Three fights later, Jackson was bounced from the promotion after going 0-1-1 with one no-contest. After being touted as a top prospect, it was an unceremonious end to his UFC career at the time.
Over four years and 10 fights later, Jackson finally made his return to the promotion this past September and he pulled off an unlikely win over Mirsad Bektic in a bout he accepted on just a few days’ notice. Jackson wrapped up a third-round guillotine choke submission while also earning a Performance of the Night bonus in his UFC return.
The win was satisfying, especially considering how his previous stint with the promotion ended but Jackson is honest enough to admit he probably had no business being in the UFC when he signed his first contract.
“That was the only goal I ever had for MMA was to be in the UFC,” Jackson explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “Whenever I made it there, I just wasn’t ready to be there. It was nice to get a second chance there but to get back there it was killer. So much going on and so much had to be perfect for this to happen.
“I never understood why it had to be so hard to get back but it made me respect it. It was tough going through it. I was just happy to take any fight I could get when they called.”
According to Jackson, when he first signed with the UFC he was still learning on the job despite his impressive 9-0 resume.
To put that into perspective, Jackson says he never even really knew what it felt like to take a punch until his fifth professional fight, which came just 16 months before his octagon debut.
“I had all my amateur fights, my first four pro fights and then I finally got hit in the face,” Jackson revealed. “That was the first time I ever got hit in the face besides I kind of sparred a little bit before that. The gym I was at before was 100 percent a jiu-jitsu gym so the guys that I sparred with, they didn’t want to get hit. I didn’t want to get hit so we didn’t spar. We just grappled a lot.
“Whenever I made it into the UFC, I had only been training with my coach for about six months and I had four fights. I made it to the UFC when I was 18 months into training. It was so fast. I definitely wasn’t ready.”
While he always intended on earning his way back to the UFC, Jackson never imagined it would take quite so long but he eventually got there, which made his return win that much sweeter.
“It was really tough to get back,” Jackson said. “I was winning every fight I was finishing almost every guy. But whenever they weren’t giving me a shot to get back in, it was nerve-racking. I was doing all the things to get back in but it just wasn’t happening.”
After traveling such a rough road during his initial run with the UFC followed by four years away from the promotion, Jackson isn’t planning on going anywhere else until his fighting career is over.
“I never had any intention of leaving originally,” Jackson said. “I just wasn’t ready to be there yet. It’s nice to be back here and know that I can hang with whoever.”