Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
If the UFC ever wants an example to show fighters how to effectively promote a major bout, it could use this weekend’s meeting between Jon Jones and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
The banter between Jones (13-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC) and Jackson (32-8 MMA, 7-2 UFC) has transformed Saturday’s UFC 135 light heavyweight championship bout from decently hyped to one of the most anticipated scraps of the year.
It’s no longer seen as the matchup that only coalesced after injuries to Jones canceled a planned meeting with Rashad Evans. A press conference to officially announce the Denver event two months ago kicked off a war of words that hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.
“I just like people to be real all the time and don’t try to put on a front,” Jackson said on a media conference call Monday. “When the first interviews for this fight came out, he says he’s so humble and all this stuff. Then you really meet him and he seems so cocky.”
Jackson, 33, said he had no issues with Jones, 24, until they met at the press conference. That’s when Jackson felt insulted by several quotes, including Jones calling him out about only fighting for money and referring to him as “the movie star Rampage."
Even if there were some truths to those statements — Rampage starred in “The A-Team” last year — Jackson doesn’t think it was Jones’ place to speak on them.
“He was saying stuff he shouldn’t be saying to a veteran fighter like me,” Jackson said. “The guy has never walked the way I’ve walked in this sport. Basically, he said the wrong (expletive). And I treat him the way I treat him because I’ve got no respect for him.”
Jones has a different recollection of the start of their feud. Jones said he didn’t start talking trash until Rampage disrespected him by promising “to destroy” the champion.
And he wasn’t bothered by any of it until Jackson detailed to Yahoo Sports how he found a Jones spy in his training camp.
“It was the fact that fans actually considered that I would try to pay someone, find someone to go to his camp and try to get Rampage to trust him and all this ludicrousness,” Jones said. “I thought that was pretty interesting that fans thought I would do something like that.”
If Rampage’s objective was to get into Jones’ head, some argue he’s accomplished it. Jones has become annoyed with the constant questioning and admitted he wished he didn’t have any more media obligations Monday.
Jackson, on the other hand, keeps firing away.
“It’s not my job to out-talk him,” Jones said. “You are talking about an opponent who threatens and harasses every opponent in his career’s history. I’m very aware of it.”
Jones only remembered one other opponent from his UFC career who talked as much trash as Jackson. That was Brandon Vera, who Jones smashed via first round TKO at UFC on Versus 1.
Jones drew motivation from Vera and wouldn’t rule out feeling the same way about Jackson.
“It definitely makes me fight better,” Jones said. “The only reason it makes me fight better is because it makes me prepare better. I realize every quote I make, I’ve got to back it up. That’s why I try to not insult my opponent and say things that I only think will be true.”
Jackson admitted he was impressed with how fast Jones had progressed in mixed martial arts. But he’s also continually mentioned that his toughest test, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, was “rusty” and “not the true Shogun” when they fought at UFC 128.
Jackson isn’t ready to rank Jones as one of the top five pound-for-pound fighters in the world like so many others are.
“I basically looked at the fight, my teammates looked at it and saw he ain’t really fought anyone like me,” Jackson said. “Everybody’s counting me out and it’s making me more and more confident. I’m going to relieve of him of his first loss.”
“I’m going to be the person to give him the first (expletive)-whooping, so he can go on to be the great fighter that I know he can be.”
The talk has made fans forget that Jackson was the second option or that Jones is a 5-to-1 favorite.
That’s the power of promotion, a skill both Jackson and Jones have shown they possess.