UFC star Rampage Jackson loses match, and then later his mindOff the Record has been on hiatus for a while, as I took of for a mental and physical vacation. Unplugged from the news and the Internet, turned off the computer, rented a cabin in Lake Tahoe and zoned out.
Nevertheless, I’ve been following headlines to some degree, and have to say that for some reason the unique case of former UFC Light Heavyweight champ Quinton “Rampage” Jackson has piqued my interest. As some of you may remember from the blog, I’ve become a UFC fan and have the feeling that very soon the sport will move into the upper echelon of entertainment - it’s already passed boxing and hockey in buy rates and TV ratings - having said that, to really challenge the NFL, NBA and MLB for marketshare, the UFC will have to do two things: establish recognizable personalities whom fans can identify with (or at least root for), and dispel the notion that watching two human beings fight in a cage unmasks one as some sort of masochistic peeping tom. Or whatever.
Anyway, they’ve accomplished one of the two - through the highly-watched “Ultimate Fighter” reality series, they’ve developed several fighters into stars, case in point, Rampage Jackson, the supremely likeable, happy-go-lucky, religious, non-drinking/drugging/smoking, funny, former college wrestling All-American who served as a coach on the most recent edition of the Ultimate Fighter.
Jackson, who took Chuck Liddell’s belt last year in the most highly ordered UFC fight of all time, lost a controversial five round decision against fellow coach and former Georgia policeman and Ultimate Fighter contestant Forrest Griffin July 5.
Immediately after the fight, Rampage was modest, congratulatory and funny in an in-ring interview with Joe Rogan.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Forrest is tough. I respect him a lot. He works hard; he’s a hard worker. Hey, whenever you step in the Octagon, there’s a 50/50 chance you’re going to get your (butt) whooped,” Jackson said with a smile.
“I ain’t no stranger to getting my (butt) whooped. I get my (butt) whooped sometimes.”
Upon further study, it appears the loss affected Rampage a little more than he let show.
Less than a week later, Rampage was arrested outside Irvine, Cal. for felony hit-and-run, after which he led police on a lengthy car chase, driving on the sidewalk, running over the median and ultimately running his tires down to the rims before he surrendered peacefully. After being bailed out by UFC President Dana White (who beat his star to the precinct, and said he was on a plane “within 17 minutes” of seeing the chase on TV), Rampage returned to his Irvine home.
The next day, Rampage’s friends flagged down a passing police car outside of his home, telling police that they were concerned about Rampage’s mental state. Police blocked off the neighborhood, went into the home for between two and three hours, and then ultimately transported Rampage to a mental hospital. Police say drugs and alcohol were not involved in either incident, and while Rampage will likely face felony charges for the hit and run, he will not be charged for the next day’s arrest leading to the mental hospital stay. Rampage has been detained in a mental hospital since the police transported him from his home ten days ago.
I guess many of you won’t be surprised to hear that a man who gets punched in the head for a living is a little mentally unstable. There’s just something disturbing about this to me. Like anybody, I had preconceived notions about mixed martial arts fighting. I pictured the fighters as human pit bulls, bent on blood, incapable of emotion or thought.
But after watching a season of the reality show - watching Rampage teach aspiring fighters during the day, retire to his modest family home by night, where he was the consummate family man: Christian values, kind demeanor, dedicated husband, etc. I guess I was a little surprised by the sudden downward spiral Jackson found himself in.
From a civil standpoint, Rampage could easily face several lawsuits for the harm he caused to persons and/or property during the prolonged car chase.
The second incident, resulting in Rampage’s hospitalization, may be more disturbing. Jackson, known for his dynamic personality and quick wit, appears to be experiencing some serious health issues. I’m certainly not a brain doctor, but Rampage’s erratic and completely uncharacteristic behavior may be the result of a brain injury induced by head trauma. Cursory wikipedia research reveals that symptoms of brain damage can often present in a manner very similar to intoxication: slurred speech, impaired decision making, breaches with reality, slowed reactions, blackouts, and other erratic behaviors.
For the burgeoning giant UFC, the notion that the rigors of a single match can turn a charming poster-boy superstar into a punch-drunk, maniacal risk to the public is greatly unsettling. It’s just the kind of thing that the naysayers will pounce on. (While a professional MMA fighter has never died directly as a result of injuries suffered during a match, perception affects reality. Countless boxers have died as a result of head trauma, tens of professional football players have perished because of football-related injury, heck, even baseball players have died because of their sport. Despite that, because of the gladiator-like portrayal of MMA fighting, I’m guessing even one in or out of match death/severe injury could lead to federal legislation stopping UFC events.)
More important than the future of a professional sports league is the well-being of a human being, a family man, a father, a person. Here’s hoping that Rampage will regain some clarity and return to his family and friends sooner than later. And if all that works out, then maybe we’ll see him again inside the cage.
Kevin Hulten maintains the Off the Record blog at www.lakestevensjournal.com.