Quinton "Rampage" Jackson accomplished his goal of winning the light heavyweight tournament at Bellator 120, but his road to the title isn't necessarily a clear-cut path.
The former UFC light heavyweight champion turned Bellator contender defeated Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal via split decision last Saturday night in the main event of Bellator 120 in Southaven, Mississippi. The card was the organization's first step into the pay-per-view realm, and the grudge match between Jackson and Lawal was a highly anticipated affair.
Jackson emerged victorious from the tilt and earned the opportunity to face current title-holder Emanuel Newton later in the year for the 205-pound strap. While the former Pride veteran has been vocal about a world title being the motive behind his move to Bellator, the situation surrounding a potential fight with Newton will have a few hurdles to overcome before it materializes.
The biggest of those is the fact both Jackson and Newton share the same coach in Antonio McKee. The two fighters both work under the former MFC lightweight champion, and this has created situations in the past where they trained together and shared many of the same training partners. While that scenario wouldn't happen in the lead-up to a fight between Jackson and Newton, it would put McKee and the rest of his athletes in a position where a tough decision would need to be made.
In light of that particular issue, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney is taking an open-minded approach to the light heavyweight title fight. He's well aware of the circumstances that exist, and during an appearance on MMAJunkie Radio on Monday, Rebney expressed his respect for those involved and said he was looking to them for the decision.
The reason ‘Rampage’ and I have had such a good relationship is we’ve approached things as guys working together, not me mandating what’s going to happen. That’s the same way we’re approaching this. You’ve got a guy with a split allegiance (in McKee), but ‘Rampage’ has earned a world title shot. ... I’m going to talk to him about it, but I’m not going to disrespect a guy who’s been nothing but standup with us. He’s rocked and rolled as a promoter for us, so I’m not going to say we’re making this fight and plant this flag in the sand.
Since making his Bellator debut in November 2013, Jackson has been on a tear. The Tennessee native earned first-round knockouts in his first two showings under his new promotional banner as he dispatched gritty veteran Joey Beltran and Christian M'Pumbu, respectively.
Those victories landed him in the finals for the light heavyweight tournament where he defeated Lawal by a razor-thin split-decision. As Rebney stated in his interview with MMAJunkie, Jackson has earned the title shot, and it will be interesting to see how this situation progresses.
As for Newton, the Orange County MMA staple has been on an equally impressive run through the Bellator ranks. Since joining the organization back in 2012, "The Hardcore Kid" has won six of his seven showings, with his only setback coming to Attila Vegh at Bellator 72. Following the loss, Newton stormed his way back up the ladder, where he collected five consecutive victories—two of which came over Lawal—on his way to defeating Vegh in their rematch to become the light heavyweight champion.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.