In ‘The Matrix’, when Neo went to see the Oracle, and the Oracle told him that he wasn’t The One, he could have taken it two ways,” Jackson said. “He could have put his head between his legs and pouted, or he did what he knew – he knew he was The One, and he believed it. So the Oracle told him what he needed to hear in order for him to believe. Not getting the contract that night, that was just what I needed.”
That meant going back to the gym in Milwaukee and working on his craft.
“I was still training and still running,” he said. “That stuff don’t stop. I gotta stay in the gym.”
“Guns blazing,” laughed the 26-year-old, who eagerly took this Saturday’s UFC 227 bout and began packing his bags for Los Angeles. It’s the kind of opportunity that has seemingly come quickly for “Quik,” but he’s been waiting for this moment for a long, long time.
“I grew up watching boxing and I used to watch all the old boxing tapes with my grandpa,” he said. “I loved boxing and that was like my first true sport. Then it was kickboxing. My dad was a kickboxer, so I used to watch all the old K-1 fights. I loved watching Giorgio Petrosyan, Ernesto Hoost, Tyrone Spong. I loved those guys.”
It’s always nice to hear the new generation appreciate and respect those that came before them, and while Jackson has his own plans for the future, he will never forget that he wasn’t the first to do this.
“Everybody’s gonna think that they’re something special, but when you go back and look at the tapes, these guys are doing nothing new,” he said. “For instance, if you look at Dominick Cruz, his style and his footwork, it’s the same thing (boxing legend) Willie Pep was doing. It’s nothing new. A lot of people praise their invention but they don’t praise the inventor. You gotta pay homage, man.”
And you’ve got to listen to those who may have a little more insight than you do at certain times. For example, Jackson wasn’t thinking of a pro MMA career when he wound up helping a friend out with his wrestling for an upcoming fight. But during an open mat at the gym of UFC veteran Eric “Red” Schafer, Jackson met a gentleman named Gato, and Gato saw the MMA potential of the former wrestler. He encouraged Jackson to sign up for a jiu-jitsu tournament and then to start looking into MMA. And here he is, a UFC fighter.
So Gato must be proud, eh?
“He’s super proud,” said Jackson, who still sees Gato every Sunday at open mats. “He always tells me, ‘Montel, you gotta keep going, you gotta trust in yourself and work hard.’ At first, I thought this guy was just blowing smoke up my butt, that he was trying to sell me a dream. But he really thought I could do something. It’s crazy.”
Not as crazy as the fact that Jackson just turned pro in 2017 and is now in the UFC. But he’s confident that this is just the start of something big.
“In this game, or in life, period, you have to believe that you’re the best,” he said. “You have to have that mindset. Because if you don’t have that, you don’t have anything. Dave Chappelle said, ‘The definition of greatness is when everything before you is obsolete and everything after you bears your mark.’”
That’s a lot to shoot for, but if a fighter doesn’t aim that high, why bother doing it? And all his life, Jackson was taught not to be average, but to be something more than that.
“When I was a little kid, I was always darker than all the other kids, and my mom knew the kids would pick on me, so she always told me, ‘Montel, be proud of who you are. Love yourself, and love everything about yourself. You can’t afford to give somebody that type of power and energy over you.’ So whenever I’d be iffy about something, I’d always say that stuff in my head and it always helped me get a little bit more confident and stronger.”
Always listen to your mom, and in Jackson’s case, he also makes sure to always listen to his friend, Gato. So, any advice for this week’s fight?
“He would tell me, ‘Papi, all you gotta do is fight and do your thing. Don’t do anything unusual or special. Just go out there and do your thing. You got this.’”