You may think you know Quinton Jackson, but you don't. Not according to Rampage, anyway. Not in the way he believes he's been presented to the world during his fight career. You don't know Rampage, at least as he perceives himself.
As far as Jackson is concerned, up until now, he's never really had a chance to reveal himself. He's been stymied, pigeonholed and constrained, historically speaking.
Now, however, Jackson believes that might change. Since jumping to Bellator from UFC in June of 2013, Jackson believes he's finally on a path to show the world what he believes is a creative mind that few have truly had a chance to see. This is Rampage. For real.
"If you really step back and think about it, I made 'Rampage' one of the most marketable guys in MMA," Jackson told MMA Fighting. "I have this creative mind where I can create a lot of different things, but a lot of people never really gave me the chance and opportunity to do that because when they see me, they just see this dumb fighter that fights in the cage and howls like a wolf and knocks people out. They didn't understand the creativity of why people are attracted to this guy. I can create other things. For some reason, Bjorn Rebney, he sees it. He looks past all the other stuff and he sees my creative powers and he's letting me create stuff. I don't know why other promotions that never promoted me as such or let me do a few things."
Jackson is seemingly quite busy and true to his word, trying to create. But create what, exactly? A path forward to a Bellator title or a detour into side projects with dubious futures?
For Jackson, it's both. He seems content with his current endeavors and claims he's working on scripts for television shows separately with professional wrestler Chavo Guerrero and Wilmer Valderama, the latter for what is allegedly set to be a comedic sitcom. He has released a video game ('Rampage Punch'). Jackson says he's working on another show with Spike TV "that'll help it get more eyeballs." Jackson also claims to have invented a new social media platform that he believes if given the chance to succeed, will be "a game changer."
Whatever their value, Jackson isn't being disingenuous when he states he's waist deep in the creative process.
For all the enthusiasm and effort into non-fighting activities, however, Jackson appears to be much more complacent about the fighting side of things, which is eyebrow-raising for any number of reasons, not least of which is how much more pressing those matters are.
The former UFC light heavyweight champion and previous PRIDE great returns to the Bellator cage this Friday when he takes on former Bellator light heavyweight champion Christian M'Pumbu as part of a four-man light heavyweight tournament to kick off season 10 of Bellator MMA on Spike TV. On the other side of the bracket is former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed Lawal and Mikhail Zayats.
The bout marks the second for Jackson inside the Bellator cage and the first as part of Bellator's tournament crucible. His Bellator debut in November of 2013 went smoothly enough. Originally slated to face Tito Ortiz in the first Bellator pay-per-view event, Jackson had his debut pushed back the fall when Ortiz withdrew from their scheduled October bout with an injury. In stepped recent UFC castoff Joey Beltran, who Jackson defeated via first-round TKO after somewhat of a shaky start.
Jackson's win wasn't hugely convincing of a return to form, but it served a purpose by ending a three-fight losing streak. He states his knees felt functional for the first time in years, allowing him to kick and level change. The win was the first time Beltran had been stopped in the first round as a light heavyweight.
"I felt a lot of rust going in there and I didn't know anything about Joey Beltran," Jackson confessed. "And sometimes, honestly, that can get you in trouble, but that's the exciting part of fighting to me. It's figuring out a fighter in the fight. I feel like I'm a true warrior. I feel like I'm a true fighter. Back in the day, samurais, they didn't tape to study their opponents or who they were going to fight. I grew up fighting on the street. I never had tape.
"I like to figure out the fight like a puzzle when I'm in the fight," he continued. "I wish I could've figured Beltran out a little bit sooner. He's really good at holding you against the cage. I heard he was good at that, but I didn't know how good he was at. He's pretty good at holding people against the cage."
If that sounds like a fighter who trades in full and complete preparation for showmanship and personal pleasure, you're not alone, but Jackson managed to get the job done. It has allowed Spike and Bellator to position Jackson as one of Bellator's faces and promote the upcoming tenth season.
Friday, however, is a new challenge altogether. It's not merely the tournament Jackson must wade through, but a much more difficult known unknown. He is the odds-on favorite to win, at least for the semifinals, but is the first to admit, just like with Beltran and seemingly all or most of his opposition in the past, he knows nothing about M'Pumbu. He says he watches no tape and doesn't really care what his opponents do or don't do at this point. He's happy to compete with anyone.
There's some hope he'll win, at least by Bellator and Spike brass. Jackson's name still carries promotional weight, especially when measured against the rest of the Bellator roster. His presence is likely needed for the next attempt at pay-per-view, an event believed to be taking place in the spring of this year.
There's additional pressure on Lawal to emerge victorious on the other side of the bracket. His promotional muscle has dwindled after two losses to Emanuel Newton and a pro wrestling endeavor that never quite got off the ground (something he and Jackson have in common). Still, it's a bout that pairs the larger, more established names together. It's something Bellator can arguably sell.
Jackson, though, doesn't really seem weighed down by fighting. He isn't particularly bothered, at least not vocally, about what may or may not happen in the tournament. As far as Jackson is concerned, well, he isn't. Just as he watches no tape on M'Pumbu and doesn't know what his opponent is capable of, he is largely indifferent to what happens between Lawal and Zayats and what that could mean for them. Jackson positions this unconcern as a function of being a fighter, something that you are and not what you do. In the end, Jackson says, fighters fight. It doesn't matter who or what awaits them.
"I'm a true fighter. I'll fight anybody," Jackson claims. "See, that's what people don't understand. People think 'Aw, he left UFC because they have easier opponents in Bellator.' That's not true. I left the UFC because now I get treated like a damn man and a human being instead of livestock. I don't care. I'll fight the toughest fighters in the world. I don't care who wins that fight on the other side. May the best man win."
Jackson appears to be forward looking and openly states he's tired of the negativity that comes with talking about his tumultuous run with the UFC, but is inevitably drawn to discussing it. It's as if he knows he shouldn't discuss them, but hasn't finished saying what he wanted to say. Whether he's clearing up what he sees as misconceptions or the need to voice his opinion, Jackson can't quite bring himself to fully distance himself from them
"[UFC] asked me to make them an offer and I said no," Jackson told the SiriusXM Fight Club on Monday. "I didn't want to fight for them. Even if the UFC gave me $5 million a fight, I would not fight for them. If they gave me $10 million a fight, I would not fight for them.
"That's the picture the UFC painted, that I was all about money. If I was all about money, I would've never done the A-Team movie, which messed up my relationship with the UFC in the first place," Jackson said. "I lost money doing the A-Team movie because I make more money fighting than I do doing movies at this time."
And as Jackson talks about UFC, the snowball effect kicks it. Harbored feelings of resentment and bitterness simply ooze out, almost as if Jackson has no control over the matter. He ties what he perceives as their business failings as partly a function of their failings toward him personally.
"I think the UFC's a sinking ship," Jackson argues. "They just doing too much stuff and are very disrespectful to the fighters. They open up gyms. That's only thing a fighter have to look forward to when he retires because he don't make much. We have to pay our managers, pay our training partners. We have to fund the training camp and after taxes, we pay all our coaches and everything, a lot of times the fighter ends up losing money depending on how much money they make.
"If any fighter had any common sense, they'd all leave UFC because their gyms are only growing because of them, the fighters, and they're taking money out of their own pockets. I don't understand why fighters even stay there. If any fighter had any common sense, they would know as soon as they get on [Dana White]'s bad side, he gonna do the same thing that he did to me, Tito, GSP, BJ Penn, everybody. Ken Shamrock, everybody who is upset with UFC, upset with Dana. Those guys, same thing is going to happen to them as soon as they get on Dana's bad side, but they don't see that."
Which brings Jackson back to Bellator. Or rather, for Viacom, which owns Bellator. For Jackson, it's important to note the distinction in what deal he signed and what it means for who he is or what it says about him.
While it'd be unfair to suggest Jackson doesn't make fighting a priority, it'd be equally disingenuous to ignore his own prioritization of efforts and goals beyond fighting. Talk to Rampage today and his desire to succeed in the Bellator cage is palpable. Yet, any discussion about him and his life necessarily requires a larger discussion about matters entirely unrelated to the very activity that made the Rampage name as popular as it got.
"A lot of people may forget that my deal is with Viacom as well as Bellator," Jackson says. "A lot of people really don't understand that. There was a big press release and we talked about it. We talked about me doing movies and me doing TNA, me doing a TV show, me fighting with Bellator. But all they heard was I'm fighting for Bellator. They didn't think about all the other things that we're doing. Viacom and Bellator and Bjorn Rebney, we put together a bunch of things that we have coming up."
All of this bring us back to the original issue Jackson believes he faces: something of an identity crisis. He says he's happy with things so far in Bellator or Viacom or both. He is at once the Jackson we think he is: a fighter, a true fighter. Fighting has always seemed like his natural calling.
Occupationally, however, is where the schizophrenia rears its head. Rampage self identifies as a fighter, but is asking the world to follow him on a pivot away from the very thing he claims to be. He's a fighter, yes, but he's more than that. He doesn't want you to see him merely as such. He is many and contains multitudes.
The question, then, may not be who Rampage is, but where he's headed and whether the non-fighting endeavors can succeed when the gap between Rampage's self-identification and occupation widens.
Either way, though, Rampage is steadfast is his non-apologia. He says he's finally free to be himself, to do the things he wants to do and say (mostly) what he wants to say. He tells me he's got very few complaints and is happy with his decision to join the Viacom family. His core fan base, who Rampage professes an undying love for, are just as on board with him as ever. Jackson says he takes great comfort from their support.
What others may think of what he's doing is of no concern to him, he says, even if launching these side projects beyond fighting require support from beyond his hardcore fan base.
"My job is to fight. My goal is earn a living," Jackson says, drawing a distinction between the two. "I want to earn the best living I can possibly earn. Anybody has a problem with that, they can kiss my ass."