UFC takes major leap into virtual world ... again

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LAS VEGAS -- All the training Quinton "Rampage" Jackson had put into his fight against Forrest Griffin was unraveling right before his eyes.

As a small gathering of Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters, executives and media members laughed while sipping drinks and taking in the view from a $20,000-a-night Sky Villa at the Palms, Griffin virtually pummeled Jackson with a barrage of punches and kicks that should have put an end to the fight before he was saved by the first-round bell.

"Look at how my face looks," Jackson said at the sight of his bloodied mug. "You can't do that to me. I look too pretty."

Next to a couple of THQ video-game designers, Jackson and Griffin stood at opposite ends of the living room playing UFC 2009 Undisputed, offering up a preview of the game that will be released this spring. Their test run also seemed to serve as an appetizer to the mega fight that will take place in Las Vegas on Saturday.

"At no point do I want you to listen to me," Griffin told his designer after the first round, admitting that he doesn't know anything about video games.

"You better watch how you play, homey, I know what I'm talking about," Jackson said as he pulled out an action figure of himself that he calls his "mini me," proving that he's really nothing more than an overgrown child when he's not beating up overgrown men in the Octagon.

Jackson's trainer, Juanito Ibarra, who is one of the 100-plus characters in the game (they range from fighters in five different weight classes to the well-known non-fighting crew, like the Octagon girls), gave Jackson some advice in between rounds. Virtually, that is.

"That looks like Juanito's really in my face talking," Jackson said. "I can smell his breath. That's how real it is. When I'm fighting and Juanito comes and talks to me, I'm always thinking, 'Damn, I wish this guy had a breath mint.' His breath smells like somebody wore a sock in the rain for two weeks and they kick some cow patties around for a couple of hours. He talks this close to me when I'm fighting, and I think that's what keeps me from getting knocked out. His breath is better than any smelling salt."

Ibarra, donning his signature bucket hat, simply smiled and crossed his arms. "Yeah, it does look like me, but my breath smells better," he said.

As the second round unfolded, Griffin continued to beat up on Jackson before Rampage finally took matters into his own hands. "Give me that," he said, grabbing the controller. A few seconds later, he threw a right hook that connected with Griffin's chin, knocking him out as the camera zoomed on the fallen fighter's face.

"It looks like I really got knocked out," Griffin said, grimacing at the sight while Jackson howled at the ceiling. "They even got my ears right. They couldn't push those things back for me a little bit? C'mon, help me out."

UFC 2009 Undisputed is the fight company's first foray into the gaming world in nearly five years, a surprisingly long absence considering the organization's stranglehold on the 18-24 demographic that drives the gaming industry.

"When we bought this company in 2001, they already had a video-game deal and it was horrible," said UFC president Dana White of the company's last title, UFC Sudden Impact, released in 2004. "It wasn't done the right way. It was just bad. It's hard enough to come back when you've had a crappy game and do another one, so it took as long as it did to find someone to make a better game and for us to get as big as we did. We said we're not going to do this unless it's done the right way by the right people, and now we think we have the best fighting game ever."

Jackson thinks the game could also be a preview of things to come this Saturday when he actually steps into the Octagon to face Griffin at UFC 86.

"I like the knock-out part, but not the beginning part," Jackson said. "All I know is, I'll be in control Saturday. I'm a take-control kind of guy. What do I look like?"