Jackson set to be MMA's riskiest free agent

March, 14, 2012
3/14/12
3:09
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Quinton JacksonJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesIt might be fun and games now, but what happens when Quinton Jackson walks way from the UFC?
Good news, fight fans: Now that he’s discovered the miracle of testosterone replacement therapy, Quinton Jackson says he can fight another 10 years.

The bad news? It looks like it won’t be in the UFC.

In touching off a tornado of controversy by admitting he used testosterone leading up to his recent loss to Ryan Bader and then engaging in a contentious war of words with his current employer during the past week, Jackson has essentially taken a BA Baracus-style flamethrower to his career in the Octagon.

That means, if we set aside for a moment the obvious ethical and philosophical questions of an athlete using a doctor’s prescription to tack an extra decade on to his career -- which Jackson himself seems perfectly happy to do -- the most pressing issue obviously becomes: Where?

Where exactly does a guy who has already retired once, has never seemed particularly motivated, has groused on and off about his pay and has made it clear that he doesn’t like MMA fans (only his fans) think he’s going to spend the next magical decade of his career fighting?

Clearly, if and when he becomes available, someone will sign Jackson, who is still talented and who (at least theoretically) retains a healthy base of fans.

In doing so, however, that person will also be taking a sizable risk.

If his first dozen years in MMA -- which includes at least one high-speed police chase, remember -- hadn’t convinced you, the last couple of weeks should serve as conclusive proof. After the initial wave of bad press over his now notorious interview with Fighters Only Magazine, “Rampage” has spent the last few days likening his treatment from the UFC to “slavery,” calling fans of the sport “sheep” and trumpeting TRT as pretty much the greatest thing to happen to him during the last few years.

In response, the UFC threw down its trump card, saying Jackson will finish out his contract with a bout against Mauricio Rua, the guy who TKOed him via soccer kicks the first time they met in Pride back in 2005.

After that, it seems Jackson will be on his own, and if his most recent outburst isn’t enough to make independent MMA promoters think twice about signing him, well, that’s amazing. At this rate, though, Jackson could well enter free agency around the same time he turns 34 and might be facing a market with fewer options than ever before for such an independently minded fighter.
[+] EnlargeQuinton Jackson
AP Photo/Eric JamisonQuinton Jackson, right, has given us our fair share of memories over the years.

There is Bellator, which allegedly passed on signing Nate Marquardt when the welterweight fighter was released from the UFC in a haze of testosterone last year. There is BAMMA, where Marquardt eventually signed, then unsigned after his promotional debut was continually delayed.

There is ProElite, which has yet to make waves through three shows since it was brought back to life, and there are a number of new-ish organizations in Asia, where Jackson has said he feels most comfortable fighting, but where the MMA market has been on the wane during the past few years.

That’s about the size of the market and, frankly, none of it shapes up as a rosy future for “Rampage.”

Clearly, MMA is a “never say never” industry and the possibility exists that Jackson and the UFC could bury the hatchet between now and his showdown with Rua.

If not, it's difficult (bordering on impossible) to imagine a scenario where Jackson thrives in a smaller organization quite the way Dan Henderson or Nick Diaz did. He’s said he doesn’t care if he ever “make[s] $500 again,” but that seems like perhaps the most dubious claim of all, coming from a guy who’s already walked away from the sport once to chase a big-money future in Hollywood.

Who will pay what is sure to be a hefty asking price for a fighter who has been so inconsistent, has so much baggage and has proved to be such a public relations nightmare?

Someone will, but how much and for how long is anybody's best guess.

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