The last time Quinton "Rampage" Jackson saw cage time, it was ten months ago during a one-sided drubbing at the hands of Glover Teixeira -- a fight that even Jackson admits he wasn't ready for. But much has happened since January, not the least which involved Jackson undergoing the same restorative knee procedure that helped NBA superstar Kobe Bryant regain his once fading explosiveness.
"It actually really depressed me," Jackson admitted of his past knee issues. "It's part of the reason why I haven't been doing well. I used stay in the gym after my fights, but I stopped doing it because of how much pain I was in. You have to be mentally strong and confident. (Now) I'm not depressed anymore.
"I notice a big improvement. My knees actually feel like they did in my Pride days."
Bellator, Jackson's new employer, tracked down and paid for the procedure as part of its extended campaign to promote Jackson as one of its prime attractions. Already Jackson's deal has spawned several outlets with which the fighter can spread his wings, including a leading role in Bellator's ill-fated pay-per-view, pro wrestling cameos on Spike's TNA Wrestling, as well as the three-part reality show Rampage 4 Real.
"I don't really like to watch myself on TV," Jackson said of the series. "But from the feedback and stuff like that I'm pretty happy with it.
"I just would like it if Spike promoted it a little bit more. I think it's a good show. It's for the fans, to learn a little bit more about me and how I am, what I do. I like the show. I've heard positive feedback from it, more positive than negative. But I'd be satisfied if Spike promoted it a little bit more, to be honest."
Swirling rumors have also connected Jackson to a coaching position on a potential second season of Spike's Fight Master, though that proposition is far from a done deal.
"[Monday] was my first day even hearing about this," Jackson said. "I didn't have the greatest time doing TUF, so if it's anything like The Ultimate Fighter, then no, I'm not interested. But in dealing with Bellator, I can almost guess that they're nothing like The Ultimate Fighter."
Extra curricular activities aside, the time has finally come for Jackson to make his debut in the Bellator cage. He's slated to meet UFC castoff Joey Beltran in the main event of Bellator 108, and while Jackson admits to being disappointed about the collapse of Bellator's November 2nd pay-per-view, he's eager to put the past behind him and give fans a show on Friday night.
Though for Jackson, the stakes longer are no longer as high as they were against his previous opponent, Tito Ortiz, himself a UFC veteran riding a significant losing streak.
In the weeks leading up to the Ortiz bout, Jackson swore that if he lost, the fight would be his last. Now however, with Beltran presenting a far different challenge, that caveat no longer applies.
"If I would've lost to Tito, that's totally different," Jackson said. "I think Joey Beltran is a way tougher opponent than Tito. It's a different type of fight. But with Tito, (if I lost) I would've hung up my MMA gloves. I probably would've just boxed or kickboxed, to be honest."
Beltran's arrival was necessitated by a last-minute neck injury suffered by Ortiz, which pulled the plug on Bellator's pay-per-view. Jackson's fight was subsequently pushed back, and Beltran jumped at the chance to duel a former UFC champion.
Beltran readily admits, Bellator brought him in to deliver an entertaining show against Jackson. So that's exactly what he intends to do, as Beltran even requested his family stay home for what he expects to be a slugfest.
"Well I agree with him," Jackson said flatly. "This fight is going to be pretty violent. I trained my ass off just so I could really do a lot of damage to Tito. Now, fighting a guy who's really durable and really tough, I'm just happy that I went all out on my cardio this fight.
"He's right about telling his family to stay home. They may not want to tune into this fight either. I really plan on hurting this kid."
Puzzlingly, the fight is expected to be contested at a catchweight of 210 pounds -- a request which Beltran said he had to negotiate down from 215. Jackson, though, claims to have had little say in the matter.
"I didn't know anything about that," he said. "Bellator, they did everything, so I didn't know. I thought it was [Beltran's] idea. I didn't know and I didn't care. I would've fought at heavyweight. I would've fought at any weight.
"When Tito got hurt, I asked to be on the same card and they couldn't do it. After that I just put my hands in the air. I said f--t it, I don't care. That's when I stopped caring."
Either way, Jackson vows to be at full strength for the first time since he pushed Jon Jones into the fourth round at UFC 135. And while even Beltran questioned which version of Jackson he'll be seeing on Friday night, the rejuvenated 35-year-old has no doubts in his mind about being able to pull off a late-career resurgence.
"I don't frustrate me at all because I've noticed that a lot of people in MMA are sheep. If one person say baaa, then the others says baaa and they go along with it," Jackson said.
"To be honest, I'm in such a different mind frame right now. I'm in my zone, and I don't care what people are thinking. I know what I know. I know this is the best training camp I've had in years, my weight is really good, I feel good, I feel strong. I know in my heart I'm not washed up. I know why I lost my last three fights. I can tell you. I lost my fight to Jon Jones because Jon Jones is a better fighter. Who hasn't lost to Jon Jones that faced him?
"I know why I lost my fight to Ryan Bader," Jackson continued. "Because I was injured. I needed surgery but I didn't want to back out because I was fighting in Japan. I know why I lost my fight to whoever, Glover (Teixeira). I was injured. I shouldn't have been fighting, but I didn't want to back out. I wanted to finish my UFC contract, so I fought anyway. I know why I lost my fights. Fans don't know why I lost three fights in a row. All they know is I lost three fights in a row."