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By Charles Lam
"I know it's a white sport," he says. "To be honest, I'm all for white people having a fighting sport. I think white people need something besides boxing. I think that's good. It's an extreme sport, and white people are good at extreme sports.
"I just so happen to be a black guy who's good at this sport," he continues. "They say wrestling's a white man's sport, too, and I wrestled. I was okay at it; there's some good black wrestlers. I just think the world needs to quit stereotyping and seeing race. It's 2007, for God's sake; we're all human."
When Jackson talks about race, he seems to say whatever comes into his head without really caring how he's perceived. Later, he proclaims, "All black folks look alike. All white folks look alike. All Asian folks look alike, and all Mexicans look alike."
Jackson moved to Orange County in2001. Because of the concentration of professional fighters and mixed-martial-arts gyms in the county, it's considered an epicenter of the mixed-martial-arts world. These days, he mostly trains with Tito Ortiz—OC's most popular UFC fighter, known as "the Huntington Beach Bad Boy"—at the HB Ultimate Training Center on Beach Boulevard.
He has a home in a quiet Irvine neighborhood, and the day after he beat Liddell, Jackson says, a neighbor—a middle-aged white woman—reproduced his signature howl as he was standing in his driveway. Another neighbor sent him cookies.
Not all of his neighbors recognize him, though. "Some of my neighbors called the police on me once," he says. "I was checking my sprinklers, and they thought I was peeking in the windows. I guess that's an honest mistake, right?"
But Orange County—which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is less than 2 percent black—isn't his favorite place to hang out. "I've always felt out-of-place in Orange County," he says. "I don't feel like I fit in. I feel more welcome and more at ease in LA."
Jackson says he notices the explosion of popularity of mixed martial arts in Orange County, particularly in Huntington Beach, but even though he's a fighter himself, it's not all positive. Lately, it seems to him, people train in mixed martial arts just to pick fights.
"Those guys give real fighters a bad name. Those aren't real fighters. A real fighter is disciplined," he says. "Those guys are like bullies; I've never liked bullies. They probably wouldn't be able to hang with a real fighter. That's why they go to bars and try to mess with average people. Because they are cowards.
"I know there are a lot of people like that in Orange County, and that needs to stop. These guys, they think they're tough. They've got all these tattoos and stuff. But in reality, if they go to my neighborhood [in Memphis], they'll get their ass whooped—by kids. It would be embarrassing.
"A lot of people fought on the streets where I'm from. It was part of growing up in Memphis," he says. "I wasn't a violent kid or a bully. But the schools I went to . . . you know, it's not Orange County, I'll put it that way. There's a lot of poor people. Just being kids."
Though Jackson now says street fighting is stupid, that's exactly how he started out in Memphis. He began wearing his signature 10-pound log chain around his neck while a teen. But street fighting wasn't taking him anywhere, so he got into wrestling, which he says changed his life. After failing numerous times, he got serious as a 17-year-old high-school freshman, skipped 10th grade and completed 11th before transfering to a junior college on a wrestling scholarship for his senior year. "I never got to go to the prom," he says.
"Dangerous" Dan Henderson, Jackson's opponent on Saturday, doesn't share his street-fighting pedigree, but instead spent his early years as a wrestler out of Victorville. He competed in the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympics and started training in mixed martial arts in 1997, when his wrestling career was waning. Spending 10 years after high school as an amateur grappler left Henderson with few career options, he says, so professional fighting seemed like a logical step.
Henderson, 37, with a record of 22 wins and five losses, also fought in Japan and became a superstar athlete there. He once beat three fighters in the same night and, most recently, on Feb. 24, knocked out Wanderlei Silva with a left hook.
Silva, known as "The Axe Murderer" for his bloodthirsty fighting style, beat Jackson senseless twice, winning both matches. In their first match, Silva kneed Jackson in the face and head 17 times. Jackson staggered helplessly until the ref finally stopped the match. The second time, Silva drilled him in the face with his knee so hard he collapsed and flew, unconscious, through the ropes and outside the ring.
Inside the Team Quest gym in Murrieta, Henderson talks to his wife, Alison, who is pregnant and ready to give birth. The couple have chosen to have the child delivered by C-section early so it won't conflict with Henderson's fight in London, he says.