Is Rampage just playing a part leading into his UFC 130 bout with Matt Hamill?
The always candid Jackson explained that while motivation has often been an issue for him heading into training camp, hearing his opponent’s thoughts on his preparation and how the fight would transpire pushed him to new heights.
“I’m not really excited about anybody I fight; it’s my job, it’s my career. I’ve got almost 40 fights. I don’t get excited about anybody I fight. I just go and do it.
“My main motivation is to win, but I think Matt made a mistake when he said that he’s going to break my will, and that I’m going to overlook him. That actually lit a fire up under my ass, and made me train a little bit harder just so I can break his will, so I can make sure I out-class him. That’s why I worked a lot on my wrestling, and extra on my cardio, and extra on getting up off my back just in case he does take me down.
“Honestly, in the beginning, fighting him I wasn’t as 100%-motivated as I would be versus somebody who has beaten me before, honestly and truly, but when he said that motivated me just as much as I’ve been motivated in any other fight.”
The questions about Jackson’s motivation run deeper than the former champion getting up for a fight with an opponent ranked outside of the top 10. This will be the first time in a number of fights that strength and conditioning guru Mike Dolce hasn’t been working with his long-time client and friend; the creator of “The Dolce Diet” has been helping Thiago Alves instead.
Jackson knows his weight has always been a question mark, but says that he’s ahead of schedule at this point, and the members of his team are pleased with where he’s at heading into next weekend’s fight.
“I’m actually doing great; I’m lighter at this point for my fight than I’ve been in a long time, and I’ve been lifting a lot of weights with Lance Gibson and Julia Budd, and I’m actually a lot stronger than I’ve been for a while, so I’m actually doing great,” Jackson told HeavyMMA.com.
“This is my third camp with [Gibson]; he’s a great trainer. My manager just complimented me on the last sparring I did and my conditioning last night, saying I look way better than I did for the Machida camp. They thought I was in really good shape for my Machida camp, so I’ve improved a lot since then.”
Many believe that the lure of Hollywood has become a potential distraction for Jackson as well.
The charismatic former champion walked away from a highly anticipated grudge match with fellow TUF 10 coach Rashad Evans to accept the part of B.A. Baracus in last summer’s A-Team movie, briefly retiring from fighting in the process. Though he returned to the cage and faced Evans as expected, Jackson continues to position himself for his post-fighting career, though he says fighting still comes first, at least for now.
“I keep putting movies off to do fights because fighting is my primary career. Movies is something that I want to get into after I fight, but at the same time, you’ve got to stay out there if you want to succeed in movies. You’ve got to keep your face out there but luckily for me, a lot of people watch UFC and stuff like that. My agent and everybody understand that I have to keep fighting, but I want to keep acting as an exit plan to MMA.”
Jackson pulls no punches about his future.
He’s said in the past that he doesn’t want to fight beyond the age of 35, and has reiterated those feelings during the build-up to this fight as well. He knows that he can’t fight forever, and that continuing to pursue his acting career is a logical next step, one that Jackson wishes more fans would understand.
“I want to do movies once I get done fighting. Fighting you can’t do until you’re 60. If anybody is smart, they want to have an exit plan from MMA or any full-contact sport. Some fans think you’re just going to fight and then be done. What’s after you get done fighting? What are you gonna do then, just run away?”
Eventually, Jackson will run away to Hollywood, but for now, he says he’s focused on fighting and stepping into the cage against Hamill. That includes going back to his high school wrestling roots in preparation for facing the three-time former Division-III National champion.
“I worked on my wrestling a lot for this fight because I really respect Hamill’s wrestling; he’s a really great wrestler. I think have decent wrestling for MMA, so I just wanted to pick those skills back up.”
It’s hard to know if Jackson is truly committed to this fight or just going through the motions. He’s saying the right things about being focused and motivated, but at times it feels like he’s just reciting lines; a fighter counting down the days until his 35th birthday when acting can become more than his exit plan.
Hopefully that isn’t the case; this fight has the potential to be very entertaining and carries some weight in the deep light heavyweight division.
Besides, if this is just a case of Jackson playing the role of an interested and motivated fighter, he might want to rethink his MMA exit strategy because he’s not giving a very convincing performance.