When he steps into the Octagon on Feb. 26 for his UFC 144 fight with Ryan Bader, it will have been exactly six years to the day that Quinton "Rampage" Jackson last fought in Japan. One of the most popular fighters in Pride history, Jackson will be returning to the country where his MMA career took off.
"I'm really excited about going back to Japan," Jackson told Bleacher Report. "It's no secret about that. I love that place."
While Jackson's popularity has continued to grow through his success in the UFC and major acting roles, MMA in Japan has nearly fallen off the map since the death of Pride, the most successful Japanese promotion in the history of the sport.
Despite facing little competition in a country that was once a hotbed for MMA, the UFC has stayed away from hosting events in Japan in more than 11 years. In fact, UFC 144 will be the promotion's first event in Japan under Zuffa ownership.
Jackson was one of the reasons MMA became so popular in Japan when Pride was around and he hopes to play a part in bringing the sport back to prominence in a country that he is very closely connected with.
"I really miss the fans," Jackson said. "I really miss fighting there. It's something personal for me."
Competing in the co-main event on a fight card that will be pivotal to the future of the sport in Japan, Jackson recognizes the importance of entertaining the fans at UFC 144. While there might not be any bad blood between him and his opponent, Jackson intends to put on the best show Japanese fans have ever seen at Bader's expense.
"I got nothing against Ryan Bader at all," Jackson said. "I'm still going to try to knock his head off, but there isn't going to be any hard feelings about it."
At the end of the day, though, there is an entire fight card that also needs to deliver for the UFC to make a good impression on Japanese fans.
Some are skeptical that the UFC's potential for success in Japan even exists on the same level that it does in other countries. More familiar with the entertainment spectacle that Pride provided, Japanese fans might not take well to the more competitive atmosphere the UFC offers.
However, having gained fame in the country, Jackson would know better than most what it will take for an MMA organization to be successful in Japan. On the list of MMA promotions that could recapture the interest of the Japanese people, Jackson says there is only one.
"I think if anybody has a chance (to revive the MMA scene in Japan)," Jackson said, "it's the UFC."
Sean Smith is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA. For the latest insight and updates on everything MMA, Follow Sean Smith on Twitter
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