By Elias Cepeda
The past week or so has been an exciting one for fans of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. It’s also been a little bit of a worrisome one as well.
Jackson has gushed about his new deal with Bellator and the TNA Impact professional wrestling organization. He says he’ll only be asked to fight when he wants to, that he’s excited to finally get to try out a long-time love of his — pro wrasslin’ — and that the Viacom family that owns Bellator might create opportunities for him on television and in movies, through their Paramount pictures movie house.
Jackson left the UFC earlier this year, not just on a three-fight losing streak, but also embittered by what he felt was poor treatment from the organization. Likening promoter/fighter relationships to that of personal, romantic ones, Jackson told CagePotato last week, “…me and Bellator, we tongue kissing right now, baby.”
The fan in me has a soft spot for Jackson. Like many of you, I’ve watched him fight for over a decade. He’s always done so with courage and in exciting fashion. Back in the day, “Rampage” may have also been the most accessible top fighter in the world. There was a time where he set up a phone line specifically for fans. He made the number public and waited for calls. When they came in, he’d pick up whenever he was available, and chat with whoever wanted to talk to him.
Not a whole lot to dislike about a guy like that, right? So, if Jackson has found a new, better situation for himself, where he feels happy, no one can begrudge him that.
The thing is, we’ve seen this situation play out before with the fighter. Being enamored with an organization before ultimately souring on them, and feeling rejected and disrespected when it was all over. While with Pride, Jackson often seemed quite happy. He defended the Japanese promotion in public and compared it favorably to its competitor at the time, the UFC.
By the time the UFC signed Jackson, however, he acted as if it was a life-saving event. I remember speaking with Jackson near the end of his Pride tenure and again shortly after he’d signed with the UFC.
At that time, Jackson didn’t only express satisfaction with his new UFC contract, he spoke of Dana White as if he were a personal friend who had saved him and done him a favor. Six or so years later, Jackson and White routinely trash each other publicly.
During a media conference call last week, Jackson said that Bellator promoter Bjorn Rebney is a guy who “gets it,” and is the type of boss he’s been waiting for his entire career. Jackson says that things are different this time around.
“Ever since I did that ‘A-Team’ movie it like — it’s like I cheated on [the UFC]. And so, you know what I’m saying, like over here I don’t see any way I can cheat on Bellator, because it seems like, you know what I’m saying, they’re with Viacom. They got me all set up. It’s all in-house and stuff like that,” the former champion explained to CagePotato.
“I see me being happy with these guys for the rest of my career. Because, you know what I’m saying, I can just feel it. And you’re right, I was super happy when I went to the UFC. I’ve done a lot of favors for the UFC, and sometimes, I didn’t get my favors back to me.”
“Rampage” has been here before. Not only with Pride and then White and the UFC, but also with former management — and with disastrous results.
There was a time, early in his UFC career, when Jackson, a Christian, had a head coach who also served as his manager. The coach also had a tendency to also wear his cross on his sleeve, so to speak, and spoke about Christ and faith often.
Perhaps that was a part of what made Jackson trust him a bit too much. Who knows? Whatever the case, that same coach and manager also ran Jackson’s considerable estate. If there is any person on earth qualified to be a world champion MMA fighter’s head coach, manager, and also to have power of attorney or anything resembling it, we’d be shocked. But that’s the type of trust Jackson handed over.
When things went sour between the two, and Jackson also lost his UFC belt to Forrest Griffin, the fighter was so distraught that he went on an insomnia-, caffeine-, and grief-fueled vehicular rampage on Southern California roads, resulting in a police chase and criminal charges. After the incident, Jackson cited disillusionment with people who he felt had betrayed his trust and stolen from him.
I’m not saying that Bellator will break any contracted terms with Jackson — and the organization may very well be the best option for him at this point in his career — but we know that “Rampage” has a history of making business decisions based perhaps too much on emotions, perceived friendships, and perceived slights. So, it is a bit disconcerting that when asked what is so different about this deal, the fighter says that he just “knows” Bjorn Rebney is different when he looks him in the eyes.
Jackson has already voluntarily walked away from the best-paying MMA organization in the world because of emotion. Hopefully he hasn’t jumped into something new based on gut feelings about people he doesn’t truly know and vague promises about possible movie deals in the future.
That isn’t to say that movies and television (Bellator and Spike will create a reality show on Jackson) is not the best route for Jackson at this point. He’s accomplished more in fighting than most ever could and he’s accrued a host of serious injuries over the years while doing so.
Jackson is a proven action film character actor after the ‘A’-Team movie. He’s also brought in the biggest fight programming (UFC 75 and The Ultimate Fighter) ratings for Spike that the network has ever received. The Memphis native even looked like a good fit in his Pro Wrestling debut opposite Kurt Angle last week.
Like many other fight veterans, Jackson has certainly earned the chance to make a living doing less dangerous things than fighting. So, reality TV, movies and maybe even occasional pro wrestling could be the wisest path for him. Jackson describes those opportunities as “a dream come true.”
But, “Rampage” isn’t done fighting. He’ll fight for Bellator, even as he films reality shows, does pro wrestling gigs and takes meetings with movie executives.
With so many other ideas, plans and commitments in mind, will Jackson be focused enough to keep himself out of danger in the cage? He’s been fighting other great fighters, but it is worth noting that Jackson has also been getting beaten pretty handily lately. He wasn’t ever really in any of his last three fights — all losses — and he has a 4-5 overall record over the past five years. If a champion on the downturn of his career is to keep on fighting and do so without taking too much additional damage, one imagines he’d need to be completely focused on fighting.
Jackson insists that he is focused, and that he can walk and chew gum at the same time, so to speak. “Rampage” says that he’s excited to fight in Bellator, even in their grueling tournament structure. But, the fighter also seems to view himself more as an entertainer these days, in and out of the ring.
“Well a lot of people misunderstand things,” Jackson told us.
“Like people thought since I did a movie I wasn’t focused on fighting no more. I turned to a superstar and, you know what I’m saying, I didn’t want to fight no more and stuff like that. People always assumed things, and one thing that you misunderstanding is that I’m here to entertain people. I’ve done a lot in this sport, and I come from the Pride generation where it’s entertainment first.
“So I know that realistically I probably won’t win all my fights in Bellator. But I be damned if I won’t entertain people. I’m going to come over and put on the most exciting fights.”
Yes, Jackson has earned the right to try and make money entertaining us outside of the cage. When a fighter who used to once be driven to be the best now simply hopes to titillate spectators by hitting and being hit, however, it can be a bad sign of damage to come.
“As soon as American fans start understanding that — like two guys in a cage one guy has to lose,” Jackson said.
“When American fans understand that then you can really appreciate and respect MMA the way the Japanese fans and people from all over the world respect it. It’s just Americans — like we have different way of thinking, you know what I’m saying. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’re just different from everybody else. But my main job is to entertain the fans.”