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SportsMixed Martial Arts

Rampage, Rashad carry mutual loathing into UFC 114

Before Rampage Jackson takes to the big screen as B.A. Baracus
in the film version of “The A-Team,” he has one more fool to pity in the octagon.

Although Jackson’s film career could take off next month, he isn’t acting when he discusses his unfriendly rivalry with Rashad Evans.

These former UFC light heavyweight champions genuinely can’t stand each other, as they’ve made clear during a highly entertaining publicity tour for UFC 114, turning a show with no title fights into one of the most anticipated UFC events in recent years.

Jackson (30-7) and Evans (19-1-1) finally will get a grudge match several years in the making Saturday night at the sold-out MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas.

“This is the first time I’m actually going to enjoy beating the hell out of somebody,” Jackson said.

The winner is likely to meet new light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for the belt later this year, but both veterans are focused on settling personal scores — an actual rarity in mixed martial arts, where relatively few fighters speak frankly about their distaste for each other.

“It adds a little more, as far as all the hype and the mental energy you’ve got to put into it,” Evans said. “You do have to remember you’re training for a fight, and you can’t overtrain just because you don’t like the person. It’s been kind of fun, to be honest. Every time I find myself not wanting to do something, I just think of something he said, and it gives me the extra little push.”

So why don’t Evans and Jackson get along?

Where to start?

Jackson claims he was irked several years ago when Evans asked to train with him after beating one of Jackson’s teammates, a perceived sign of disrespect to Jackson’s gym. Evans was insulted by Jackson’s cavalier treatment of him, and they had a memorable trash-talking confrontation last year, moments after Jackson beat Evans’ teammate and close friend, Keith Jardine.

Jackson also doesn’t like Evans’ attitude toward the sport, including his reliance on takedown wrestling moves at the expense of more crowd-pleasing standup fighting skills.

“His head is bigger than a hot air balloon,” Jackson said.

Meanwhile, Evans has criticized Jackson for “pretending to be stupid” and perpetuating stereotypes of ignorant black athletes. Evans, who also is black, also referred to Jackson as “the Tin Man” for his perceived lack of heart in his loss to Rua in April 2005.

“I think these two have eclipsed any grudge match we’ve ever had,” UFC president Dana White said. “You can tell this is genuine. These guys really don’t like each other, and they really want to fight. I don’t think anybody can say that these guys are putting on an act, even though Rampage is now an actor. They’re definitely not acting.”

In fact, they’ve been after each other for months, with Jackson dismissing Evans’ accomplishments and referring to the bout as his tuneup fight for the expected title shot. Evans taunted Jackson at the pre-fight news conference Wednesday, although Jackson mostly glowered and declined to engage him.

Jackson’s training partner, Michael Bisping, will meet Dan Miller in the final bout before the main event at UFC 114 on a card also featuring Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Diego Sanchez.

Jackson is fighting for the first time since March 2009. He was scheduled to meet Evans last December at UFC 107 in his native Memphis as the traditional end to each season of the UFC’s reality TV show, “The Ultimate Fighter,” on which both fighters served as coaches, but Jackson pulled out to finish up “The A-Team.”

Co-star Jessica Biel is expected to be among the celebrities in the crowd Saturday night, but Jackson isn’t using the bout as a promotional tool for his second career.

“I already forgot I did a damn movie,” Jackson said. “It’s got nothing to do with this fight. It’s all how I make a living. The movie has been done with a long time ago, and I don’t even think about it no more. ... I ain’t never lied about why I do the things I do. I fight for money and I work. It’s my job, so I’m all about making the most as I can make, saving up for my future. Whatever is bringing in the most cash, that’s where I’ll be at. That’s real.”

Although his decision to postpone the grudge match infuriated White at the time, Jackson says his time out of the octagon helped him heal from the accumulated injuries of his most recent fights.

He hurt his jaw one week before knocking out Wanderlei Silva in December 2008, and it hadn’t fully healed by the time he won a unanimous decision over Jardine last year.

Evans won the UFC light heavyweight title by stopping Forrest Griffin in December 2008, but lost it five months later in a knockout loss to Lyoto Machida. Evans beat Thiago Silva in a tuneup bout in January after Jackson pulled out of their meeting.

Evans and Jackson will hand out grudging compliments on their opponents’ skills if prodded. Jackson admires Evans’ wrestling skills, while Evans realizes Jackson earned his nickname for a reason.

“I’m not going to be underestimating him,” Evans said. “I think I’m probably going to be fighting the best Quinton I ever fought.”

New York Sports