"There's not a part of me that is glad we didn't get to fight."
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is talking about Tito Ortiz. The two former UFC light heavyweight champions and training partners were scheduled to fight one another in Bellator's first ever pay-per-view last year.
Ortiz broke his neck during training, the pay-per-view was scrapped and the fight didn't happen. Instead, Jackson fought Joey Beltran in his first-ever Bellator contest.
Jackson fights again this Friday in the first round of a Bellator light heavyweight four-man tournament, against Christian M'Pumbu. The other side of the bracket has Muhammed Lawal taking on Mikhail Zayats.
The downside for Jackson of Ortiz pulling out of the fight is obvious. He missed out on a marquee pay-per-view fight and instead had to fight a lesser-known fighter in a no-win situation just to earn a payday.
With that understood, wasn't there some part of Jackson, we ask, that was glad he didn't have to go out there and hurt a former training partner and friend with whom he's never appeared to have any animosity towards?
"Fighters, we’re different," he begins to explain.
"We’re the alphas of the human race. We don't need animosity between one another to fight. Basically, every time Tito and I trained together it was while he was training for a fight. So, I took it easy on him a lot of times. I always wanted to know if I could beat Tito. He beat people that I lost to and I beat people he lost to. I hope the best for him. I just want him to heal up so that if we are set to fight again, he'll be able to do it for sure."
Jackson went on to knock out Beltran last November and earn his first win since 2011. Jackson didn't just leave the UFC on a three-fight losing streak against some of the best fighters in the 205-pound division, he left feeling profoundly unhappy with the way the promotion treated him.
He headed to Bellator with ideas of easier fights, pro-wrestling work and cross-over movie and television opportunities through Bellator's parent company Viacom. Several months and one fight in, Jackson says that he's not happy with absolutely everything that has happened thus far, but that Bellator itself treats him with respect.
"The last organization I was with kind of sapped the love I had for MMA but it's starting to come back with Bellator. There are a few things I'm not 100 percent happy with. Some things are better than others and some things [Viacom] said they were going to do, I wished they'd worked out better. But Bellator itself, they treat me with respect. My relationship with Bellator, which is who I have contact with on a day-to-day basis anyway, the way the promotion and Bjorn Rebney treat me is with respect. There are a few things outside of their control that I want worked on that I'm not worried about now because I'm focused on my fight but I'm sure those guys will work on it and fix it for me when we do talk. My body is feeling good and I'm more excited to fight than I have been in awhile."
Jackson must have been happy and relieved to get back in the win column against Beltran but he says that he whether or not he's a winner has little to do with his arm getting raised in the cage after a fight, these days. "I win no matter what," he says.
"Even if I get knocked out, even if I get submitted, I still feel like I won. I came from no where in my life back in Mississippi to fighting in front of millions of people at a professional level. I've fought on the biggest shows on the planet. At one point in my life I was the number one fighter in the world at my weight. I was MMA's first ever unified champion. It may be hard for people to understand what I'm saying when I say this but, coming from where I'm from, I win even before I step into the cage."
This perspective may be the key to understanding Jackson's at times contradictory statements about things like winning, entertaining and motivation. This writer remembers interviewing the fighter years ago when he couldn't hide his ambition to be the best light heavyweight in the world.
In recent years, however, Jackson has made public comments that sounded as if he had no particular desire to train hard or win anymore and that he had given up on the idea that he could become champion again - a particularly dangerous mindset to have in a fighting sport where the difference between winning and losing can sometimes be measured in amount of brain trauma. Jackson may be honest and reflective about where he is in his career now compared to, say six or seven years ago, and he says winning fights is no longer the most important thing, but perhaps that's a stance not formed simply from feeling defeated but rather from understanding that he's blessed.
"I’ve always felt that way ever since my first professional fight in King of the Cage," Jackson says of feeling like a winner no matter the result of a bout.
"I lost that fight but I got paid. Because I got paid, I was able to buy food, eat and then I got back into training. I lost my first professional fight but I won. People remembered me, they wanted me to come back. Even though I lost, I still won. No matter what, I’m winning in life because I'm successful, can feed my kids and provide them with things that I didn't have growing up.
"Just because you lose a fight, don’t mean you’re a loser. Even if I don’t ever win another fight for as long as my career lasts, I'm a winner because I've accomplished so much in this sport that I used to love."
Follow Elias on Twitter @EliasCepeda & @YahooCagewriter.
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- Tito Ortiz
- Joey Beltran