Profile December 2008

Rampage

Quinton Jackson wears a steel bicycle chain around his neck, has a tattoo of a black panther on his enormous bicep, and has a tendency to howl like a wolf. He is also born-again, the loving father of four children—and known for delivering the hardest blow in the history of professional sports. Now, in attempting to defend his Ultimate Fighting Championship title, he is also trying to hold onto his sanity. An intimate portrait of a mixed martial artist—and of the growing American fixation with the warriors who earn their living beating each other bloody.

When Jackson gets to the room, his UFC belt is gone. The fighter looks stunned. “They take my belt?” he asks. He unwraps his gloves for the post-fight exam by the commission doctor. He will need X-rays of his thumb, left knee, and tibia, but nothing appears to be badly broken, and the doctor agrees that he can wait until tomorrow to go to the hospital. Griffin will spend most of the night in the emergency room.

“You worked hard, champ,” Chris Reilly says.

“Forrest worked hard, too,” Jackson says. He looks down at the bloody purple bruise on his trembling left hand, which has been released from its wrapping of tape and gauze. “I got bloody boogers,” he complains, raising his hand to his nose.

Dana White arrives and takes Ibarra into the bathroom for a private conference, before emerging to talk with Rampage. “You took it like a champ, instead of saying anything stupid,” he says, putting his hand on the fighter’s shoulder.

“He’s my son. I’m proud. He rested. He used his brain,” Ibarra said. “He came back and took the fight to Forrest on one leg.”

Now there are only five people left in the room. “Where’s my shoes?” Rampage asks. “Don’t tell me I left my shoes by the fucking cage.” He looks down at his chest. “Nobody put my chain on me after the fight?”

He trudges down the hallway to the post-fight press conference, leaning on Ibarra’s shoulder for support. He limps past the soda machine, where he is stopped for a moment by the magician Criss Angel. “That will make you stronger,” he says earnestly, adding, “Sometimes the journey is better than the destination.”

Rampage blinks. I am now the only one left in the fighter’s entourage. “You know what?” he confides. “I didn’t think Forrest could hang with me.” He looks me in the eye and asks whether I thought he won the fight. I tell him that he won the first and the fourth rounds but maybe backed off a bit in the fifth. He nods.

At 2a.m. I catch up with Dana White at the House of Blues.

“He went in there with a smart plan,” I say of Griffin.

“A fucking great game plan. And it worked because he did end up hurting that leg.” We talk about this and that for a while, and then I ask White what he talked about with Juanito Ibarra in the bathroom after the fight. The promoter’s face darkens.

“I’m not a Juanito fan,” he says. “He was mad because what he said, on the countdown show, he said, ‘I’ll fucking retire if Forrest Griffin beats Rampage Jackson.’ And fucking one of the dudes called him on it. One of the cut men said, ‘Are you retiring now, motherfucker?’”

“He does love his fighters, though,” I answer. “That’s one good thing about him.”

“I hope he does,” White answers. “If Rampage goes on a skid—let’s say he goes on a skid now. He lost this fight tonight, and he loses four more after it. And is kicked out of the UFC, retires from fighting. Right? Is Juanito gonna be with him for the rest of his life? I dunno. What do you think?”

I don’t know those guys well enough, I respond.

White looks at me hard.

“Nobody knows anybody well enough,” he answers.

Ten days later, I read the following news story on a mixed-martial-arts Web site:

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson arrested at gunpoint after a chase in Costa Mesa, Calif. …

Rampage, who relinquished his UFC belt on July5 by unanimous decision to Forrest Griffin, plowed his 2008 Ford F-250, complete with his image emblazoned on rear driver- and passenger-side doors, into multiple cars along Highway 55.

The story ends with the line, “Jackson’s trainer, Juanito Ibarra, did not immediately return phone calls.” Internet rumors suggest that Jackson had gone off the deep end and fired his trainer, who had been caught stealing from him.

I go to a boutique hotel in Minneapolis, where Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White are staying for a UFC bout. They had promised to tell me what they knew and let me see the fighter for myself. A week after the fight in Las Vegas, White says, he and Fertitta had dinner with Rampage up at the Red Rock Casino for what White expected would be a business meeting. The fighter seemed uninterested in talking business and ignored his food. Instead, he told the UFC president and the company’s billionaire owner how his cousins and brothers and sisters used to torment him. “They’d get him all fired up and he’d go crazy, and they’d laugh and call him Rampage,” White remembers. “After the dinner, me and Lorenzo were like, ‘Hmm. That wasn’t the dinner we were expecting.’”

When pictures of Jackson plowing through traffic hit the Web, White says he immediately got on a plane, and arrived at the police station before the fighter. “I called Lorenzo and our attorney at three in the morning, after I saw Rampage that night, and I’m like, ‘You guys have no fucking idea what I just saw. You have no idea what I just saw.’” The next day, the police went to Jackson’s home and took him to a psychiatric ward, where he was held for 72 hours. The immediate diagnosis was that the fighter was suffering from delirium induced by severe dehydration, reportedly caused by a week of staying up all night on energy drinks. When he was arrested, he hadn’t eaten or slept in four days.

As a publicist goes off to find the fighter, I ask White whom Rampage will fight next.

“It’s probably gonna be him and Wanderlei Silva,” White says.

“But Silva knocked him out twice,” I object.

“Yeah,” he answers with a shrug.

The prospect of Rampage being sent out in his current condition, having lost his title and his trainer, to fight a man who has already knocked him out twice, seems unnecessarily cruel. When I ask White whether he has suggested to Rampage that he might be better off with a different opponent, he shrugs again.

“This is the fight business, man. It’s a rough business.”

Rampage Jackson walks into the room, wearing sunglasses and a big smile. When he takes off the glasses, his face is puffy and bruised. I ask him to tell me what he did in the week after the fight.

“You know, what a lot of people don’t understand about me is, I have fun,” he says. “I laugh and joke around all the time. My life is a fun life.”

I ask him why, during that time, he stopped eating food and drinking water.

“I learned something about somebody I loved, and I still love to this day. I love him dearly, and it hurt me,” he says. “I stopped eating and stopped sleeping. I get touched by God, because I’m reading the Bible and I’m staying up and I’m fasting, and when you’re fasting, you get close to God.”

He was afraid to go to sleep, because he was close to God, and when God or Jesus reveals himself to you, the devil comes too, he says. After he came back home from the police station, he had everyone in his house reading the Bible. His door was open. People he didn’t know came in and out of his house. “This one guy I never seen before in my life, Asian dude, came to my door,” Jackson tells me. “I said, ‘If you’re a child of God, you can just walk into my house. If you’re not a child of God, you can’t.’ I remember saying that. That’s about the only thing I remember.”

A waiter comes to our table, and Jackson says he’s hungry and orders a hamburger. He is clearly functional, and yet, at the same time, he seems less robust than he was when I first met him. He is a proud man whose personality seems shot through with holes. Listening to him talk is like watching him try to fight on one leg. I ask him whether he thinks it’s a good idea to fight Silva so soon after being released from a psychiatric ward.

“Go back and watch that fight. I was kicking the hell out of Wanderlei,” he says. “Wanderlei has been a thorn in my side for a while. I want to fight him. Also Shogun, Sakuraba,” he continues, naming a few other fighters. “I want to fight Forrest too, later.”

When I suggest that Rampage wants to fight everyone who ever beat him, he nods.

“I feel like I’m the best fighter in the world. If I fight at close to 100percent, no one can beat me,” he answers.

It is unclear why Rampage believes he is anywhere near 100percent. The fact that he is putting Forrest Griffin at the end of his list implies that Dana White may have told him he will not be fighting for the title anytime soon.

“Have you been treated for depression?” I ask him.

“No. I’m not depressed. Do I seem depressed?” he asks me. “I’m happy—you see why I drive around laughing at stuff all the time? Do I look like a depressed person?”

He has been courteous to me for six weeks. He is tired of answering questions.

“Have you ever been a fighter?” he asks me, leaning forward across the table.

“Nope.”

“You ever get your ass whupped?” he asks.

Once, I answer.

“How you feel after that ass-whupping?”

I tell him I felt unhappy enough that I never considered a career as a fighter.

Rampage looks at me across the remains of his burger. “Well, we got two different experiences. Two different hearts. I have the heart of a samurai. I have samurai spirit. God made me to be a fighter,” he says. “You know how many fights I’ve been in my whole life? Over a thousand, man. This is what I was made to do.”

He puts his face up close to mine. His eyes are tightly focused, and the wheels inside his head are spinning too fast. “Just watch my next fight and you’ll be drooling,” he says. “Watch it! The mind is the strongest thing in your body,” he adds, reaching out to me with both hands from across the table. “There’s a reason why you only use 10percent of your brain. You got to learn how to use the rest of your brain, homey. Your mind is real strong. Strongest thing I got.”

David Samuels is the author of Only Love Can Break Your Heart, a collection of essays and reporting, and The Runner: A True Account of the Amazing Adventures and Fantastical Lies of the Ivy League Imposter James Hogue.
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David Samuels is a regular contributor to The Atlantic.

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