Living luxuriously, Jackson still eyes original goal

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"I'm eating air," grumbled the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title-holder as he held up a plastic container filled with lettuce. "I'm training. I need my carbohydrates."

Obviously not pleased with the day's lunch menu -- salad (sans dressing) with potatoes, some kind of meat and more veggies -- Jackson found a solution to his woes: ketchup.

There's a strict camp policy against adding unnecessary condiments because of the excessive salt they carry, but the kid from Memphis was defiant -- a side of Jackson trainer Juanito Ibarra has come to predict and accept.

"Who likes to eat crunchy potatoes? I get my ass kicked for my money," Jackson said. "I should have it how I want it."

On the surface, Jackson might come off as a spoiled star. Consider the $20,000 he spent on his Adronicus Mastiff puppy. Or the $110,000 Audi R8, complete with signature "Rampage rims," parked in the driveway of his rented log cabin.

And even his outlandish demands of ketchup. (To to be clear, Jackson got that bottle of Heinz he fervently requested). His antics surrounding lunch were a small example of his pre-fight tendencies. The more he complains, the closer he gets to being ready for fight time, explained Ibarra. Just a little more than a week away from defending his belt against Forrest Griffin at UFC 86 in Las Vegas (The fight live on pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET Saturday), it's quite apparent that Jackson's whines have been flying.

"I'm still the same guy," he said. "I just dress differently, got more money and drive different cars."

By Jackson's estimation, he hasn't even tasted a 10th of what could be around the corner if wins keep coming.

"I'm hoping for '$30-million-Oscar-De-La-Hoya cheese,'" he said. "I think if MMA was at the same level as boxing, why not be one of those $30-million fighters? If I was boxing right now, and I was a champion the way I fight, I'd be making that money. I think I'd be one of the De La Hoyas or [Floyd] Mayweathers."

Ibarra concurs. When the pair first game together, they mapped out Jackson's professional and financial future. To this point, both aspects have played out according to script.

However, a slip against Griffin, the light heavyweight winner from Season 1 of The Ultimate Fighter and one of the most popular guys in the UFC, could change everything for Jackson.

In the closest thing to a compliment the challenger has yet to receive from Rampage's camp, Ibarra acknowledged that Jackson has to be in top shape for Saturday's bout as he takes on an opponent known for his fitness. But just as quickly as he uttered the words, Ibarra changed his tune back to his infallible confidence in Jackson as they handicapped the fight. If their predictions hold true, Rampage (28-6) shouldn't have problems retaining his title.

Striking? Edge: Jackson.

Power? Edge: Jackson.

Speed? Edge: Jackson.

Wrestling? Well, you get the point.

A set of betting lines was used before Griffin's last fight against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Griffin, the fan-favorite, though underdog, shocked many by stopping the Brazilian late in the third round. Because of Rua's dominant win over Jackson in 2005 there's a bit a truism to the notion that Griffin (15-4) doesn't deserve to be cast quite as low as bettors have him.

But even Hector "Sick Dog" Ramirez, who knows both fighters very well, won't give Griffin much of a shot. Having fought Griffin in June 2007, Ramirez, a sparring partner of Jackson at Big Bear, expects the challenger to utilize a similar movement-based game plan that will lead him to a win on points in their '07 contest.

"[Griffin's] good at running," Ramirez said. "He did it during my fight. I think he learned to move a lot better in my fight. I've been hit by Rampage for many years now, and it hurts. Forrest hit me and I never felt dazed in any shape or form, and Forrest really brought it toward the end."

With his trainer expecting Griffin to move around the Octagon's spacious confines while offering a healthy dose of jabs, Jackson hardly seems concerned about the weekend's challenge. Nor does he seem too concerned about the chatter over his extravagant lifestyle.

"I'm moving forward all the time," said Jackson, who suggested he plans on fighting another three to five years before calling it quits. "I don't stop to think. I'm living it. Not too many fighters retire as champion. I want to be a fighter that retires as a great champion."

And for that, it seems Ibarra & Co. would welcome any whining.