In everyday life, Quinton Jackson likes to say, he's Quinton. In an MMA cage, he's "Rampage."
It's a nice gimmick, this split-personality thing. It creates the illusion of Jackson's being unstable, combustible, dangerous. It might even be thought of as intimidation, although anyone who's ever watched two trained fighters raise their fists as a cage door is being locked behind them should know that no one in this game is scared off by a nickname. Unless the name is "Twinkle Toes," which would have sounded pretty daunting to fellow competitors on Dancing with the Stars if Frank Trigg, not Chuck "The Iceman with Two Left Feet" Liddell, had been the sport's representative on the TV show.
And yet Jackson has been criticized of late for not hitting the switch that transforms Quinton into "Rampage." In a sport in which staredowns earn style points with fans, Jackson seemed to be gazing off into the clouds when Matt Hamill was put in front of him as his opponent for the main event of Saturday's UFC 130 in Las Vegas. During an appearance on the MMAFighting.com online radio show, The MMA Hour, here's how Jackson responded to a question that was posed essentially to offer him an opportunity to hype the fight: "Matt Hamill wasn't on my radar at all. I wasn't excited at all. But then again, not a whole lot gets me excited."
Thanks for being honest, Quinton -- that definitely was not Rampage talking -- but you're not exactly swaying anyone in the direction of plopping down $54.99 for the pay-per-view. (The pay telecast begins at 9 p.m. ET, by the way, with free prelims available at 6:45 on the UFC's Facebook fan page and at 8 on Spike TV.)
When Jackson talks like that, which he's done before, fans and even media question his motivation as a fighter. Is he going soft as he goes Hollywood?
Jackson thinks the amateur psychoanalysts are off the mark.
"Some MMA fans, they don't hear something they want to hear, and they jump all over you," he said during a UFC 130 media conference call last week. "If they get to know me, I'm not really excited about anybody I fight. It's my job to me. It's my career. I don't get excited no more. I've got almost 40 fights. I don't get excited about anybody I fight. I just go in and do it."
Or he doesn't go in and do it. A couple of years ago, after feuding with Rashad Evans the whole time they were coaching on the UFC's reality show on Spike, The Ultimate Fighter, Jackson declined a fight against Evans, as had been planned, in order to film The A-Team, a remake of the 1980s TV show, with Jackson reviving the B.A. Baracus role created by Mr. T. Jackson had done movies before, but they were small-time action flicks. This was a megaplex blockbuster, which meant taking time off not just for filming but also for promotional appearances and such.
Jackson, 32, did eventually return to fighting, did eventually get in the cage with Evans. But with the big Hollywood check in his pocket, he didn't seem as hungry. A case in point: Earlier this year Jackson turned down a bout against light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua. Jon Jones was the next man offered the opportunity, he jumped at it, and in March he claimed the belt. And Jackson had some explaining to do.
"There's no way I could've took the fight on, like, four or five weeks' [actually six weeks'] notice," Jackson said. "It's no secret that I put on weight in between fights. I wouldn't have even been able to make weight. So it would've been stupid for me to even try to do that."
He came to this conclusion even after determining -- rightly, as it turned out -- that the champ might be ripe for the picking in his first bout after knee surgery.
"I knew Shogun was going to have ring rust," said Jackson, "after taking a long time off after injury."
Wouldn't that be reason to take the fight, even if it meant an especially arduous training camp to make weight? Isn't a title belt worth the sweat and starvation?
Perhaps to another fighter, that might be the ultimate incentive. But Jackson, who already has experienced the feeling of having a championship belt wrapped around his waist (after knocking out Liddell for the light heavyweight title in 2007), has different priorities. Personal ones.
"It's my life," he said. "It's my family I take care of. And I have my goals and my plans, things I'm going to do to make me happy. That's all I really care about: me and my family."
The fans? "I'm just here to entertain them. But do I care about them the way I do my family? Hell, no."
That attitude has not at all dimmed Jackson's popularity with the MMA public. That's because while he's sometimes hesitant to step in the cage, once he's in there he's always an exciting fighter to watch. The reputation was built even before his performance stage was an octagonal cage, back when he was competing in boxing rings in Japan as part of the Pride Fighting Championship. The image of Rampage knocking out Ricardo Arona not with a punch but by picking him up and slamming him to the mat will perpetually show up in highlight reels.
Jackson's performances have not ended quite so dramatically lately. When he finally had the opportunity to unleash his fury on old nemesis Evans in May 2010, Jackson was rocked in the first round and controlled in the second, and when he finally did land a clean knockdown shot in the final round, he couldn't finish. Rashad won by unanimous decision.
The judges have decided five of Jackson's last six bouts, in fact. And there's not a fan out there who'd prefer to sit and wait while the judges' scores are tallied rather than witness a thrilling KO.
For Saturday night, Jackson is not promising a knockout. But he is speaking like a man who's found his motivation.
"I think Matt made a mistake when he said he's going to break my will and that I'm going to overlook him," Jackson said. "That actually lit a fire up under my ass. And actually made me train a little bit harder -- just so I could break his will."
Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the E-mail link at the top of the page.