Brand new Bellator and TNA wrestling superstar Quinton "Rampage" Jackson grabbed the microphone during his introductory press conference and didn't come up for breath for nearly an hour. Talking non-stop, both answering questions and monologuing when the mood struck, Jackson addressed his new role as a quasi-Bo Jackson dual sport star.
"Me and Bellator, we tongue kissing right now, baby."
And while the analogies, including that one, didn't always make perfect sense, at times the passion peaked out from behind the anger and lethargy we've come to associate with Jackson. He seemed almost interested in what the future might hold for him with Viacom, the enormous entertainment conglomerate that owns both Bellator and Spike TV.
At other times, the old Quinton emerged, the one who has been complaining on and off the record to the MMA media for the better part of three years. Bellator shouldn't get too comfortable with Rampage's tongue in their proverbial mouth.
He will, inevitably, bite the hand that feeds him. Rampage Jackson will turn on Bellator, like he's turned on everyone else in his time in this sport.
First there was Pride, the promotion that plucked him from obscurity and, despite a loss in his inaugural bout with the company, was dead set on making him a star. And, for a time, he was happy. And then he wasn't, leaving in a blaze of glory, accusing the company of offering him payoffs to lose fights and other assorted nonsense.
Next it was movie producers who felt his wrath. Already in hot water after calling acting "gay" and lashing out at a crew member on set, Rampage went on a, well, rampage in the days before The A-Team's release. Upset at not being paid an additional sum for movie's press tour, Rampage took on the film's producers in a rant UFC president Dana White asked the press not to use in their stories, a kind gesture designed to keep the voluble fighter from doing himself irreparable harm in his new profession.
"I kind of almost regret doing the damn movie and stuff now," Jackson said during the UFC 114 post-fight press conference. "...Fox kind of threatened to sue me if I lost cause they didn't know I was fighting," said Jackson. "There was a whole bunch of pressure...I'm just so happy for (the fight) to be over with. I gotta leave tonight to go on tour for this damn movie. I regret I even did the movie. Almost."
And now it's the UFC's turn to face an angry Rampage Jackson. And make no mistake about it, despite proclamations to the contrary, Jackson's mind clearly wasn't on the future, one doomed to be spent in B-cities, in B-arenas, in the off brand promotions barely treading water in both wrestling and mixed martial arts respectively.
His thoughts, rather, were planted firmly in the past, the press conference a barely disguised therapy session for the airing of the grievances against his former promoter, the venerable Ultimate Fighting Championship.
"I lost a lot of love for MMA, I'm not going to lie," Jackson told the press. "I lost a lot of love for MMA back when I was in the UFC. Honestly they just killed it, they drained it."
Rampage, it turns out, was less than pleased with his time in the sport's largest organization, one that claims to have paid him more than $15 million during his 11-fight, six-year tenure.
For sure. But that could only buy so much happiness. Those pay checks, generous on the surface, seemed awfully small considering the UFC's vast revenue.
Questions lurked in his subconscious. Why was the UFC promoting their own brand over the fighters who spilled blood and sweat in the cage? Why was it so hard for his sponsors, even powerhouses like Reebok, to see the light of day in the Octagon? And why was UFC president Dana White spending so much time in the limelight anyway, often at the expense of the fighters he claimed to be promoting.
Enter Bjorn Rebney, Bellator promoter and the anti-White, at least in Rampage's view.
"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 makes 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."
Much of the bad blood between Rampage and the UFC seems to go back to the fateful decision in 2009 to star as B.A Baracus in the movie remake of the 1980's television sensation The A-Team. It would be more than a year before Jackson stepped back in the cage, a year that clearly changed what had previously seemed to be a strong relationship between Jackson and White.
"That's how Dana and I kind of fell out. 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," Jackson said, proceeding, of course, to talk about it.
"It's like when you're in a relationship, and you have a new girlfriend, and you're happy all the time. You're all making out all the time. Then after a while, you ain't tongue kissing no more. You know what I'm saying? In the UFC, ever since The A-Team movie, it was like I cheated on them. And over here, I don't see why it would be like that in Bellator, because with Viacom, it's all set up, it's all in house."
Rampage found fault, too, with the UFC's insistence on keeping a regular schedule and making him fight both frequently and against top opponents. A vocal critic of the UFC's matchmaking, once saying UFC vice president Joe Silva needed to be "shot in the face," Jackson expressed confidence that Rebney and Bellator won't push him too hard or too fast.
"Bjorn knows that I'm rehabbing my knee, he don't care. In the UFC they don’t care (if you're hurt), 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," Jackson said. "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 okay, heal up, take your time, he's not rushing me to fight at all. He wants me to rehab my knees."
It's unclear what plans, exactly, Bellator has for Rampage. Rebney was careful to reveal no specifics, not even confirming or denying whether Jackson would appear in one of Bellator's promotion defining tournaments, the normal avenue to a title shot. When he would fight, and even in which weight class, was left to the imagination.
Confirmed were plans to film a four-part reality series leading into his first fight and a Thursday appearance on TNA's Impact Wrestling on Spike. Though Jackson has no formal wrestling training, he's a long-time fan who expects to make the new sport a major part of his third act in MMA.
In addition to wrestling and fighting, Jackson is also eying a return to the silver screen. He's penned two scripts already, including a potential MMA movie he thinks has great potential. Engaged and alive, Rampage has a sparkle in his eye.
"I see me being happy with these guys for the rest of my career," he said. "I can just feel it."
If I were Bellator and Spike TV, I wouldn't get too comfortable with my new model employee. They'll be meeting the real Rampage Jackson soon enough, perhaps at a press conference for his new, new promoter. The question isn't if Rampage and Bellator will have a falling out. The real question is when.
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