Spike TV wasted no time in getting its new prized recruit, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson into the game.
Jackson appeared Thursday night on Spike's pro wrestling show, TNA Impact, taped at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in suburban Atlanta.
There have been a lot of crossover attempts at making MMA fighters into pro wrestlers. As a general rule, because it takes years to develop the skill set necessary for major league pro wrestling, and MMA fighters are usually paid big money with the hope they deliver big results immediately, the U.S. and Japan have been littered with failed attempts.
But there have been a few successes, although more in Japan. Ken Shamrock, who was a pro wrestler before he was a fighter, had a strong few years with the World Wrestling Federation in the late 90s. Don Frye left the UFC and became a legitimate major star in Japan, including headlining two shows at the Tokyo Dome, Japan's equivalent to a WrestleMania top spot. Josh Barnett did well for himself in Japan, where he's done pro wrestling on-and-off since 2003. Bas Rutten, with his athleticism and charisma, was a natural as a pro wrestler during his brief stint in the profession. Kevin Randleman actually had tremendous potential at it, making use of freakish leaping ability and coordination, but was never in the right position to make a go of it.
But the most recent big ballyhooed transition, "King" Mo Lawal, after a year, has only done a few matches in small gyms in Kentucky. After a lot of early publicity, his name is never even acknowledged on TNA's television show, even if he's still listed on their web site.
It only took a few seconds to see the difference between Jackson and Mo. It was nothing either did as much as the crowd. When Lawal appeared on television, much of the crowd didn't really react to him like a star. With Jackson, who fought before far larger television and pay-per-view audiences, as he walked down the ramp, camera phones were going off all over the arena, even more than at an MMA event.
Jackson was also put on at 10 p.m. Eastern time, the "sweet spot" during a TNA broadcast where traditionally the largest number of fans tune in. So that was a sign the TNA scriptwriters believed he would help move ratings, which is what the company lives and dies on.
While Jackson was a great talker in an MMA setting, almost a wrestling gimmick patterned after 1980s star the Junkyard Dog, he was less animated as he stood in the ring and talked about growing up watching Memphis wrestling, and saying, "To be the best you have to beat the best."
Cue Kurt Angle. The 44-year-old who won a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics in freestyle wrestling before becoming one of the best pro wrestlers of the modern generation, got face-to-face with Jackson.
Putting Angle there had a dual purpose. One is that if somehow Jackson's talking wasn't cutting it, Angle is a pro who could pick up the slack and carry the segment. The second is, because of his gold medal, he can project a level of realism necessary when going against a guy whose main attribute in pro wrestling is the aura that he can fight for real. Angle would also be one of the first people in pro wrestling to pick to lead an inexperienced guy through a match.
"You want to beat the best, well you don't have to look any further because you're staring right at him," said Angle.
Angle closed by saying, "When you think you're ready, you'll have to go through me."
The two did a staredown that Dana White or Bob Arum would salivate over for nearly any main event, with Angle never blinking and Jackson's face twitching as if to say he's ready to go. One of the big problems with MMA fighters going into pro wrestling, that plagued both Shamrock and Tank Abbott, was that they were good at building up a real fight, but couldn't transfer those skills to building up a pro wrestling match. Like a lot of people in pro wrestling, they couldn't be fully convincing when they, themselves, knew it wasn't real.
The jury is out on whether Jackson can mentally transfer the verbal ability that led to his fight with Rashad Evans being the most successful non-championship match in UFC history to a more scripted setting. And as far as learning to be a pro wrestler, that's a whole different aspect of the game, which takes a lot of time and patience.
But for those expecting Jackson to be a flop to the wrestling audience like so many television and reality show stars the promotion had used, at least for week one, the opposite is what ended up happening.