Say he could press a magic button (years of TV and movies have taught me that this button would necessarily be big and red, and may or may not be covered by a glass case) and create a Rampage clone that would go and fight for him at UFC 130. Say Real Rampage would get the money and Clone Rampage would do all the work, make the decisions, and live with the pain of defeat or the satisfaction of victory, but to the rest of the world the two would be indistinguishable.
My question isn't whether Jackson would choose to press the magic button under these circumstances. That's too easy. Obviously he would press it. The way he talks about his fighting career these days, I don't think you could keep him away from that button with a pack of wolves and a stun gun.
But say he pressed the button. Say he sent Clone Rampage out into the Las Vegas night to do his bidding against Matt Hamill. My question is: would Real Rampage, still lodged comfortably at home, bother to buy the pay-per-view so he could watch what happened? Or would he decide to do something else instead, maybe opting to find out the results via text message later that night?
This is the question I can't answer, and it's also why I don't know what to make of the current state of Jackson's MMA career.
To hear him tell it, fighting is just something to fill the time and earn a paycheck between movie roles. The minute he gets paid more to act than he does to fight, Jackson has said, he's out of here. Nobody can fight forever, and he doesn't particularly want to try.
Which is completely reasonable to most of us. If you can get paid more for sitting around on movie sets eating organic potato chips than you can for spending weeks living like a monk in training camp and waking up sore every morning, that's not too tough a decision for most people.
Then again, there's a reason most people don't become pro fighters, and a complete lack of skill and athleticism is only part of it.
What it comes down to is a lack of enthusiasm. All fighters have to have it to begin with, because when you're just starting out the money isn't good enough to justify doing it for any other reason. Unless you're Brock Lesnar. Or maybe Bobby Lashley.
But when Jackson made his pro debut in 1999 against a 175-pound Mike Pyle in Memphis, he did it for no more than a couple hundred bucks and a chance to punch someone in the face without legal repercussions.
I don't know what mix of ambition and anger and competitive zeal was driving that Rampage, but it seems to have evaporated in the eleven-plus years since then. Now when he talks about upcoming fights he seems to be the person least interested in the conversation. Even when he deigns to dredge up some the charisma that made him a fan favorite – such as he did last night on 'The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson' – he still seems far more enthusiastic about the after-party than the fight.
It makes you wonder, what exactly is Jackson trying to accomplish in MMA at this point? Is he only after the money? The fame? Is it nothing more than a way to keep him in the limelight just long enough to hold the interest movie producers? Or does he still want to etch a legacy for himself beyond what he's already accomplished in the sport? Does he want to be champion? He's still quite good at it, but does he actually want to participate in the physical act of fighting?
It's hard to come up with a clear answer right now, and that's a problem. This is the same Jackson who recently turned down a title shot because he thought six weeks wasn't enough time to prepare. It's also the one who waffles between mild interest and complete apathy when the subject of his next fight comes up.
Not only is he not fired up about fighting for a living, he rarely even pretends to be. I don't know what that means for his immediate future in pro fighting, but it's probably not the best sign for his acting career. If he can't convince fans that he's in the cage because he truly wants to be, how's he ever going to convince movie audiences that he's an entirely different person?
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