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Photo by Jeanne RiceQuinton "Rampage" Jackson—mixed martial-arts maestro, No. 1 middleweight Pride Fighting contender, Costa Mesa resident—arrives in a fittingly beefy, black Ford Expedition with large, white letters spelling out Memphisacross the windshield. He jumps from the driver's seat, followed by a small entourage: his three-year-old son, D'Angelo, and a high school buddy, fighter Dave Roberts.
At six feet tall and 205 pounds of what looks like pure muscle, Rampage, in a bright-red Unbreakable T-shirt that strains over the loaded canons that are his arms—arms that have pummeled and pounded his opponents—gently lowers his boy to the ground and helps him fold down two fingers to show his age without flipping you off.
This docile father is the same titan who brawled it out in Japan Aug. 10 in Pride Fighting Championship's "Total Elimination" grand prix-style tournament. His performance there allowed him to move on to the November tournament title fight with a $200,000 prize and bigwig status.
Pride Fighting, Ultimate Fighting, King of the Cage, mixed martial arts—it's all basically the same: two men expertly trained to beat and be beaten upon enter a cage, intent on knocking out or overpowering their opponents for a substantial amount of money and respect.
Japan is absolutely gaga for the stuff, and Rampage is gaga for Japan. Early last month, he shocked all of Tokyo when he lifted their notorious Kazushi Sakuraba into the air cartoon-style—with one arm—carried him to the edge of the ring and nearly disposed of him over the side, not once but twice.
He began his training on the streets of Memphis. "Growing up in Memphis was rough, man," he says. "On the street all night, gone for two or three days at a time. I never had a childhood, so that's why now, when I fight, I act the way I do. 'Cause now, I want a childhood."
He affectionately pats D'Angelo on the head as he recalls his own violent adolescence. "My family and I didn't get along," he says. "My cousins named me Rampage when I was little because if things didn't go my way, I would get so pissed that I would hyperventilate, go on a rampage, and destroy everything around me. They thought it was amusing, so they would continually torment me."
When Rampage was 12, he and a cousin got caught in an unfamiliar neighborhood where they were accosted by drug dealers. Rampage fought off the two men alone. "I was holding my own until one of the guys pulled a gun," he remembers. "I hit him in the mouth, he dropped the gun, and I tried to get my cousin to grab it. But he was crying like a baby and wouldn't pick it up. Luckily, some people came and broke it up."
We're sitting in a restaurant as he relates all this. A guy a few inches taller and wider than Rampage cautiously approaches the table to ask if it would be okay to get a picture with him. Rampage immediately stands to shake the guy's hand. "Sure, man," he says. "You want me to grab the chain?"
The brawler rushes to his car and grabs his trademark steel chain-link necklace. He models next to the fan in fighting position.
He says there are things he can't stomach because of his impoverished youth, things like "ghetto apples"—white onions—and sugar sandwiches. "From those days," he says, "there are things that I still don't eat."
The thing is those days are just four years ago. These days, he trains in Tustin and fights in Japan. But he's no sushi connoisseur. "I eat American food [in Japan]. All of the other guys try and eat that damn Japanese shit. My opinion is that they eliminate taste from it," he says. "I just eat at the Wendy's and the McDonald's."
"McDonald's!" D'Angelo shouts.
"Yeah!" Rampage says lovingly. "McDonald's, huh?"
Rampage took his talent for fighting into high school wrestling. After that, he says, "I was just looking to get back into athletics." Roberts introduced him to the world of mixed martial arts. "I'm like, man, I could fight and get paid and not go to jail? It's like killing two birds with one stone!"
Just two months into his jiujitsu training, Rampage won his first mixed martial-arts fight at the International Sport Combat Federation competition in Memphis. He moved to Orange County to train first with Brazilian jiujitsu expert Fabiano Iha and then with Collin Oyama. He's hopelessly devoted to Oyama, saying that if Oyama retired, he would, too.
"Team O-yem-ah. It means Big Mountain," he says.
"Yeah! Big Mountain!" echoes D'Angelo.
His regimen consists of rising at 9 a.m. to attend jiujitsu and wrestling training in Newport Beach with Brazilian black belts. At 1 p.m., he returns home for rest. At 7 p.m., he heads over to Punchout Gym in Tustin, where he runs a timed two miles and either spars, hits the bag or "does some drills."
"I do that five days a week. And then Saturday is the hardest training of all," he says. "I've got to be at Tustin High at 10:30 a.m., so there's no clubbin' Friday night. Coach will either make us run for time, do sprints, jump the bleachers or carry people on our backs. It's always something hard."