Thursday, June 6, 2013
Jackson sees value in entertaining fans
By Josh Gross
Quinton Jackson, right, didn't exactly depart the UFC on the best of terms.
SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- The update prompted a nod and smile.
Sitting inside a modest conference room at Viacom's MTV Networks, Quinton Jackson was clearly relieved to learn that the number of participants on a conference call about his wide-ranging deal with the media conglomerate had jumped from three to 44.
"That's better," Jackson said before phone lines opened a little after noon Wednesday. He looked at Spike TV president Kevin Kay, who agreed, then swiveled to his left toward Bellator CEO and chairman Bjorn Rebney. There would be more nods and smiles over the next hour, as Kay and Rebney lauded Jackson, a 34-year-old fighter no longer at his best, as the "biggest name in MMA" and an "icon" of combat sports.
Talk like this gave "Rampage" license to describe his new relationship with everyone involved -- there are several groups -- with a broad, sloppy brush.
"We tongue kissing right now," he joked.
Fresh off the announcement that Jackson signed a heavily textured deal to fight MMA for Bellator, pro wrestle for TNA, star in reality programming for Spike TV, pitch feature films to Paramount, and just generally have access to the Viacom lockbox of properties -- a first of its kind, Rebney said -- the former UFC champion suggested this contract is the result of hard work as much as it is his distaste for Zuffa, a company that, he admits, helped turn him famous over the past five years.
When "Rampage" first joined the UFC in 2007, he did so as a relatively unknown commodity after Zuffa purchased the World Fighting Alliance.
He was excited for the chance after feeling unappreciated in Pride.
Before making the leap into the Octagon, Quinton Jackson made his bones in Japan while fighting for Pride FC.
Three wins later, Jackson was champion, a budding superstar, and the first fighter to unify a weight division by holding UFC and Pride titles at the same time. The rest of his experience in the UFC was a mixed bag, leading to an unceremonious departure from the organization after losing to Glover Teixeira at the start of 2013.
"I'm here to entertain people," said Jackson, who lost his last three bouts and went 4-4 in the UFC after dropping the belt to Forrest Griffin in 2008. "I've done a lot in the sport. I come from the Pride generation, where it's entertainment first. I know realistically that I probably won't win all my fights in Bellator, but I'll be damned if I won't entertain people. I want to put on the most exciting fights.”
Jackson enters Bellator with a knee that's not yet 100 percent. Rebney said he is "completely comfortable" with Jackson's physical condition, which will be tested when the fighter starts doing roadwork after his birthday June 20. The demands of Bellator's eight- or four-man tournaments may be too much for Jackson. He didn't rule out participating in the format -- he said it was one of the reasons he was drawn to Bellator -- but he didn't embrace it either. Rebney said if Jackson wants a title opportunity, he'll have to earn it like the rest, however the promoter also said he'd be willing to work with “Rampage” and sign fights that make sense for everyone involved.
Said Rebney: "This deal is about putting all those pieces together so that that brand becomes bigger than it ever was, and if it comes together effectively it's going to be great for him and awesome for us.”
Vying for Jackson's attention could prove challenging. He said his focus will reliably train on MMA, but he also mentioned writing movies (he has a couple of scripts complete, including one that takes place in the MMA world), and a suddenly serious commitment to pro wrestling, which despite not being a sport undoubtedly requires skill and athleticism. Jackson's participation in the pro wrestling space starts immediately; he'll make an appearance on "TNA Impact Live" Thursday night on Spike TV, and hopes to get intertwined in the fantastical story lines soon. First, there will be many hours of practice.
Already, "Rampage" is pondering a tag-team partnership with Muhammed Lawal, who was the first mixed martial artist to get a taste of the wide-ranging Viacom opportunities available to certain "unique" personalities. Jackson said he remains open to fighting Lawal, a bout some consider the most marketable Bellator could promote at the moment.
No matter whom he fights (Jackson hopes and expects others will follow his lead and defect from the UFC), the expectation from executives at Spike TV is that Jackson’s return on investment will at least produce ratings successes. "Rampage" drew nearly 6 million viewers for his unification fight with Henderson in 2007, and coached on the highest rated season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” though that had a lot to do with another entertainment-centered fighter, Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson.
It’s no wonder Kay described Jackson's appearance in Bellator as a homecoming.
He’ll be healthy enough to return to the cage in a few months and squeeze another four to five years out of his body. (He wouldn’t say whether or not he remained on testosterone replacement therapy. If so, that would make Jackson the first fighter in Bellator to face this issue.)
"I've done a lot in this sport,” he said. “I think a lot of fans forget I'm the first-ever unified champion. That's my most proud achievement in the sport. I did that. I've been champion before. Now I don't really care about it. I want to entertain the fans and put on great fights and go to pro wrestling."
Jackson grew up in Memphis, Tenn., watching and mimicking his favorites, so much so that on consecutive Halloweens he dressed up as WWF superstar The Ultimate Warrior. TNA president Dixie Carter expects Jackson to be "very serious" and "committed to be the best at what we do." Jackson nodded and smiled as Carter spoke via speakerphone.
"I could be one of those old dudes still entertaining my fans," he said while discussing the likes of mainstays Hulk Hogan and Sting.
This was where he perked up most Wednesday. "Rampage" fondly recalled the success of Pride and how it was tied to pro wrestling in Japan, a major reason he believes Bellator is on the right track, and why sharing time between MMA and pro wrestling makes sense.
As foundations go, Jackson’s new relationship appears strong, though he cautioned and history corroborated that “after a while things get stale. You don't even tongue kiss no more.”