UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Quinton Jackson is a 35-year-old with 45 mixed martial bouts under his belt. He's been a UFC light heavyweight champion. Before that, he competed in the Pride Fighting Championship as well as a handful of other promotions. In a career that extends back to the last century -- 1999 pro debut, OK? -- he's been in with Jon Jones and Rashad Evans, with Wanderlei Silva and Lyoto Machida, with Dan Henderson and Chuck Liddell.
So Jackson knows a thing or two about being face-to-face with tough opposition. Some of it he still relishes, because it allows him to live up to his "Rampage" nickname. Some of it leaves him battle weary.
"Most of the time, your first fight is with the promoter," he said earlier this week. "That's the fight the fans will never see."
It's also a fight Jackson no longer engages in, to hear him tell it. On Friday night he competed for the second time for Bellator MMA, and during our conversation early in fight week he sounded like a happy man, much more content than during the acrimonious end of his run with Dana White and Co. This promotion, he said several times, is treating him with respect. What's more, he has a cool new video game coming out. There are movie opportunities.
He didn't talk a lot about fighting.
Then "Rampage" let his fists, mostly his right one, do the talking on fight night. He did, however, have a few words to say afterward.
Fighting in the first round of the four-man Bellator light heavyweight tournament at a sold-out Mohegan Sun Arena, Jackson took out the promotion's former champion, Christian M'Pumbu, via a first-round TKO, an exhilarating end to what for the most part was a square dance inside a circular cage.
Then again, even at its most non-confrontational, the evening's main event was more entertaining -- if only in terms of suspense -- than the co-main, the other bracket in the 205-pound tourney, in which Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal ho-hummed his way to a unanimous-decision victory over Mikhail Zayats.
So even if the journey there was not so scenic, Bellator now has the star-power tournament finale it no doubt was hoping for. It'll be Rampage vs. King Mo throwing down for the opportunity to challenge Attila Vegh for the championship. Bellator expects to announce a date and venue next week. There's a possibility the bout will share a bill with the third meeting between lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez and ex-champ Michael Chandler, which will be May 17 on pay-per-view and is expected to take place in San Diego or Memphis.
Now, about that light heavyweight title shot at the end of the rainbow. Not that Jackson and Lawal aren't interested in adding a brass-and-leather strap to their wardrobe, but both seem more obsessed with each other. At the postfight press conference, they were all about one-upmanship, engaging in a feisty back-and-forth that was as comically spirited as an Abbott and Costello trash-talk routine.
"Is the cage still set up?" Jackson (34-11) asked at one point, suggesting that he and Lawal go settle things right then and there.
"Winner take all," said King Mo (12-3-1).
It was quasi-serious and all in good fun, all at the same time. These fighters have beefed in the past, buried the hatchet, and now share a circumstance where old wounds can help sell a fight. So why not?
Jackson was dead serious a few minutes earlier, however, right after finishing M'Pumbu (18-6-1), who had lost his belt a year earlier to the day. Their 4 minutes 34 seconds in the cage were spent mostly circling and stalking, with Quinton throwing barely a punch, a couple of times waving M'Pumbu toward him but not closing distance himself. M'Pumbu landed a few leg kicks, and the final one he threw was his undoing. He slipped as he attempted the kick and fell backward to the mat. Jackson pounced. Quinton wasted no time before unleashing three right hands, the last of which stiffened the ex-champ and prompted referee John McCarthy to jump in.
As the ref pushed him away, Rampage got up but didn't move far from his opponent, shouting back at him as M'Pumbu made a weak case to McCarthy that he could have continued. Moments later Jackson was interviewed in the cage, and we got a sense of what he might have had to say to M'Pumbu.
"These guys, they think I'm finished!" said Jackson, his voice dripping with rampage. "He said he was going to retire me? I took that personal. Bellator, y'all don't know who you're messing with. I'm a monster!"