Inside a fighting cage, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson squares off against Brazilian Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva. It’s Bellator 206, and the crowd is tense. The buzzer sounds, and Rampage presses forward. He ducks a right hook and has his opponent against the edge in moments. Rampage pummels Silva with fists and knees, and the crowd cheers his victory.
This battle is one of many in a legendary rivalry and another trophy for Rampage’s 20-year legacy. As an MMA pioneer, his career paved the way for many others like him. But these days, he’s following a different path: one in gaming.
All in the family
Few people may realize this fighting legend has more than a few tricks up his sleeve. Rampage is a lifelong gamer who grew up playing with his family. He cut his teeth on classic ColecoVision games with his big brother, including beloved titles like Burger Time, Bump 'n Jump, and Pitfall!—though it’s a stretch to say he was always playing. “I was a little snotty-nosed kid begging for the controller,” Rampage says. But he still remembers his brother showing him how to jump over the alligators in Pitfall!.
By the time he was eight, he finally got his own NES. Then video games became more than just a fun diversion. “I didn’t have a normal childhood,” Rampage says. He didn’t get along with other kids in his Memphis, Tennessee neighborhood, so gaming was his escape when he needed a break from reality. And even years later, gaming remained a constant companion. When he was benched for a college wrestling injury, games kept him sane. “I would be really depressed if I didn't have video games,” he says.
These days, life has come full circle as Rampage and his kids connect over gaming. Competition is in their DNA, whether they're playing in the analog or digital worlds. They make up coloring contests and Rampage challenges his youngest son in heated head-to-heads. Their latest obsession is Mordhau, and though Rampage kicked his son’s butt at first, the young “natural-born gamer” turned the tables on his dad a few days later. “He murdered me!” Laughs Rampage. “Just that quick.”
Looking for group
True to his name, Rampage’s outsized reputation precedes him. But these days, the fighter is leading a laid-back life. He’s a self-professed homebody who loves goofing around with his kids and spending movie nights in. But his life and career are in transition. His kids are growing up, and stardom can be isolating. Rampage says his biggest problem with team games is finding people to play with. Fans are often more interested in a photo op than a heated session of Overwatch. So what’s a guy to do when he wants to find a gaming group?
For Rampage, the answer was streaming. Three years ago, fellow streamer Trevor “ThatIsDope” Antunez suggested the fighter could connect with other like-minded gamers by broadcasting on Twitch. It might seem like an unlikely method, but for Rampage it was the perfect solution. Yet this angle also makes him unusual compared to some aspiring streamers. Far from setting out with the intention of gaining followers and fame, all Rampage wanted were friends.
However, getting in the streaming game required Rampage to level up his skills first. The MMA fighter didn't have a PC when he started out, and even though he was initially far more comfortable streaming from his console, ThatIsDope eventually convinced him to trade in his controller for a mouse and keyboard. Rampage says the switch to PC gaming opened up a whole new world: one bursting with better games, graphics, and control options.
Now he can even game on the go. When he’s traveling for fights, gaming is his favorite way to blow off steam after the intense adrenaline rush. While on the road, Rampage plays and streams with his beloved ROG Zephyrus S GX701 gaming notebook. His favorite part is how no one knows he’s on a laptop. “I’m right there with them, keeping up with them,” he says. “It’s as powerful as a desktop.” He can’t imagine going back to a console now.
Rampage is human
“Sometimes people have a hard time believing that I do something as normal as gaming,” he says. He might be a pro athlete, but he's an average gamer—and he's more than okay with it.
Though he’s been streaming for three years, people are still surprised when they find Rampage on Twitch, and they bring lots of expectations to the table. Some think a pro athlete should be a pro gamer, too. Others have trouble imagining an MMA player gaming at all. It’s an impossible set of expectations for him to reconcile. If he's doing well, they can't fathom how. If he's dying a lot, they taunt him for his failures.
Rather than trying to be something he's not, Rampage is the first to admit he’s an everyday player. “I’m not a pro,” he says. “I’m just a casual gamer who loves video games. Whether I do well or not, I’m having fun.” And while MMA requires a tough, no-nonsense facade, gaming fans get to see Rampage’s softer, humbler side. This is why he chose the Twitch handle “RAMPAGEishuman.” Thankfully, the gaming world has plenty of room for a goofy, self-described “big kid” like him. Beyond gaming, his stream is where he cracks jokes, does funny impressions, and isn’t afraid to make a fool of himself.
In the ring, Rampage earned a ruthless reputation for body-slamming opponents, but you won't find him taking down keyboard warriors with his words online. The more time he spends in the limelight, the less he cares what people think. Whether they’re stream sniping, trash talking, or hurling slurs, “I just block them and move on,” he says. If his fighting persona is tough, his digital one is unassailable.
It still took a while to build up this armor. Just being a black man on the internet is enough to draw the worst kinds of trolls. But even if people bring the fight to him, Rampage doesn’t give them the time of day. He says he’s there to have a good time, entertain people, and not take himself too seriously. Life is short, so “we might as well have fun while we’re here.”
That lighthearted mentality has endeared him to streaming fans, but it’s also paid off on his initial aspirations by connecting him to like-minded gamers. The gaming world has proven to be more far more relaxed than MMA. In fact, Rampage’s stream has let him do meet-and-greets and grab beers with people offline. He’s even good enough friends with some fans that they text each other when they want to game.
Have fun and die trying
Rampage’s goofball side comes into view as we hit the ground. We’re playing Apex: Legends, and we’re doomed. I know it. Rampage knows it. Our teammate knows it, which is probably why he abandons us as soon as possible.
“We going to die!” Rampage screams with glee, while boldly surging ahead and pinging weapons and armor all around the map. He follows it up with a paternal bark: “You better stay on my tailbone, young lady!”
I tuck away my gun and make a run for it. The sweat is breaking out on my forehead, and no one's even shooting at me yet.
“Don’t worry, it’s just a video game. We going to die a horrible death!”
Trying not to die a horrible death with Rampage Jackson.
Even over the headset you can hear his wide grin. While I'm over here sweating bullets, he's cool as a cucumber. For Rampage, games like this pale against the adrenaline rush of the ring. After all, this is what he does to relax when he's not throwing real punches for a living.
The enemy teams dwindle as we scour the map and manage to avoid scuffles. Through some miracle, our scrappy team of two and a half makes it into the top four. All the while, Rampage provides gentle and humorous coaching on our endgame strategy and my Legend, Bangalore.
Everything seems well under control. We creep into a building. But with a crack, sniper shots catch us off guard through a window.
“They shooting you! Get out! Move, move, move!”
I duck into a corner, heal my shield, duck back in to take out the snipers, and—
We’re dead, shot from behind. We died a horrible death, indeed: the death of people who never even get a chance to fight. But he's not the least bit frustrated, not even a little bit mad. "We did all right," he says with an upbeat lilt in his voice. "We got killed by a guy that had 20,000 kills, so we did all right."
And Rampage is doing all right, too. Thanks to streaming, the die-hard gamer has made tons of new friends and is never short on teammates. He finally has a way to outwardly celebrate his geeky big-kid self, something that never quite found expression with his MMA persona.
Rampage even has aspirations that go beyond fighting, streaming, and gaming. He dreams of someday joining forces with a development agency to make his own video games. Though he’s tight-lipped about most of his ideas, he’s had tons since childhood. One he’s willing to share is a Twisted Metal-style title with multiplayer battle royale. For now, he says the only thing stopping him is finding the right collaborators.
If he does, the famed fighter might add "game designer" to his legacy one day. For now, though, it’s a brave new world, and he’s just excited to be in it.