DENVER – Before he even stepped into the ring, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson was already landing punches.
Only, these were mental jabs aimed at defending champion Jon “Bones” Jones.
In the buildup to their light heavyweight title bout at UFC 135 on Saturday, Jackson accused Jones of sending a mole into his camp to spy on the fighter who once played B.A. Baracus in the big-screen version of “The A-Team.”
It was an insinuation that stunned Jones at first and had him back on his heels in defense.
This was all part of Jackson’s plan to climb inside the head of Jones, who at 24 is the youngest champion in UFC history. A cagey mixed martial arts veteran, Jackson isn’t bashful about delivering blows to the psyche of an opponent before a big bout.
“They took the bait and fell for it,” Jackson said matter-of-factly.
The usually mild-mannered Jones has vowed he won’t let Jackson get to him again, even going so far as to not only set his goal of defending his crown but winning in convincing fashion by laying out Jackson.
Jones hardly looks like the same fighter who knocked out Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for the title six months ago. These days, the lanky yet chiseled Jones is leaner (guzzling more than 6 pounds of homemade vegetable juice a day), stronger (swimming laps with a local high school team) and meaner (agitated over Jackson’s stinging spy comments).
“I kind of feel in some ways the fight’s already won,” said Jones, who will attempt to retain his crown in the city where UFC staged its first championship bout 18 years ago. “I just have to go out there and solidify it.”
Jackson certainly won’t make it easy for him. Not by a long shot.
He’s taking this fight seriously as well, relocating to the Mile High City to work out at altitude. He’s even watching his diet.
“I didn’t sneak out for burgers,” Jackson chuckled. “I’ve been motivated and trained really hard and did everything the right way.”
Along the way, he also found time to get under Jones’ skin. Jackson played coy when asked if he really believed Jones planted someone in his camp to study his moves or if he was just acting the part of an aggrieved fighter.
“It happens more than we think about,” Jackson said. “People just don’t catch them. I’m always thinking about it.”