A little over a month ago, Memphis native Quinton "Rampage" Jackson was named the Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) light heavyweight champ after taking down defending champion Chuck Liddell in under two minutes.
The nationally televised fight was broadcast to thousands of people via Pay-Per-View. But tonight, at a modest gym in Southeast Memphis, Rampage has a much smaller audience. And the competition hasn't had a cameo on Entourage.
Jackson is visiting from his home in Irvine, California, and training for the first time since the Liddell knockout. While talking to fans at the gym, a twentysomething man in a red shirt grabs the fighter, catching him off-guard. Jackson takes the man to the floor, but the man responds by wrapping his legs around Jackson in a move that looks like a pretzel.
The two wrestle around on the ground until the red-shirted man gets the 205-pound Jackson on the ground underneath him. He's sitting on the champion's chest, his back end facing Jackson's head.
"Did he put his ass in my face?" asks Jackson.
"I think he did," chimes a fan on the sidelines, as other people laugh at the fighter's sarcasm.
Jackson reverses the move, sending the other fighter back into a submissive position. After the UFC champ wins the battle, another man jumps onto him before he has a chance to catch his
"I submitted him, but he let me," says Jackson. "It's just training. In the gym, there are no winners or losers."
The comment reflects the easygoing attitude of the 29-year-old mixed-martial artist. Sitting on the red, padded floor of the gym, his gleaming gold UFC champion belt beside him, Jackson discusses growing up in Memphis and his newfound celebrity status.
A self-professed lazy fighter, Jackson does not like to train. But he has little choice as his next fight, a September 8th battle against the current champion of UFC's counterpart in China, approaches.
"If my trainer don't make me do it, I don't do it," says Jackson when asked about his pre-fight training regimen. He doesn't train with weights but rather sticks to sparring matches, wrestling, ju-jitsu, push-ups, and sit-ups.
Jackson began wrestling at Raleigh-Egypt High School, a decision he says saved his life. Before taking up the sport, he was hanging out with a tough crowd and skipping school. But he quickly excelled on the school's wrestling team, earning fifth place in a state tournament during his senior year.
These days, his high school hobby is truly paying off. Jackson's win against Liddell earned him overnight celebrity in the United States.
"Now I've noticed that a few more big companies are interested in endorsing me. MTV wants to give me my own reality show," Jackson says. "I'm the first mixed-martial artist to get my own shoe."
Though Jackson's family still resides in Raleigh, the fighter says it will be awhile before he moves back to the Bluff City. He says he needs the gyms in California, where other UFC fighters live, to be successful. And for now, he's going to battle to stay on top.
Is there anyone he dreams of fighting?
"I don't care as long as I get paid," he says. "I'd fight my mama if they paid me enough money. ... I'm joking. She might get mad at me."