Quinton "Rampage" Jackson makes his way to the ring howling like a werewolf with a thick junkyard chain wrapped around his neck.

He might have one of the most intimidating staredowns in all of sports.

His style was cultivated on the streets of Memphis, combining wrestling with raw aggression and natural brawling instincts that could have destroyed him but, instead, led him toward the top of his growing sport.

He doesn't just take down his opponents, he lifts them high into the air and body slams them.

He can throw fists and knees with the best of them, and he has vicious ground-and-pound skills when the fight goes to the canvas.

Win or lose, Jackson's fights always end in dramatic fashion.

The former "Thug Warrior" turned "God's Soldier" built his reputation as one of the top 205-pound fighters in mixed martial arts while fighting in Japan's PRIDE Fighting Championships.

Now, Jackson, who lives in Irvine, is ready to take on the best the Ultimate Fighting Championships has to offer. Jackson challenges UFC light-heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell in the main event of UFC 71 on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

"I've been that way my whole life," Jackson said of his over-the-top personality which has made him a fan favorite. "Everything about me, I've been that way before I started fighting.

"I've been howling since I was a little kid. I've been wearing a chain ever since I started wrestling in high school. Why not be myself? I'm already stupid, make fun of everybody, laugh and joke around. I just brought it with me. Be myself. This is what I do. When I fight, my main objective is to excite the fans. If it weren't for them, we wouldn't have this sport."

Jackson grew up in South Memphis, which is considered to be one of the economically poorest parts of the city. Abandoned businesses and burned-out homes litter the neighborhood. Many gangsta rappers have glorified South Memphis in their music. The Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples and some Grape Street Watts Crips and Hoover Crips call that area of Memphis home.

Jackson's parents divorced when he was 10 and he gravitated toward his older cousins, who were prone to trouble. Jackson got caught up in the street life, getting into fights and selling drugs.

"Growing up in Memphis, it was a tough journey, man," Jackson said. "Some of my friends that I grew up with … they didn't make it. I'm blessed to even make it.

"It was kind of like a war when you really think about it. What's going to happen next? Which one of your friends is going to disappear now? Who is going to jail for this?"

Jackson was heading down a dead end before his mother, Lucille, remarried and moved the family to Raleigh, a suburb of Memphis.

"My mom had remarried and she saw the neighborhood was bad," Jackson said. "One of my friends had just went to jail for murder.

"She just looked for a house far away and it was probably the best thing that happened to me in my life. The school I went to had wrestling. The rest is history."

Nobody knew about Jackson's past when he started attending Raleigh-Egypt High. He had a clean slate. He said he quit smoking marijuana and cigarettes and stopped drinking alcohol when he started wrestling. His grades improved. He finally had goals.

"He says he was new at that school and that was one reason he wanted to change," his mother said. "He said don't nobody know him there.

"He was always getting in trouble, getting suspended for something or fighting. He decided to change. I thought it was good that he found something he liked."

Jackson has had his nickname "Rampage" since he was 8 years old. His cousin, Tyrone, dubbed him that because of his epic tantrums and because he had "the worst temper on planet Earth." He started wearing the chain to his high school wrestling matches as a good-luck charm.

"I lost my first five matches in a row," Jackson said. "Then my brother gave me the chain and I started wearing the chain as a good-luck thing. And it kind of intimidated my opponents. From then on I went undefeated until the regional finals."

Jackson continued to wrestle in junior college before being introduced to MMA by one of his friends, David Roberts. He quickly built a 10-1 record before being invited to compete in PRIDE.

He put together some highlight victories over Kevin Randleman and Igor Vovchanchyn. His power-bomb slam that knocked out Brazilian Top Team's Ricardo Arona was another highlight.

But Jackson never got to celebrate his greatest victory, a second-round stoppage of Liddell in the semifinals of PRIDE's 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix. Jackson had to fight PRIDE middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva later the same night in the tournament finals and was knocked out in the first round by a series of vicious knees.

"I fought two fights that day," said Jackson, who is 7-2 since that night, including a second loss to Silva. "It was crazy to fight two of the best fighters in the world in one day. If I would have won that tournament, I would have gone down in history as the best fighter in the world.

"It was a big disappointment. I even forget that I fought Chuck. I got my (butt) kicked later on that night. I forgot all about Chuck. People were like, 'Man, you beat Chuck Liddell.' It didn't mean nothing to me."

It will mean more if Jackson is able to beat Liddell this time. Liddell is on a seven-fight winning streak since losing to Jackson, establishing himself as the face of MMA in North America with each victory.

Some critics say Jackson doesn't have the same fire since he became a born-again Christian. Some say Jackson isn't the same fighter since his KO losses to Silva.

"Let them say what they gonna say," Jackson said. "I'm gonna do my talking in the ring, in the cage. I'm gonna see what they have to say after this fight."

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