Very few fighters bow out at the top - but Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson would have been one of them, if his fight with Jon Jones had ended in success. The former PRIDE and UFC champion mounted an attempt to take the light-heavyweight belt from Jones late last year, but was submitted in the fourth round.
Having held the UFC title briefly, but lost it on his second defence via an extremely controversial decision that went Forrest Griffin’s way, Jackson has never given up hope of getting it back one day. And if he had taken it from Jones that September evening, this upcoming fight in Japan may well have been his swansong.
“To retire as UFC champion and to have defended the belt in Japan? Oh man, that would have been perfect,” he tells Fighters Only in an exclusive feature-length interview which forms the centrepiece of this month’s UK edition.
Jackson’s affinity for Japan is well known. The Japanese mega-promotion Pride FC made a superstar out of him and Jackson, who has an intelligence and an emotional sensitivity far beyond the levels his brash public persona suggests, also appreciated the heartfelt and quiet respect that Japanese fans offer their fighters.
In fact he confesses to having “lost a lot of love” for fans in his US homeland when he fought and beat Chuck Liddell at UFC 71. “When I beat Chuck Liddell, a lot of American fans booed me. And I lost a lot of love for American fans that night.”
That win earned Jackson the light-heavyweight title, which he defended at UFC 75 against Dan Henderson. He unified the UFC and PRIDE titles in the process and enjoyed a glorious, if brief, period as the world’s undisputed number one light-heavyweight.
Those honours are now some years gone, but their memory is ingrained in Jackson and there is little he would not give to get back there. At 33 years old and with a 32-9 record, he has nothing left to prove and little he hasn’t achieved. But bowing out at the top remains a goal.
“Believe me I still want to retire as champion. I want to hold the belt once more. I guess if I had won that Jon Jones fight and if the Japan show wasn’t next then there’d have been a very good chance I would have retired already,” he says.
“It would have been a great time to bow out. But I almost certainly would have stayed around to fight in Japan anyway, to defend the belt. Then if I would have successfully defended it on this [UFC 144] show, I definitely would be retiring - and retiring a very happy man too!”
These quotes are taken from the exclusive seven-page interview that headlines this month’s UK edition of Fighters Only magazine. One of the best interviews ourselves or Jackson has ever done - if you will forgive us the hubris - it provides a real insight into the mindset of one of the frankest, realest and yet most misunderstood of the MMA superstars. Out now.
Interview by Gary Alexander with additional reporting by Nick Peet