by Jeff Cain
Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson steps into the Pride ring to take on Yoon Dong Sik this weekend at Pride 31: ‘Unbreakable.’ Receiving more attention than the fight itself is ‘Rampage’ will be a free-agent following the bout. Will he remain in Pride, come to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), K-1, or end up in the International Fighting League (IFL)?

Quinton has been bombarded with questions about his fighting future in interview after interview. His answer is always basically the same; he doesn’t know. Jackson is a professional fighter who would like to be a champion someday, but titles and accolades play second fiddle to the bottom line at this point in his career. He just wants to be paid, and be paid what he is worth. But what organization is going to shell out the cash to land Jackson, soon to be biggest free-agent in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)?

The UFC has recently brought back several big named players in the MMA game: BJ Penn, Tito Ortiz, and Royce Gracie. The common thread connecting the three is they were all UFC fighters. They acquired their fame in the UFC octagon. Jackson would have to be built up in the organization, but it only takes two or three impressive performances to achieve.

The storyline for the UFC to bring in ‘Rampage’ is simple. He beat their light-heavyweight champion, Chuck Liddell. Quinton is charismatic, entertaining, and is popular in the United States despite exclusively fighting in Japan for the past four years. There is no question that Quinton would be a star in the United States, but what looks good on paper doesn’t always materialize in reality.

Hypothetically speaking, say ‘Rampage’ defeats Liddell and becomes UFC Champion; what is next? Both he and Tito Ortiz have said in the past that they won’t fight each other. Do you bring in a fighter to be a contender who won’t fight one of your contenders, or one of your contenders won’t fight him? The UFC has spent a lot of time and money building Tito Ortiz over the years. Chuck Liddell is more popular now than ever before due to winning the title and his coaching role on‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality show. Ortiz is a coach in the upcoming season of the reality show. Bringing in Jackson wouldn’t open up the division. It would restrict it.

UFC matchmaker, Joe Silva, said on MMAWeekly Radio this week that he has not negotiated with Quinton because Jackson is still under Pride contract. Jackson has voiced concerns about sponsorship and job security with fighting in the UFC. I don’t think we’ll see ‘Rampage’ competing in the octagon anytime soon.

Will Jackson go to the IFL? They’re rumored to be about to make a splash on the MMA scene, but will we see Jackson among their stable of fighters? It is hard to say. At this point in time, I’d be inclined to say no. The IFL is a start-up organization and if Jackson raised concerns about job security in the UFC, he has to feel the same about signing up with an unproven organization. I wish the IFL the best of luck, but honestly, how many organizations pop up, do a few shows, and are never heard from again? I’m not predicting that will be the IFL’s fate. I’m only saying it has to be a concern for Jackson who is seeking good pay and steady income.

‘Rampage’ has fought the who’s who in MMA. He doesn’t shy away from any fight as long as the check clears. He has fought Igor Vovchanchyn, Kevin Randleman, Murilo Bustamante, Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva twice, Ricardo Arona, and both Rua brothers. He has commented in past interviews that Pride is trying to kill him.

Following those statements, ‘Rampage’ has fought Hirotaka Yokoi, a 9-4-0 fighter, and will be fighting Yoon Dong Sik in the final fight of his current Pride contract. Sik has a 0-2-0 MMA record, including being knocked out by Kazushi Sakuraba in just 38 seconds at Pride: ‘Total Elimination’ in April of last year.

Does Sik have a chance against ‘Rampage?’ It is a fight and there is always a fighting chance, but Quinton shouldn’t have too much trouble in this fight. Sik has only had two MMA fights, losing both of them. Jackson has a 23-6-0 MMA record, and experience alone should carry him to victory.

The matchmaking tells the story. No organization is going to line up one of their most popular fighters in back to back seemingly mismatches without intentions of bringing the fighter back. Pride did offer Quinton a slot in the up coming open-weight tournament with possible opponents being Pedro Rizzo, Sergei Kharitonov, and Aleksander Emelianenko. Jackson declined the offer citing his dislike of tournaments, but it indicates that Pride was willing to extend his contract if he advanced out of the first round of the tournament.

K-1 certainly has the money to compete for Jackson. It wouldn’t be the first time they went after a premier Pride fighter. They could also provide the job security and income Quinton is looking for, but K-1’s open-weight format may not appeal to Jackson.

They say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There is no indication that Jackson will leave Pride, or that Pride doesn’t want him. Is ‘Rampage’ seriously considering other offers, or is he simply gauging his market value to use as a bargaining chip in future negotiations with Pride? I would say the latter. Pride played a big role in making ‘Rampage’ the commodity that he is. Expect Jackson to remain a Pride fighter.