With his breeze block size head, mallet sized fists and unquenchable sense of humour, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson remains one of the stand-out stars of the mixed martial arts firmament. Branded with a giant sized chunky-chain and his wolf howls on the lonely walk to fighting arenas the world over, at 38, Rampage remains a massive draw in fight sports.
Sprinkle in his movie appearances - including 'Mr T' in the A-Team film based on the television series of the same name with film stars Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper and Jessica Biel - and his intriguing back story, there is much that young fighters in the industry can draw from, as the end of the elite fighter's career draws near.
Jackson has created an epic highlight reel of action from his contests against some of the greats in MMA - a trilogy of fights with Wanderlei Silva, and battles with the likes of icons Chuck Liddell and Dan Henderson - and the man from Memphis is looking to put a seal on what feels like unfinished business in his fifth appearance for Bellator MMA.
Tomorrow night here in Chicago, Rampage goes toe-to-toe once more against 'King' Mo Lawal. Rampage took a controversial split points unanimous decision first time around three years ago. Bad blood has grown between them ever since. Lawal has carried a grudge ever since, unhappy at the judges' verdict on that night in Mississippi. So it is repeat or revenge down the river this time around.
Rampage, the middle child of five, told Telegraph Sport that he "learnt to look after himself on the streets" from the age of 13, with his father absent through drug addiction. It was a tough life, one of reckoning with himself and others, and a chastening existence. While fighting in Pride, in Japan, between 2001 and 2006, the American became a huge star, and a father to four children, whom he says are now his "reason for fighting".
Rampage is now intent on breaking the cycle, he explained, which has defined his life from teenager to full maturity. More thoughtful, more reflective now, the fans, he added, in an exclusive interview with Telegraph Sport, might be kinder on fighters, whom he said often live through troubled lives.
"I think the fans do forget it," Jackson said. "I don't think they give us enough respect a lot of the time. If we get old or something like that they call us 'has-beens'. You get a lot of positive people, but there are more negative fans. Like, what have you done for me lately? We lose one fight and they call us bums. We deserve respect. You take two logos and put two logos in that cage, who is going to show up to buy the PPV or show up to watch two logos fight? It's the fighters who have the brand."
Fighters, he said, should be nurtured by promoters and fight brands, as Bellator MMA and the UFC battle for supremacy in the sport. "If promoters figure out a way to keep the fighters happy then those fighters will tell other fighters and that promotion will win. There will be no more war between these promotions. The promotion that keeps their fighters and treats them how they deserve to be treated and keeps them happy, will win, hands down."
Looking back, he says, he would have done things a little differently. "I would have kept my mouth shut about a lot of things. I would have less kids. There might be such thing as a time machine. I think some billionaires have time machines. I know it's crazy and one of those weird things, wishful thinking really. If I ever got lucky enough to have one of those billionaires say hey Rampage, I heard you man, come in my time machine. You can use it. I'd go back in time and do certain things differently."
But would he have been a fighter all over again ? "It's hard to say. I love fighting, I love the sport, I love that feeling when you win or knock someone out. But I couldn't honestly say 'yes' right now. If I would still be a fighter I'd change a few things. I'd probably fight with a mask on or something. When I walked around on a normal day, people wouldn't know who I was. I could be a regular Joe when it matters, when I'm with my family, when I'm enjoying my free time. When I used to fight in Japan, I was popular there and people asked me for pictures and it was nice, and when I came home no one knew who I was.
That was the perfect life.
Jackson, who has an instant impact when you are in front of him, with his sense of fun, and humour, added: "There have been times when I fought for lesser money and I didn't agree with the money I was making. But since the world has changed and everybody's got a phone on them, sometimes I feel like a zoo animal. People are always asking for a pic. After a thousand of those it gets old. You still love the fans, but I know the true Rampage fans never come up to me like that. They say 'hey Rampage how are you doing?' And they give me five. They know me. They've seen my interviews and watched me on The Ultimate Fighter. They know me. They feel like they're close to me and know how to talk to me. But people who just know who I am just come up to me and will be like, can I get a pic? They don't know me. They just know my name. I feel like a zoo animal sometimes."
Fighters, explained Jackson, are a unique breed, and sometimes need nurture. "Fighters are so accessible. Most MMA fighters don't have loads of followers. I can read every comment on my page. I enjoy getting back to people and talking back to fans on social media. Negative people I just ban right away. Still, they get there and they say something. I'm a human being. I have way more fans that are positive than negative, but this is just something we deal with that people don't understand. MMA fighters don't walk around with giant entourages. We're accessible. I just wish the promoters would understand what we do and treat us the right way. Right now I'm very happy with Bellator. I wish that all my career I could have been this happy. Happy with my purse, happy with the way I'm being treated." Jackson added: "Fighters are my comrades. There are a lot of them with great personalities, they're great fighters, and they should be lifted up a little bit more. I just wish MMA would do that. Stop concentrating so much on their brand."
Fighters, he explained, should be at the heart of all promotion. The fighters themselves, their narrative, he insisted, are what bring the fans to this form of sports entertainment. He cited the upcoming Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko heavyweight boxing match at Wembley Stadium on April 29, which will see 90,000 fans witness the championship fight.
Fighters are my comrades. There are a lot of them with great personalities, they're great fighters, and they should be lifted up a little bit more. I just wish MMA would do that
"Those two are the promotion. Boxing doesn't do it. Sometimes two boxers fight and you don't see what promotion they're fighting on. You just see the two fighters. I wish MMA would get behind the fighters a bit more. Promote the fighters, lift them up and that way the fighters can get more sponsors, more TV commercials, more stuff. Promoters get more sponsors than the fighters and yet we're the ones putting it all on the line."
Jackson, like his Friday night foe Lawal, believes Bellator MMA is making strides in the right direction in that way.
“They’re moving up,” Jackson said. “I think they have the means to be a great, great company. They have a lot of great fighters over here, and a lot of fighters over here are very exciting. I look forward to watching their pay-per-view (in New York on June 24).
"I think if any organisation keeps the fighters happy, you win in there.” Lawal concurs. “Things have changed drastically. When I first came, it was just me and a few other people. They signed Quinton, and they signed Tito (Ortiz), and they started making big signings and big moves. Scott Coker came in, and Coker started pulling all these people from other organizations and making partnerships. They’re making big moves, got a big pay-per-view coming up, bigger cards, going international – it shows the growth, and I’m excited to see where it goes.”
It is the one thing Jackson and Lawal do agree on. But that will be set aside on Friday night, as they settle a dispute which both men want to answer for.
- Gareth A Davies will be covering Bellator MMA 175 from Chicago. Follow the live blog at Telegraph.co.uk/sport