–Kenny Rice

Four years can be an eternity for a professional athlete. Injuries, personal problems, contract disputes can all weight heavy even on a big man in continuing to perform at the once height of his game. Four years away from the making a film for an actor can feel the same, that once bright spotlight of public appeal can dim.

This Saturday night in Denver, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, who has experience the worlds of “The Octagon” and “The Silver Screen”, looks to return to top billing status in a classic confrontation of new tangling with established.

He has experienced all of the athletic detours since he won the UFC Light Heavyweight championship on May 26,2007 with a stunning first round KO of Chuck Liddell, arguably “The Face” of the organization at that time. In a few hours¬† Jackson gets what could be his last shot at a title, an underdog to the “It” fighter in MMA, champion Jon Jones. He is spoken of with awe in almost every circle, except in the Jackson camp, especially when it comes to the public persona Jones and his public relations team has painstakingly crafted.

“He’s a phony.¬† Not what the public sees. On our press tour (to promote the fight) I saw him turn it on when the cameras were on and then off when it was over,” Jackson states. “I’m not a hater of Jones he’s a great talent as a fighter, he is the new face of the UFC. But I am going to knock him out.”

With over a dozen film and television roles in his other life as an actor, this showdown is right out of a script–Hot Young Star Champ vs. Old School, One Last Chance, Ex-Champ.

“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Jackson slowly grins. “But that sounds about right.”

Jackson knows a good story when he hears one. Which led to his UFC dispute and walk from them, as he opted to hang with actor Bradley Cooper instead of fighting Rashad Evans. The pop culture hero role of B.A. Baracus, made famous by the pop culture hero Mr. T on the hit TV show, was too good of an opportunity to pass up for Jackson who showed formidable acting chops in the “A Team” movie.

“I always said acting is my other job but fighting is my day job that’s what feeds my family.”

After he canceled his UFC fight and subsequently retired in September ’09 he “un- retired” three months later. Eventually losing a unanimous decision to Evans in UFC 114 May ’10 but followed that with consecutive decision victories over Lyoto Machida and Matt Hamill to get this title chance again.

“Four years is a long time,” he reflected on taking the belt and all that has happened since. “But I’m still here in the mix.”

And this is the recurring role Jackson most desires. To pull the upset, be champion once more, the lead star when some thought he was fading. A ferocious punch away to show he is still the viable force in the sport he was after defeating Liddell and then unifying the Light Heavyweight division beating Pride champ Dan Henderson in his lone successful title defense four years ago.

As if there’s a need for additional drama, Jackson made unsubstantiated claims there was a spy in his training camp relaying information to Jones. He also told me that he received a text, wanting to know if he would like information about Jones’ camp. Intense fodder for Internet conspiracy theorists, a brief aside for the intensely focused Jackson. And if there’s yet another subplot he has more than once criticized Greg Jackson fighters, Jones’ camp, of being boring and bad for the sport.

With a twinkle in his eye a la B.A. Jackson notes, “Don’t matter, we both know what the other is going to do and I am going to knock him out. I said that already didn’t I?”

On appearance Jackson might be in the best shape of his career, at the very least at the level he was when he won the championship. He has sequestered himself in the spacious Muscle Pharm training facility in Denver for over two months. He had a bed, TV, refrigerator, other home amenities brought in to convert a standard physical therapy room into a far from Spartan apartment, literally walking a hundred feet to work each day.

“I am more focused than ever.” He speaks with a plain determination, perhaps realizing all that has past in four years and trying to regain past glory for the final time. It is a role tailored for him. Can a movie ending be in store this weekend? The part of a lifetime.

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