- Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer
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Quinton Jackson isn’t about to promise he’ll fight three times this year -- something he hasn’t done since 2007 -- but he doesn’t frown upon the idea.
Jackson (33-11) will make his first appearance of 2014 against Christian M'Pumbu at Bellator 110 on Friday in Uncasville, Conn. The card will be televised on Spike TV.
The bout is part of a four-man light heavyweight tournament, which also includes former Strikeforce champion Muhammed Lawal and Mikhail Zayats. With a win on Friday, Jackson is expecting a somewhat quick turnaround to the tournament final.
Jackson, 35, hasn’t fought three times in one year since a monster campaign in 2007, when he defeated Marvin Eastman, Chuck Liddell and Dan Henderson, unifying the Pride middleweight and UFC light heavyweight titles in the process.
“These days, I do whatever I want,” Jackson told ESPN.com. “I don’t do stuff because people bully me or make me do it contractually.
“If I want to fight three times, I will. I know for sure I’m fighting two times pretty soon. I could fight four times this year. When I was in Pride, I fought six times. If I’m healthy and I want to do it, then I’ll do it.”
The biggest problem, as it has been for Jackson, could be avoiding long breaks from the gym in between fights. He admits it’s still a challenge to work out on a regular basis, especially when a fight isn’t booked.
“In my old age, I should get smarter and train year-round,” Jackson said. “This is not my hobby. A lot of people are fan-boys who do it year-round. No disrespect, but that’s not me. It’s hard for me to get out of my house and train twice a day.”
With his tournament semifinal bout days away, “Rampage” Jackson talked about his upcoming opponent, a knockout win over Joey Beltran in November and some of the bigger headlines currently dominating mixed martial arts.
ESPN: You were thrilled with the restoration of your knees heading into your previous fight. How have they held up since?
Jackson: You know, one of my cars is a stick shift and when I change the gears, my knees bothered me. I stopped driving that car and my knees immediately felt a lot better. I thought something was wrong with them, but it was driving that car. It was one of my favorite cars, a Dodge Challenger, but I think I’m going to have to sell it.
ESPN: You earned your first knockout since 2008 in that fight against Joey Beltran [at Bellator 108]. Was it a satisfying win for you?
Jackson: I could just say this: It’s no secret Beltran took the fight on short notice and he’s never been in the cage with a person like me. He was swinging, even though he did push me up against the cage and kneed me in my bad knee. I can understand that, though. He wanted to win. Beltran is a very hard guy to knock out. I showed people I still have thunder in my hands. It’s hard -- any time you are an athlete and you try to explain to a non-athlete why you can’t do everything the way you used to because of injuries, they think you’re making excuses. No, I’m trying to explain why I’m not the same as I used to be.
ESPN: Before the fight, Beltran promised to stand in the pocket and give you a brawl, but you could tell he had more of a strategy once it started. Did you expect that?
Jackson: A lot of people don’t understand, I’m one of the few fighters left. I’m a dying breed. I go out there and try to fight. I wasn’t surprised when he did that. People have a little cowardice in them. There’s always a chance I could knock them out and people worry about that. They go out there and do what they’ve got to do to survive. And win. America is all about the win. It’s not about the show anymore. I don’t agree with that way of thinking.
ESPN: Originally, when you signed with Bellator, you were supposed to fight Tito Ortiz. After he was injured and the fight fell apart, you said you had no interest in putting that fight back together. How come?
Jackson: He has a real serious injury. Me and Tito are cool. We’re not besties or anything, but he has a neck injury. I don’t want to be held accountable for hurting Tito because I know for a fact I got Tito’s number. I really can hurt Tito if I want to, so it’s probably best if that fight doesn’t happen.
ESPN: Is that your way of saying he probably needs to retire?
Jackson: I’m not saying that. I would like to see Tito fight somebody else -- see how he do. See that he’s OK and in good enough shape to fight. Then I’d be interested in fighting him again. I’m not going to say he needs to retire. Tito might have fight left in him. He’s had bad luck with injuries. Every athlete goes through that.
ESPN: Are you excited to be in this Bellator tournament, working towards a belt? Or does that part of the game not mean as much to you now?
Jackson: I don’t focus on what people say. People don’t know me and they don’t know what motivates me. I’m looking forward to getting in the cage and fighting. I’ll do anything I have to do to win this fight. Honestly, the belt is not my motivation, but I’m in this tournament. My motivation is to be the best I can be. I’m not looking to lose.
ESPN: What was your take on the Gilbert Melendez situation -- him agreeing to terms with Bellator, and the UFC deciding to match the contract?
Jackson: Bellator is growing rapidly. If Bellator keeps making decisions and doing the stuff they are doing, I see a lot of fighters trying to get out of their contract and come to Bellator -- just based on sponsorships alone. Right now, the UFC was smart in matching Bellator’s offer. I guarantee you Melendez would have been happier here in Bellator. He’s a great fighter. I wish he could have been over here.