Maybe Bruce Buffer should rearrange his routine a little for this noteworthy occasion. Rather than waiting for the main event fighters to enter the octagon on Saturday night in Chicago, perhaps the announcer should grab the microphone a few minutes early and unleash his familiar catchphrase on us while co-main eventer Quinton Jackson is exiting the UFC cage likely for the last time. That would be the most fitting moment for Buffer to bellow, "It's time!"
It is indeed time for Jackson and the UFC to part ways, as they presumably will after he takes on rising light heavyweight Glover Teixeira in the final fight of his contract. It's time for Quinton to go not merely because he's 34 years old, has lost his last two fights and for years has been no more than a "Mild Disturbance" rather than his old "Rampage" self. None of that is what makes Jackson's expected departure so imperative a step forward for the UFC.
Why, then? Well, consider that Saturday's fights will be televised on Fox (8 p.m. ET), which is -- or at least has the promise of being-- the UFC's ticket to the mainstream. Promotion president Dana White always talks about how his job is to grow the sport of mixed martial arts. This network television contract is a whopping opportunity to do that. But there are obstacles to winning over those curious sports fans who, perhaps drawn in by Fox's incessant UFC promotion during football and baseball telecasts, decide to take a peek. Naturally, some will be immediately turned off by the blood and brutality that can become the focal point of many a bout, and there's not much the UFC can do about that. But here's one urgent measure the behemoth fight promotion can undertake to help broaden its appeal: ridding itself of the alienating, antisocial behavior for which Jackson has become known.
If you follow MMA even a little, you've likely seen at least one of the misogynistic Quinton Jackson video clips in circulation. There's the one shot backstage before a fight in Japan many years ago, depicting Jackson down on all fours, pretending to be a dog, and sniffing at a female interviewer, then simulating sex with her -- on her, rather -- while she squirms away. There's more of the same in a video from 2009 in which an aspiring actress, interviewing Rampage at cageside, suggests that he and she co-star in a romantic comedy and asks, "You in?" Whereupon a grinning Jackson presses his body against hers and begins thrusting his hips while asking, "Am I in?" Then there's the video interview conducted after Quinton's May 2011 victory over Matt Hamill -- his last win, as it turns out -- in which he buries his face in the cleavage of the woman holding the microphone while he lets us know how horny he is. As if we didn't know.
Nothing has drawn as much negative attention to Jackson, though, as a video that surfaced last spring. In How to Pick Up a Gurl... Fast! Quinton portrays a rapist who sneaks up on a woman in a parking garage, all the while telling us how it's done. Chloroform "to help her relax." Zip ties. Hiding behind a pole until it's the moment to pounce. The video plays like a how-to primer on sexual assault, although it's actually a stab at humor -- especially the ending, in which the joke's on Rampage because his intended victim turns out to be a cross-dressing man. The "jokes" were lost on a lot of people, though. And this video was the impetus for a letter of protest made public on Thursday in which more than three dozen representatives of Chicago-area women's groups and other opponents of sexual violence expressed their outrage that Jackson is being featured on this weekend's network-televised fight card in their city.
Don't hold your breath waiting for Rampage to be pulled from the UFC on Fox show, though. Dana White is not one to be pressured, especially not by the organization behind this protest letter. It's the work of the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, out of Las Vegas. Why would Nevada restaurant workers get involved in a sexual violence fight in Illinois? Same reason that they have spearheaded the battle in New York to defeat legislation that would sanction MMA in that state. The union has a bone to pick with UFC majority owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, whose other business is Station Casinos. Local 226 has long been trying to unionize the Nevada gaming company, and with that fight ongoing, the union has expanded the battlefield with anti-UFC lobbying and a website, UnfitForChildren.org. White surely feels the thorn in his side, but he's shown no indication of tapping out.
So if Dana isn't listening to protesters, why is this expected to be Jackson's last fight in the octagon? It's because the UFC president is listening to someone else: Rampage Jackson. The 32-10 fighter has long spoken bitterly about MMA's largest promotion and expressed a desire to leave. In a conference call with media last week, Quinton trotted out his usual complaints -- not enough money for fighters, matchmaking that too often pits him against wrestlers who make for boring fights -- and also added a new one, saying he was forbidden from wearing gear bearing the Reebok logo into the cage because that company is not an approved UFC sponsor. "Stupid stuff like that," said Jackson. "It's not about the money, it's about respect. I'd rather take a pay cut to go to another show and get appreciated."
Now, White has been known to go off on fighters who bellyache, but he wouldn't take the bait from Rampage. Chatting with reporters following last Saturday's fights in Brazil, White resigned himself to essentially agreeing with Jackson's end-game plan. "If Rampage isn't happy with us, then what are we going to do?" he said. "The guy needs to go somewhere with people who are going to make him happy."
This could simply be White soft-pedaling his way to ridding himself of Rampage. The UFC president has resisted calls by protesters and media alike to instill a code of conduct for his fighters, choosing instead to handle incidents himself on a case-by-case basis. And while he has brought the hammer down on occasion, such as when he cut bantamweight Miguel Torres for tweeting rape jokes, he's also had his fighters' backs, such as when Jeremy Stephens was arrested on an assault warrant the night before a show in Minneapolis and White furiously (and unsuccessfully) tried to bail him out in time for his fight. Then there was the time back in 2008 when White went to bat for some guy named Quinton Jackson after the fighter, apparently in a depression and while sleep- and food-deprived, was arrested following a police chase in which he struck several other cars. White flew to California to bail out his fighter and later told Yahoo! Sports, "In this company, we support our friends and anyone who works for us when they're ill and have problems."
Jackson's legacy in the UFC ought not be understated. Even his five-year stint in the Pride Fighting Championship was highlighted by a UFC moment. Back in 2003, White sent one of his most fearsome fighters, Chuck Liddell, over to Japan to wipe up the mat with the competition in a Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. "The Iceman" knocked out a still-lanky Alistair Overeem in the tournament's first round but then ran into Rampage, whose TKO victory upset the UFC's best-laid plans for world domination.
Jackson would join the UFC three years later, and in his second fight in the promotion he again took down Liddell, knocking him out in less than two minutes to claim the light heavyweight championship. Rampage then took on reigning Pride middleweight (also 205-pound) champ Dan Henderson and scored a unanimous decision to unify the belts. But in his next fight, in July 2008, Jackson lost the title to Forrest Griffin. He would work his way into a shot at regaining the belt in 2011, but Jon Jones was too much for him to handle.
There's no doubt Rampage Jackson has declined as a fighter. He's barely threatened in his most recent losses, and even in his wins we've not seen evidence of his old explosiveness. But the UFC could deal with that. Quinton probably would have a home in the alpha male of MMA promotions for as long as he were willing to throw down with abandon, if fighting were the only factor at play. But it's not.
Quinton Jackson is no monster. He's a charismatic character, a fan favorite liked even by some of those he's acted disrespectfully toward. (In fact, it should not be overlooked that a lack of professionalism by the interviewers involved played a role in those misogynistic Rampage Q&A videos. Jackson was the one overstepping boundaries, to be sure, but a professional journalist must set clear boundaries rather than just giggling along with the bad behavior.) However, the bottom line is that Jackson's crude sexual aggressiveness -- and his lack of an understanding of why such behavior is unacceptable -- has no place in the UFC of the future.
If the fight promotion wants to go places, Jackson must go away. It's time.
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