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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

'Rampage' and 'Suga' sweeten UFC 114 pot with trash talk

Ponder this old-school train of thought: A fight should sell itself based on the merits of each fighter, not their mouths. On how intriguing the matchup is on paper, not on a microphone.

Boxing lost this battle long ago, back when Muhammad Ali became as much about sound as he was substance.

Mixed martial arts, still a very new sport in many ways, struggles with its prefight hype approach. MMA must differentiate itself from boxing, but the trash-talking formula works. It's proven. Good smack talk equals good pay-per-view numbers.

And sometimes it's just so darn entertaining. Pit Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and "Suga" Rashad Evans in a UFC bout, and the fight becomes the sundae. Their verbal battle is the cherry, and the whipped cream, and the sprinkles. And yes, their UFC 114 conference call last week was nuts.

Jackson and Evans already dislike each other, as we saw last winter when the two light heavyweights coached Season 10 of "The Ultimate Fighter."

Then, as Jackson answered a question on the conference call, Evans jumped in. The two exchanged verbal flurries on at least five separate occasions on the conference call. The conference call! Some highlights:

"I just don't like the way he talks to me," Jackson said. "He's just real fake and real cocky. He ain't really done much in this sport."

Evans, disregarding typical conference call etiquette, retorted. "Hey, I was the world champion, bro," Evans said. "I got that belt from somebody that beat you."

Jackson: "This guy even talks while he's getting knocked out. Who talks while they're getting knocked the hell out?"

Evans: "You're the Tin Man. Go see Oz. Go see the Oz."

Jackson: "I saw you get punched like a little chick . . . and you had, like, rubber legs."

The stuff in between and afterward took on macho, racial and sexual overtones. Much of it is not printable here, or anywhere that's not a barroom brawl.

To paint the picture: Across the world, MMA writers were at their desks (or somewhere else) listening in and taking notes. UFC president Dana White was in his office in Las Vegas. Jackson was somewhere else, yelling into his phone at Evans, who was in a third location yelling into his phone.

Marvelous entertainment. Simply marvelous.

A typical UFC prefight conference call transcript totals around 34 pages. With Jackson and Evans, call the office administrator and make sure there's a backup toner cartridge at the ready. This was 49 pages of back-and-forth smack.

MMA certainly must not travel down this path very often. It will be tuned out the same way all those fake punches get thrown at prefight boxing conferences. Or worse. It will bring the spectacle of pro wrestling.

But Jackson and Evans have perfected the art of humorous trash talking.

"I was ring-rusty against [Keith] Jardine, and I may be in this fight in Las Vegas," Jackson said. "That gives Rashad a teeny-tiny chance. Not a good chance, just a teen-weeny chance. Like 0.05 percent. If I had fought more recently? He'd have no chance, he wouldn't have needed to show up. He'd have fainted in the hotel room and we could have sent the referee with room service to wake him up and call that a KO."

They also succeeded at selling their eliminator bout at UFC 114 next Saturday in Las Vegas.

New York Sports