MMA: Carl Moretti
January, 18, 2013
By Franklin McNeil
Josh Hedges/Getty ImagesIt's too late to turn back now.
When former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson exits the Octagon on Jan. 26 in Chicago -- win or lose against hard-hitting Glover Teixeira -- he will not fight again with the promotion.
Jackson, one of the most popular and successful mixed martial artists ever, made it clear during a media call Tuesday to promote his upcoming bout that he has already severed ties with UFC.
The bout with Teixeira will be the final fight on his current UFC contract, and according to Jackson, each side is eager to move on.
"I'm over it," Jackson said. "I've given [UFC] time to keep me happy. Honestly, I think the UFC is happy with me leaving. It's a mutual thing."
While Jackson proved to be a big draw, and delivered many exciting fights, his absence from UFC's roster isn't expected to hinder the promotion's progress. UFC will continue putting on exciting MMA cards.
Jackson's future, however, isn't set in stone.
Competing in smaller MMA promotions is possible, but Jackson has a grander scheme -- taking his knockout skills to the boxing ring.
Jackson has complained for the past few years that part of his frustration with MMA stems from too many fighters' reluctance to stand with him. He longs for the days when most of his opponents stood toe-to-toe.
Today's mixed martial artist is more advanced technically, with wrestling becoming more prevalent in the cage, leading many to take the fight to the ground.
Despite his high school wrestling background, Jackson isn't among the more skilled ground fighters in MMA. If Jackson were to sign with a smaller MMA promotion, there is no guarantee that opponents would refrain from attempting to take him down.
No one knows this better than Jackson. It's why boxing looks more and more appealing to him.
He won't have to worry about anyone taking him to the ground in a boxing match, and Jackson gets to throw as many punches as he wants.
"I've put my time in. I did my thing," Jackson said. "I just want to entertain people. I want to be very exciting. Maybe I want to try some boxing or do some kickboxing. I’ve done jiu-jitsu tournaments, wrestling tournaments, kickboxing fights -- but never boxing. I think that would be my biggest challenge -- to see if I can be a pro boxer.
Jackson noted that former street fighter-turned-mixed martial artist Kimbo Slice has also made the switch to boxing.
Slice, whose real name is Kevin Ferguson, is 6-0 with five knockouts as a boxer. Although he has faced mediocre competition and has competed in four-round bouts only, Slice has shown improvement with each outing.
It's a path Jackson, who has no amateur or professional boxing experience, can expect to follow in boxing. Despite his lack of experience, Jackson can expect some high-profile boxing promoters to give him a close look.
One promoter has already expressed interest.
"Absolutely, I'd be interested in taking a look at him," Top Rank vice president of boxing operations Carl Moretti told ESPN.com. "I'm sure he's a well-conditioned athlete, but boxing's a different game. I'd like to see him in the gym sparring, just to see how he does against professionals before going ahead and just throwing him in a fight.
"If he's willing to do that, then everybody would be interested in him."
Susumu Nagao for ESPN.comQuinton "Rampage" Jackson's up-and-down relationship with the UFC will come to an end following his last fight on Jan. 26.
Moretti knows that Jackson is a heavy puncher -- 14 of his 32 wins have come by knockout -- but there's more to boxing than throwing haymakers. Jackson will need to show that he knows how to sit down on his punches and demonstrate decent footwork. Moretti would also like to see a decent jab and defensive skills.
Jackson would also have to show these skills against seasoned boxers during his sparring sessions. It won't be easy, but if any mixed martial artist can make the transition to boxing, Jackson is the man.
Getting over the initial hurdle won’t make life easier for Jackson. He is 34 years old, which gives him little room for error, and his name recognition brings high expectations.
“He’s one of the bigger names out of UFC. Everybody has heard of him, so that gives him an advantage,” Moretti said. “He’s not coming in as an unknown.
“But maybe it works against him because he’s going to have more eyeballs on him. And it may place some additional pressure on him to perform in boxing.”
While adjusting to a new sport will be difficult, Jackson is up for the challenge. Besides, he's no novice when it comes to fighting.
Fighting in UFC and Pride has prepared Jackson to compete in any professional combat-sports arena. He will not be intimidated inside the boxing ring.
"Sure, it helps him from a conditioning point of view, at least being inside the ring and knowing what can happen," Moretti said. "There's no question that [having MMA experience] helps him. But when you want to hold, punch while you're holding and grab a leg -- that's not boxing.
"We have to see how he handles the finer points of boxing as compared to MMA and make some kind of assessment from that."