evans, of course everything went haywire.

(Evans is well within his rights to be upset by all this. As a consolation, and because the UFC was scrambling to reshuffle bouts, Evans was offered Couture for UFC 105, though he chose not to take it.)

Not surprisingly, it's the fans -- the 4.1 million who tuned in for the debut of TUF 10 last week -- who get the real raw end here. Without the opportunity to revel in the payoff the show promises, the hype and vitriol from Jackson and Evans during the latest "reality" offering will certainly ring hollow in Jackson's hometown of Memphis, and to those taking the time to watch at home. The bickering between Jackson and White over celebrity and movies and money comes at a time when too many MMA fans are struggling just to get by.

Fans also received a cheap shot from Jackson in his note on Tuesday. It's one thing to go after the UFC for what he perceives to be injustices, but there isn't any cause for Jackson to whine about "negative reviews from the dumb ass fans that don't pay my bills or put my kids though college." How terribly misguided. Who buys the pay-per-views and fills the seats? The last people Jackson or anyone else associated with MMA should attack are those really responsible for MMA's wild growth.

The idea that Jackson could make a career of acting seems improbable. Though if he isn't committed to fighting, he shouldn't. Mixed martial arts is not a sport to be waded into like a hot bath. You're either willing to swim with sharks or you're not. Taking Jackson at his word, it's time to move on ... until he needs the payday.

When news first broke that Strikeforce and 47-year-old Herschel Walker signed a promotional agreement, I panned the thing. Letting a legitimate heavyweight contender like Paul Buentello walk and dismissing him as a journeyman while signing an athlete with no pro fighting experience or background is not smart business. Though neither had much to do with the other, the dichotomy didn't make sense.

Yet, the reaction Strikeforce received for the signing was largely positive. It generated a good deal of press for the burgeoning fight promotion, earning mentions in places MMA might usually not. Strikeforce vice president Mike Afromowitz was pleasantly surprised to hear Walker's signing discussed Monday on New York's hip-hop radio home, Hot 97. It's that kind of exposure -- off the Internet and beyond the reach of MMA media -- that made the deal well worth their time and effort, even if the concept of a man Walker's age jumping into MMA is hard to swallow.

Now the work begins. Though the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner at Georgia signed a deal to fight, there's no guarantee he will. Walker will live in San Jose, Calif., for eight to 12 weeks, like any other pro fighter plying his craft at the American Kickboxing Academy. If his body holds up, if he proves capable of fighting, then a bout will come. But not before then.

"We're going to plug him into our fight training," said "Crazy" Bob Cook, one of the chief trainers at AKA who also serves in talent evaluator and matchmaking capacities for Strikeforce. "I told him I want him out at our gym for a 12-week camp. He's going to be in there with all the boys."

Despite his advanced years and limited fighting experience, Walker is seen by Cook as "an athlete that's beyond a lot of guys that are in their early 20s."

Walker underwent a mini tryout with Cook before signing the deal with Strikeforce, and he did well enough to earn the opportunity. He showed himself to be more of a striker than grappler, though Cook noted Walker's "great natural balance and wrestling ability."

"He's a tremendous athlete," Cook said. "It is something he's committed to wanting to do."

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