Doesn't it feel like Quinton Jackson, better known to mixed martial arts (MMA) fans as "Rampage," is coming off a big fight?
That's because he was supposed to headline Bellator's first-ever pay-per-view (PPV) event, Bellator 106, against good friend and former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) colleague, Tito Ortiz, in his first scrap for the Viacom-owned promotion.
However, another injury to Ortiz's neck flipped that script.
Fast forward to tonight (Fri., Nov. 15, 2013) and Bellator 108, which is set to go down from Revel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, airing live on Spike TV. "Rampage" was re-booked to battle Light Heavyweight replacement, and another former UFC employee, Joey Beltran, in the main event of the evening.
After competing against several of the top fighters in the sport throughout his career, I spoke with "Rampage" about his upcoming opponent and a few other topics.
"From what I've heard about Beltran, I hear that he never takes a step backward and he likes to bang. He's a real fighter. He's a tough guy. I'm looking for the knockout, but it sounds like it won't come easy against him, so it's a real big challenge. Tito got lucky with that injury – he dodged a bullet. I'm in great shape and I'm really trying for the knockout."
How does he plan to deal with someone like Beltran, who obviously has nothing to lose, and will most surely not differ from his usual game plan of "letting his hands go?"
"People aren't even fighters any more … they're game-planners. I'll be honest with you – I haven't watched any of Joey Beltran's fights. I'm a true fighter in my opinion. I don't like to study my opponents. I like to go into the fight and have a fight, and feel the element of surprise as to what he's going to do. I fight everybody different."
Jackson admits, however, that he did study for arguably the greatest trio of fights in his MMA career, wars against Wanderlei Silva, who will fight Chael Sonnen following an upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Brazil 3."
But, that strategy didn't always go according to plan.
"The only fighter I ever studied was Wanderlei Silva -- for the first two times I fought him, and those were the worst fights of my whole life."
At that point early in his MMA tenure, Jackson didn't suffer from nagging knee injuries that he credits Jon Jones and Rashad Evans with causing.
"I actually injured my right knee in college, so I started the sport with a bad knee. My right knee took a turn for the worse before I fought Rashad Evans – I injured it in my training camp and it went downhill from there. Then I injured my left knee when I fought Jon Jones and he kicked it backwards. There was nothing wrong with my left knee until I fought Jon Jones. He fucked it up with that straight kick to the knee."
What about 24-hours prior to his first fight in Bellator?
"My knee is solid. Both of my knees are solid now. They're good. These last couple days, I've been training without knee braces on. My knee is good. Everything is good. I'm strong. Because Tito pulled out, I got two extra weeks for my training and my cardio. I feel great. I can't wait to get out there and put on a great show."
How did he finally rectify the injury?
"I don't know what it's called, but I got set up with these people that give special treatment on joints for my knee. It's basically the same type of treatment that Kobe Bryant had done on his knee. I did the same thing and it healed my knees up. Before the Rashad camp, my right knee was bothering me. I wore knee braces when I trained. It was nothing really big – it would just ache all the time and I'd have to ice it. I was limping a little bit but I didn't need surgery or anything."
Expect no excuses out of "Rampage" after Friday, because he compares his current health and mindset to his legendary run from 2001-2006 in Pride FC.
"I feel really good. I feel like I did back in my Pride days. Everyone is all in my face though, wondering am I going to slam people or knock people; am I going to do this or am I going to do that now that I'm with Bellator. I'm not going to put any pressure on myself by saying I'm going to go out there and do anything specific. I won't force anything. If it's there, I'll take it. But I feel good – just like I did back in Pride."
Anything regarding Pride FC, I eat up, so I let him elaborate on the topic:
"It was the just the energy over in Pride too. It's a different energy: they all appreciate you and respect you. Over here in America, you lose one fight and you're a washed-up bum. The fans are disrespectful. It's a different energy. Over here, you can hear half the fans booing you when you walk out for a fight. Over in Japan, no one boos. Even if they're not a fan of yours, they won't say nothin'. They won't cheer, they won't say nothin' … they'll just keep quiet, so all you can hear is your own fans who like you and are cheering for you. Obviously, I was having more fun over in Japan because of the different energy when I came over here."
I asked about his emotions following opinions from MMA pundits that he was possibly "washed up" and cashing out when he signed with Bellator.
"MMA fans love the sport and they know what's going on, but they just can't wait to talk shit about you. Like when my fight with Tito first got signed, everyone was saying we were both washed up. Tito and I are former champions. It's easy for fans to forget that sometimes fighters go through bad times or just get old. But, sometimes we bounce back. I bounced back after I lost to Shogun Rua, when I everyone thought I was done – I came back to become the champion of the world and unify the UFC and Pride titles."
What about the way Bellator is currently treating him, is he happy with all the attention so far?
"In the UFC, they want everybody to be the same and do the same interviews. They tell everybody what to say in the interviews. They want the brand to stick out more than the fighters. You just couldn't be yourself in the UFC. Some parts of my journey through MMA left a bad taste in my mouth. You know, I put my life on my line and I go out there and try to fight big, and put on exciting fights for the fans. But, I feel like I wasn't appreciated for it or compensated for it."
All the experience, anticipation and road to another championship for "Rampage" starts later this evening. And he is well aware of what is at stake, looking to move as far away as possible from performances similar to those of Houston Alexander, Vladimir Matyushenko and Lavar Johnson.
Following a victory, big fights against 205-pound champion Emanuel Newton, as well as top contenders Attila Vegh and/or Muhammed Lawal loom on the horizon.
His goals for Bellator 108 are clear:
"I want to knock my first Bellator opponent out. I'm really going to try to knockout Joey."
For more news and notes on Jackson's upcoming fight tonight keep it locked on MMAmania.com to get the latest going down at Bellator 108 and much more.