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A p.r. tour gone horribly wrong?


Former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is not crazy. The UFC wants to make that very clear. He hasn't lost his mind, he isn't a threat to himself or others -- that whole hit-and-run, leading police on a high-speed chase thing? -- that happened because he was "ill." The fact that he made himself ill by not eating or sleeping and, instead, living entirely on energy drinks for days following his decision loss to Forrest Griffin, can be conveniently left out.

At least, the UFC hopes so.

Company president Dana White recently said he expects Jackson to return to the Octagon at UFC 91 in Portland this November. This announcement came during the same week that Rampage was charged with two felonies from his vehicular mishap on the streets of southern California. It's all in the timing, you see.

It's hard to stay upset at a guy like Rampage. The gregarious former champ is a natural entertainer, as well as a gutsy, talented fighter -- a rare combination. But there's something troubling about the way the UFC and Jackson are teaming up to sweep this situation under the rug. Nobody wants to talk about what really happened or, worse, why it happened. Let's just resume our regularly scheduled Rampage program. That's clearly the UFC's intention, judging from recent events. Rushing him back into action is just the latest example.

UFC 87 in Minneapolis turned into a Rampage p.r. tour, with Jackson showing up alongside White at every opportunity, joking with fellow fighters at press conferences and mugging for the camera to show how perfectly sane and in complete control he was. It was as if the whole incident had never happened.

It's not that I can't understand the collective desire of the UFC and Jackson himself to put this incident behind them. But in order to do that, Jackson needs to take responsibility, and the UFC needs to deal with it head-on. Ascribing the whole thing to illness or delirium downplays Jackson's role in his own unraveling, as well as the possibility that something more serious could be going on with him. It's not as if he caught the flu and was running a high fever when he crashed into a parked car on his way to the pharmacy. That would be a case of blameless illness.

But Jackson put himself in a delirious state. That doesn't mean he deserves to be punished for the rest of his life because of it, but it also doesn't mean we should ignore what happened.

The strangest part is that no one seems interested in probing the reasons why Rampage thought it would be a good idea to spend the days after the fight on a sleepless, energy drink-fueled fast. That's not a normal post-fight reaction.

You can't even write it off as pro-athlete eccentricity. It's flat-out weird, not to mention more than a little dangerous. That doesn't worry the UFC as they prepare to put him right back into another high-profile fight?

No one's asking the UFC to punish Rampage by keeping him out of action, but caution might be the best thing for his health -- mentally and otherwise -- since his last fight led to a mental breakdown just a little more than a month ago. Certainly he deserves a shot at redemption. The way the UFC is handling the situation, however, makes it seem more like an attempt to draw attention away from Jackson's troubles rather than deal with them.

For Jackson's sake, I hope that's not the case. All the stress and intense scrutiny he's been under these last two months will be nothing compared to when he steps back into the Octagon in November.