The strange power and frailty of 'Rampage'

Quinton Jackson had his moments during his return to Japan, but ultimately failed to impress. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

It’s a testament to the strange power of Quinton Jackson that he remains one of the UFC’s more popular and marketable fighters.

A lesser personality might have been cast aside by now, left in the dust by even his most loyal fans after so many ups and downs, false starts and disappointments.

Nonetheless, even after Saturday night’s epic letdown against Ryan Bader at UFC 144, you get the feeling Jackson could still draw decent money, maybe even main event one of the organization’s lesser cable broadcasts in his next fight.

That is, if he still has the desire to keep doing this at all.

The question of Jackson’s motivation -- seemingly always an issue -- was thrust back to the forefront last week when he checked in a full five pounds overweight for his fight against Bader, then appeared to just go through the motions en route to conceding a unanimous decision loss to the 2-to-1 underdog. He cited the obligatory training injury to explain the weigh-in snafu, but most observers (including UFC president Dana White) came away from his performance wondering aloud if Jackson has the fire to keep competing at the sport’s highest level.

“I’m disappointed,” White told MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani after the fight. “I think Rampage is so talented; I just question whether he wants to do this anymore. [I] have been [questioning this] since probably the ‘A-Team’ movie.”

This is not the first time we've had such doubts.

Jackson’s entire career has been an odd mix of both under and over achievement, simultaneously one of stunning collapses and gritty comebacks. It would have been no great surprise if it’d turned out his best days were already behind him by the end of his tenure in Pride in 2006, after he’d suffered a trio of ugly, potentially career-altering losses to Wanderlei Silva (twice) and Mauricio Rua.

Instead, "Rampage" didn’t even reach full bloom until he arrived in the Octagon in 2007, when he won a "gimme" bout in his debut against Marvin Eastman, and then defeated Chuck Liddell and Dan Henderson in back-to-back appearances to unify the UFC and Pride 205-pound titles.

Granted, it has been a roller-coaster ride the whole way. Jackson's stint in the UFC has included pit stops at a number of high-profile gyms, a messy breakup with former trainer Juanito Ibarra, two seasons coaching on “The Ultimate Fighter,” a high speed police chase through Orange County in a truck with his picture emblazoned on the side, a bitter feud with Rashad Evans and the temporary “retirement” White alluded to when a disillusioned Jackson took 14 months away from the cage to play B.A. Baracus on the big screen.

This week, after essentially demanding the UFC book him during it first trip back to Japan in more than a decade -- and reportedly passing up a chance to fight on network television to make it happen -- he stumbled once again, turning in the kind of uninspired performance that once again made us wonder if this is the end of the line for him.

So far, Jackson maintains he is not done. When asked about the fighter’s future, though, White responded with the kind of non-committal “we’ll see what happens” that usually means he’s going to need to be convinced.

Even if he hung up the gloves today, Jackson would be a shoe-in as an all-time, top-five light heavyweight and “first ballot” UFC hall of famer, if the latter distinction actually existed. That’s not too shabby from a guy who would probably tell you himself it was an unlikely accomplishment for him to have even made it to MMA’s big leagues.

Still, it’s hard to ignore Jackson’s history in situations like this. Every time you think he’s out for good, he comes back and wins. He’s still one of the most recognizable names in the sport. He’s still got a significant fan base behind him. If he wants to do the training and fight again, the UFC will no doubt oblige him. After all, his old nemesis, Rua, is still floating around, fresh off a hard-fought loss to Henderson (and in need of a fight).

At this point, you just wonder if Jackson’s got one more improbable comeback left. Just as its been his entire career, it’s probably totally up to him.