Let’s make no mistake about it, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s best days of cage fighting are behind him.

He’s still a hugely popular MMA star and bankable attraction, but at this point, it all seems like a begrudging job to him. He left the UFC on an uninspired three-fight skid, all the while, caring less if the door hit him on the way out of the promotion. He’d long lost his love for the UFC, and slightly for MMA itself, ever since a dispute over opting for a film role instead of a taking a fight against Rashad Evans the first time it was offered.

After 43 professional fights, you can’t blame the guy for desiring to break out of the grind of the fight game and into the less painful realm of entertainment such as acting. Even if all else failed with finding a new line of work, he’d still have a secure job to fall back on with cage fighting.

Oddly, it appeared that Jackson was finding disillusionment wherever he was. He couldn’t find his way through translating his colorful persona into being Hollywood a film star, and when he returned to fight for the UFC, his fights showed that his focus on being the best light heavyweight in the world just wasn’t there anymore.

I mean, the last time we saw him really care about a fight and display an intense passion inside a cage was when he earned a trilogy victory over Wanderlei Silva in 2008. Since that time, we’ve seen the evolution of Jackson to what he is now: a popular, but mediocre top-10 light heavyweight. Granted, he’s battled lingering knee injuries and rehab all the while, but it was his outspoken negative sentiments that had many wondering why they should care for his career at this point either.

In the last few weeks however, the miserable story of Jackson has brightened with his release from the UFC and subsequent signing with Bellator MMA.

Now he’s finally got what he wanted after several years of being unhappy where he was: a new employer that is invested in his future and can offer him intriguing opportunities.

The most attractive offer on the table for Jackson’s new deal is Bellator’s parent company Viacom, the world’s fourth largest media conglomerate, being able to grant the former Pride and UFC star roles in multiple television projects and possibly even film. Fighting seemed like a distant second to Jackson on the heels of his new promotional signing. That bit is still being worked out, but the question remains, what will the rest of his active competition in MMA become under the Bellator banner?

There are a few intriguing match ups to be made at light heavyweight (relatively speaking) if single fights are to become the best fit for Jackson’s talents. Then, let’s not forget that heavyweight is a division that Jackson has stated as having an interest in now that he’s made his move. For Bellator, both weight classes are sorely in need to interest due to a lack of depth. Bringing in name veterans such as Muhammed Lawal and Renato “Babalu” Sobral is something that Bellator has done recently to gain interest for the fledgling divisions, and a guy like Jackson could presumably have carte blanche on how to move forward however he chooses based on the interest that his name brings.

It will be a tricky proposition for Bellator to find a way to interject Jackson into the mix due to the fact that both weight classes are soon to begin four-man Summer Series tournaments in order to get a quick turnaround for a championship fight. Any of the participating eight men, and the champions as well, would be a great match for Jackson, but they’re all tied up for the foreseeable future.

In that case, it seems like a fight with newly acquired UFC veteran Vladimir Matyushenko would be the best fit for Jackson to make his Bellator debut against if it is to be contested at light heavyweight. Matyushenko is a guy that has been around the sport longer than Jackson and has faced many of the same top opponents while employed in the Octagon. Other than him, former Bellator light heavyweight champion Christian M’Pumbu would be a decent attraction due to his history with main event status. If we start looking beyond those two, then we’ll run into the same problem of Bellator’s divisional depth and ability to offer a fair matching of notable talent.

We could see Jackson in a tournament eventually, but it appears doing so at heavyweight will make the most sense for him. We’ve all seen his battles with keeping weight down in between his various fights in the UFC, even famously turning down a title bout against Mauricio Rua at UFC 128 for that very reason. At heavyweight, Jackson wouldn’t have the threat of tipping the scales heavy if he was needed to take back-to-back fights. Also, it would be a fresh division to see him compete within. Which means not too much fuss would be made about who he is facing since light heavyweight is the only division he’s called home.

Particularly, fights against Bellator heavyweight standouts like Eric Prindle or Thiago Santos are intriguing affairs even if they were never match-ups that anyone dreamed about before. But, honestly, I don’t think who he fights at heavyweight matters as much as if he can be entertaining in the process.

No matter the weight, or who he ends up facing in actual MMA competition for Bellator, it’s most important that Jackson be what people want him to be: the howling madman that wants to score a knock out. It made him millions of dollars in the past and has kept him viable. We’ve seen his desire and ability to be exciting in a fight wane over the last several years and you’ve got to imagine that can make Bellator’s investment in him seem like a bit of a gamble assuming that he comes with a hefty price tag.

Sure, we’ll be seeing Jackson’s face across Spike TV such as we have recently on TNA professional wrestling, but fighting is still a big part of the equation. The deal with Bellator wasn’t simply made to gain a television personality. Being able to crown Jackson as a champion would be something that Bellator could hope will happen in the near future. How they get there, barring the unexpected nature of MMA, is the tricky part.

Jackson reasonably has enough talent to take on any of Bellator’s fighters, but we’ve all seen how the same could have been said for Muhammed Lawal and Renato “Babalu” Sobral. Both came into the promotion as strong favorites and are now following upset losses to lesser known fighters. It’s a dangerous scenario that any established fighter faces when moving into another organization against talent that they are expected to dominate.

Thankfully, Jackson has more options than just sticking to Bellator’s tournament format. It appears that his desire to become an entertainer will come in handy with his new bosses at Viacom where it was once a divisive factor with Zuffa. That’s versatility that not many fighters have.

If Bellator can’t crown Jackson as a champion, then they’ve got other options with how to use his talent such as professional wrestling or involving him in other television programs such as they’ve done with other former champions in “Fight Master.” If Jackson can find that spark again inside the cage, then many fans would be happy to embrace the fighter they once loved and feared before his sour ending in the UFC. The point is, Jackson has to be entertaining in whatever venue fits best for him.

If being a world champion is what Jackson wants, then he has plenty of opportunities to do so with Bellator. And if can’t be meaningfully relevant inside of the cage, then he better embrace the role of an entertainer with the intense passion that fans have almost forgot about seeing him provide.

If he can’t do it in Bellator, then where would he go from here?

Photo: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (Heavy MMA)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.