LAS VEGAS -- When Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
and his strength and conditioning coach Mike Dolce
met up in the UK for the start of his official camp, there was plenty of concern in the Wolfslair Gym about Jackson's state of fitness.
Fresh off filming a major role in "The A-Team," Jackson was ready to get back to MMA, but first, his team needed to find out exactly what they were working with, so Dolce put Jackson on the scale. There was exactly eight weeks to go from that day until the fight, and the number that stared back at them -- "251" -- was the highest they'd seen together.
"He looked in bad shape," Dolce said of the pre-camp Rampage. "He didn't look good. He's huge. He's a massive man and has a lot of muscle on him, but he wasn't quite a pro athlete at that stage."
It was bad enough that Jackson himself was upset with his starting weight. It seemed that there was too far to go, and not enough time. But Dolce was not nearly as concerned as the rest of the team. After 10 years in the strength and conditioning business, and in his fourth camp with Jackson, he intuitively understood what needed to be done, and that Jackson was fully invested in the process.
The fact that Jackson was fully motivated by his feud with Rashad Evans
was only going to ensure that the transformation was swift and effective.
"This is what I do: I get the best athletes in the world in the best shape of their life," he said. "I know Quinton's body. From my previous camps with him, I know how it responds, the exact types of foods he needs to eat, the training program he'd be on and how dedicated he would be. If he wasn't dedicated it would've been an uphill battle the whole way, but he was so motivated for this fight, he was happy to do every single thing I asked."
Dolce has a very hand's-on approach to his craft. He eats when Jackson eats, sleeps when he sleeps, he trains with him, does the roadwork, the mitt drills, and loses weight right alongside him. It's not uncommon for him to drop 20-25 pounds during a camp as though he's going to be fighting, too.
"Everywhere he goes, I go, so I can feel what he feels," said Dolce, who has also fought professionally for four years and was a contestant on season seven of The Ultimate Fighter. "There's the emotional, the physical and the mental aspect to what we do, and all those three have to be in harmony, and it's my job to make sure all three are balanced and that he's performing at his peak."
With UFC 114
looming, the progress was swift for Jackson. Dolce says that in just four weeks, he went from "Hollywood celebrity to top-of-the-foodchain pro athlete."
As it went along, he could see Jackson's love for the process returning. Though Jackson has long voiced an aversion for training, Dolce says that in this camp, he was always asking to do more. When they were supposed to run at 7 am, Jackson was calling him at 6. If Jackson was unsatisfied with his last round of sparring he'd ask for another. It was a trend that continued all camp long. Every day, Jackson looked better and his performance continued improving.
By week four, he was blowing away expectations, and by week six, Jackson was primed, a champion in mind and body.
"The last two weeks have been crazy," Dolce said. "It's sick what he's been able to do. He's a scary man when he's in this kind of shape."
Forty-eight hours from weigh-ins, Jackson was a svelte 219. There was no sign of the belly that he brought to camp. During his media workout, he exhibited the smooth footwork and heavy striking that made him the first and only man to unify the PRIDE and UFC titles. He was a focused athlete, ready to continue the work that once made him an undisputed champion.
"Quite honestly we had the worst Rampage eight weeks ago, and we're going to have the absolute best Rampage come fight night, which is amazing," Dolce said. "He's having fun and he's in a great place right now, but at the same time, he's an angry, bitter man. He's got that dichotomy of character that a lot of athletes don't have. He has that switch in his head and he's in shape, so Saturday night is going to be a scary night for Rashad Evans."