Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson on past disappointments, the future and love of the fight
The first two obvious and overarching questions to ask him were, "Why?" and "How?" Quinton "Rampage" Jackson was set to make the announcement in two hours that he had once more signed with the UFC — despite what appeared to be obligations to his current promotion, Bellator — and planned to make a return to Octagon action in the first half of 2015.
He sat down to talk in advance of the announcement, and the "Why?" and the "How?" questions were too intriguing, if also predictable, to not get straight to them with the long-time star MMA fighter. Hadn’t "Rampage" left the UFC on his own accord, less than two years ago, furious at the top promotion and alleging mistreatment and even fraud on their part?
Yes, of course, he had. So then, why was he returning to the site of so much bloodletting?
"To be straight, man, I’ve fought for all the biggest organizations in the world, and I thought the grass was greener over there," Jackson begins.
"I don’t agree with everything the UFC does, but they are the best promotion that I’ve been with and I’ve been most successful with them. So, I just decided I might as well go back and finish my career with them."
Longtime fans of the sport will remember that this is far from the first time that Jackson has left one promotion for another, claiming that his previous organization didn’t do right by him. In fact, I’ve been able to speak with him at length at every one of those junctures in his career.
When Jackson looked to leave the Pride promotion, he spoke openly to me about his dissatisfaction and hoped out loud that the UFC would come rescue him, so to speak. When the UFC did sign him, he told me how happy he was to be there.
From the start, however, Jackson had problems with the way he was promoted by the UFC. The fighter was actually partially displeased when he was granted a title shot against then champion and uber popular Chuck Liddell in just his second UFC fight because he thought it was unfair to put him in a position to beat a fan favorite without first giving him more exposure to UFC fans and allowing them a chance to like him, as well.
Fast forward to 2013, Jackson wanted out of the UFC, badly, and then raved about new boss Bjorn Rebney, his Bellator promotion and their parent company Viacom, when they signed him and promised him pay-per-view fights, movie roles and reality TV work.
After most of that didn’t materialize for Jackson at Bellator, he’s back in the UFC. This time, however, the 36-year-old seems to have a more realistic view of his situation and what his new/old employer will provide him with.
Jackson isn’t pretending that he sees eye-to-eye with the UFC on every matter, now, and even admits that at some point he may yet again feel frustrated with the promotion. However, he made a tactical and measured choice to simply go where he’s made the most money in his career, and has had the most success, so far.
I would have been really happy with Bellator if they would have done the things they said they would in their contract.
"I was mad about some things when I left the UFC and so I figured the UFC had to be the worst organization out there," he explained.
"I still don’t see eye-to-eye with the UFC on everything, and who knows what they do with stuff I don’t see. But no one pays as much as they do. Everybody wants a raise at their job. If you’re at a law firm, you want to become partner one day. As human beings, we always want more. I’m sure a lot of things are going to happen and I’m not going to be 100 percent happy with the UFC. No job is perfect in this world. But I’m also sure that it will be better than the last situation I was in."
That "last situation" was filled with broken promises, according to Jackson. He was excited to film movies for Viacom-owned movie studios, do professional wrestling with Bellator-associated pro wrestling promotions, and be a star of reality television programming, in addition to fighting on pay-per-view cards.
When much of that didn’t happen, Jackson lost his enthusiasm for the company that had promised it all.
"When you leave an organization for a new one, the new one tells you that they will give you the world and make you happy. You want to believe it, so you believe it. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete. This is what I know how to do – entertain people and kick ass. This is what I want to focus on.
"You grow up real fast in this business and see how honest people are. I always do right by people in business because I don’t want to burn any bridges. I always keep my word and I just want everybody else to do the same. I know I have a lot to offer this sport — otherwise, promotions wouldn’t want to sign me. So, why not keep the athletes who make you money happy?
"As fighters, we do everything for cheap. We hook up with sponsors for cheap, we fight for cheap. That’s just the M.O. So, I’m just locked in there with everyone else, but why not do it for the most money you can be paid then? Another big reason why I decided to keep fighting is because of my sponsor, Monster. They’ve been real supportive of me, really great to me, whether I fight or not, but I know they sponsor me to fight. They were asking me, ‘So, when are you fighting again?’"
Depending on your perspective or mood, Jackson’s honest explanation can be equal parts illuminating, inspiring, or kind of fatalistically sad. Whatever the case, it still left the "How?" question unanswered.
After all, Jackson was signed to fight for Bellator. Moments after the Memphis fighter’s UFC return announcement, in fact, new Bellator boss Scott Coker put out a statement through Twitter saying that he believed Jackson is still under an exclusive contract with his promotion, and that he and his organization promised to fight the new UFC agreement.
How, then, was Jackson able to sign with the UFC and terminate his Bellator contract on his own, as he and the UFC said he did? That answer apparently has to do with some of the many things Jackson says he was promised that were not delivered, according to him.
"I would have been really happy with Bellator if they would have done the things they said they would in their contract," he says.
I still don’t see eye-to-eye with the UFC on everything, and who knows what they do with stuff I don’t see.
"Quite frankly, I did a deal with Viacom. It wasn’t a deal with just Bellator, straight up. They just didn’t fulfill their contract. In hindsight, I think they just signed me to fight for Bellator and I don’t think they had intentions to do the other things they said they would do. So, I gave them the 45 days they said they had to fix the problem. They didn’t fix it, I had an option to terminate, and that’s what I did.
"Then, a week or so later, is when I sent that tweet out about the devil you know may be better than the devil you don’t. My manager saw a client who was upset, and he knows me personally. So, my manager did what managers did, and looked for another opportunity for me."
Jackson won’t go into details of his new UFC contract, but he says that he is satisfied with it. "I can say that I’m happy with my contract. I’m really happy with my contract.
"I’m happy with it, right now," he added, laughing.
Jackson is still concerned that he won’t get the types of matchups in the UFC that he wants, with fighters who he deems as exciting enough. In the not so distant past, he’s also admitted that he didn’t really want to fight the top young guys in his weight class anymore.
However, Jackson says he’ll take on anyone, since he’s happy with what he’s getting paid, and that he isn’t worried about having to once more potentially fight top competition.
"I never worry about a whole lot of things," he claimed.
"But athletes have to be honest with themselves sometimes, and I’ve been fighting for 15 years. I’ve been in a lot of wars. I’d been nursing a lot of injuries in the UFC. I’ve had time to heal up and am doing a lot better. I can deal with a lot of competition — I just don’t understand what type of matchups I get, sometimes. I feel that I’m close to the fans, and I feel that most people just want to see great fights."
Jackson also believes that many fighters fight too cautiously, and only care about winning, instead of putting on a thrilling spectacle for fans. "They just want to win and they don’t care how the fight looks," he said.
"I fight with entertainment value in mind. I want the win, of course, but I put entertainment first and winning second. I want an entertaining win. I came from a different culture from fighting in Japan for all those years. That’s why I think my brand is what it is now, why some people care about me. I put on exciting fights, and it don’t matter if I win or lose."
I’ve done this for 15 years. That’s as long as I’ve done anything other than breathing.
To be sure, Jackson plans on winning. He’s won his last three fights and, as a proud former world champion, has a life-long taste for victory.
He is, however, taking his career one fight at a time now. If he wins enough to become a title contender again, he’ll gladly take another championship fight, but long gone are the days of a singular thirst for a world title.
"I’m taking it fight by fight," he admitted.
"I have a couple fights I’d like to do, but I just want to go out there and have exciting fights. If the belt comes, if I can make it up to the belt, I’ll take it. I wasn’t going for the Bellator belt, either. I felt I could have easily made it to the championship fights there but I didn’t care about it. I just like fighting. I’m an old dog. Let the young guys go for it. There’s a target on your back and lots of pressure when you get the belt. I’m not saying I can’t take the heat – I surely can, but who knows what will happen in the future?"
Though Jackson can often come off as world-weary in interviews, given his sensitivity and how open he can be with expressing his disappointment in people and institutions when relationships go wrong, he insists that he still finds joy in the fight. If he’s going to fight professionally, he wants to get all that he feels he’s worth as payment.
That’s only fair.
But, at heart, "Rampage" says that he’s still a guy who would fight for free, if he weren’t getting paid to do it.
"I’m an Alpha, man," he said. "I’ve got fight in me and I’ve got to get it out.
"It’s going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done to put up my gloves for good, when I do. It’s going to be hard for me to walk away. I’m going to have to do Jiu Jitsu tournaments or something once my body is too busted up to fight.
"I’ve done this for 15 years. That’s as long as I’ve done anything other than breathing. I still like to fight, I still like to punch."