For the past couple of years, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson was the definition of a disgruntled employee while he was still fighting in the UFC.
He routinely spoke out about how he planned to leave the promotion after what he perceived to be poor treatment. He also felt unappreciated by the organization after all the hard work he put into performing for them over the years.
Rampage finished out his last fight with the UFC in January in a losing effort to Glover Teixeira, and just like that, his days of fighting in the Octagon came to an end.
Now for the first time in more than six years, Jackson is signed to a new promotion and deal after completing a contract with Bellator Fighting Championships, along with TNA Wrestling and Spike TV. The plan is for Jackson to compete in MMA in Bellator, start his pro wrestling career in TNA, and also take part in a four-part reality show for Spike.
Rampage will also have the opportunity to develop his movie career with Paramount Pictures, which is under the same Viacom umbrella as Spike TV and Bellator.
All told, Rampage thinks his new deal is a dream come true. According to him, he finally has a promoter in Bellator that stands by him and believes in him in ways that the UFC never did over the last six years.
"This is something that I've been dreaming about, and waiting for, for years. I've put a lot of work in MMA. I've been fighting for like 12 years. I finally have a promoter that gets it," Rampage stated during a media conference call on Wednesday.
"(Bjorn Rebney) he's like one of us—one of the fighters. We're the ones that put our lives on the line, and we're the ones that go out there and put our health on the line at the end of the day. Sometimes in past with the relationships that I had with promoters, I just felt like sometimes I wasn't appreciated. But you guys (Bellator) get it."
Backtracking to his time with the UFC, Jackson said his relationship with the promotion started out great but deteriorated over time. He said the downfall began after his fight and knockout over Wanderlei Silva in 2008. He was supposed to be granted a title shot following the win. Instead, the UFC asked him to step in and face Keith Jardine in the main event of UFC 96 a few months later, and his title shot didn't actually happen until 2011.
By then, Jon Jones was the UFC light heavyweight champion, and, according to Jackson, his chances of reclaiming the belt were cut dramatically.
"If you guys notice, it took me years to even get a title shot back when they got this monster called Jon Jones with this grapevine-looking tall dude, that ain't nobody beat," Jackson stated. "I was like damn, there goes my chance to be champion again and they put me in with this unbeatable guy."
Jackson claimed that the real breaking point with the UFC came in 2009 when he was offered a role in The A-Team remake being produced by 20th Century Fox. At the time, Jackson was part of The Ultimate Fighter Season 10, and at the end of the show's airing he was supposed to face fellow coach Rashad Evans.
The filming for the movie interfered with the date of their fight, and Jackson was pulled to go shoot The A-Team. When he returned to the UFC, he said that things were never the same again.
"The only thing I can really go into is, and it's no big secret, but when I did the movie The A-Team, that's how Dana and I kind of fell out," Jackson said. "It caused a whole bunch of problems. I'm under contract where I can't really go into details. I signed a disclosure where I can't really talk about it. It goes back to my fight with Rashad Evans since I lost my love for MMA. I tried to retire a couple of times."
Rampage spoke candidly about his last few years in competition. He wanted to find a way out of the UFC so desperately that he took fights he shouldn't have just to get through with his contract.
"I lost a lot of love for MMA...I'm not going to lie. I lost a lot of love for MMA back when I was in the UFC," Jackson said. "Honestly, they just killed it. They drained it. This new deal got me excited and instantly brought the love back.
"I never turned down any fight before in the past. It's no secret I lost three fights in a row. Fans only see that. They don't see that OK, I lost to Jon Jones. Who fought that guy that hasn't? Then I lost to Ryan Bader 'cause I got injured like a month before the fight. That's the type of person I am; I didn't want to pull out of the Japan card because I love my Japanese fans. Everybody knows that, so I still fought injured. My next fight I shouldn't even have been fighting, but I wanted to get out of that contract so bad."
Following the loss to Teixeira, Rampage was finally a free agent and then began the process of finding a new home for fighting. That's when he met Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney.
Unlike his rocky relationship with UFC president Dana White, Jackson said he immediately connected with Rebney and knew he wanted to be in business with him.
"I met Bjorn, and I instantly liked the guy," Jackson said. "You can look in his eyes and you can tell the guy don't have any ego...he gets it. The fighters are what make the show. When fighters understand this, they're going to take to him the same way I took to him. In Bellator, they don't tax you for your sponsors—they help you get sponsors. They don't get mad at you for doing movies—they get you movies."
Jackson's message about Rebney and Bellator was clear—they are in this game to promote the fighters. While he wouldn't say them by name, Jackson was pointing to the UFC and how its brand is bigger than any one fighter. But he believes it's the other way around with Bellator.
"I've been looking for a promoter like this guy for a long time. He gets it," Jackson said again about Rebney. "He knows that he couldn't put the two Bellator logos in the cage and have a bunch of people show up and watch them two Bellator logos go at it. I'm not going to say no names, but some people out there think that their logo is the s—t. They think they going to tune in just for their logo. That's not true. I see me being happy with these guys for the rest of my career. I can just feel it."
Rebney backed up Rampage's statements about the long-term goals of Bellator in terms of how the fighters are promoted ahead of the company name.
"Our dynamic is one that is focused on building up Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, 'King' Mo Lawal, Michael Chandler, Pat Curran—it's not about building up the Bellator brand," Rebney said on Wednesday. "Those guys are going to pull along the Bellator brand. The Bellator brand is not going to pull them along. It's a totally different way of looking at it than a competition. And not to say that there's anything wrong with the way that they do it, we just do it a different way."
As far as Jackson's multi-faceted deal, it starts on Thursday night when he will appear on TNA Impact Wrestling on Spike. From there, Jackson will continue to rehab his ailing knees, which gave him problems for his last couple of UFC fights.
There is no timetable for when Jackson will compete in Bellator, but the Memphis-born fighter knows that he won't be pushed back earlier than necessary.
"Bjorn knows that I'm rehabbing my knee...he don't care," Jackson said. "In the UFC, they don’t care. You go out there and fight. When you have surgery, you should come back and have a warm-up fight. The UFC don't care about you like that. Bjorn cares more about my long term.
"Before, I was talking about retiring at like 35, which is in a couple of days. Now with what we're talking about, I've got at least four or five more years in me. Because if I'm injured and stuff like that, it's OK. Heal up, take your time; he's not rushing me to fight at all. He wants me to rehab my knees."
Jackson is strongly contemplating a move to heavyweight, depending on the timing of his return. Although competing at 205 pounds isn't out of the question, either.
"I'm thinking about going to heavyweight 'cause I'm older now and I want to start smashing some big guys," Jackson stated. "What I want to do is come, now with all the negativity gone. I can be myself and go out there and just entertain the fans.
Will You Watch Rampage in Bellator?
"Honestly, if a good fight comes up at 205 and I've got enough time to get in shape and lose weight to do it with Bjorn, they'll let me know. I don't have to take a fight with eight weeks notice, or 13 weeks notice. They'll give me a couple of months so I'll fight a guy at 205. I'm a big guy anyways, and I don't have to cut weight. A lot of small heavyweights do good. I'll fight whoever. I've never been a guy to turn down fights."
Beyond his fighting career, which will hopefully pick up later this year, and his budding wrestling career that starts on Thursday, Jackson also said he's already in talks with Paramount about two different film scripts he's written. The first that could go into development is an MMA-based movie, and from there the sky's the limits.
To hear Jackson tell it, his deal with Bellator, TNA and Spike TV is one-of-a-kind for this industry and has never been done before.
"We fitting to change the game up," Jackson said. "You guys have no idea."
Only time will tell if Jackson's proclamations about his future with Bellator are as bright as they seem right now. But he definitely seems like a happy man—especially compared to the disgruntled individual who fought in the UFC less than six months ago.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.