The UFC’s bantamweight division is arguably one of the promotion’s most exciting weight classes right now. Following TJ Dillashaw’s recent suspension by the New York State Athletic Commission, Marlon Moraes and Henry Cejudo will compete for the now vacant title at UFC 238. The division also has numerous other top contenders, namely Pedro Munhoz, Aljamain Sterling and the streaking Petr Yan, who have all traded barbs on Twitter.
While trash talking is often seen as a way fighters can garner more attention and earn higher-profile fights, one man who is less impressed by the recent surge in trash talk is rising bantamweight Montel Jackson. Jackson, who will face Andre Soukhamthath at UFC 236, recently told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock that fighters willing to bad-mouth their opponents should be very careful.
“Everybody ain’t playing, man. Especially when you talk about their family. People don’t play like that. I’ve seen dudes get beat down, damn near get killed for talking about people’s family. I don’t play like that.”
“And that should be a lesson for everybody else who is running around talking smack and talking trash about people’s families. You’re going to get what’s coming to you. Maybe it’ll happen to you in the ring if you’re lucky, but out of the ring, people will see you.”
In particular, Jackson had little sympathy for Justin Willis who recently faced Curtis Blaydes at UFC Nashville. Despite Willis attempting to unnerve his opponent by making a number of remarks about Blaydes’ family, ‘Big Pretty’ ended up on the wrong side of a brutal beat down, with Blaydes dominating the fight from start to finish.
“I can’t feel sorry for him because you asked for it. You made that bed, you’ve got to lay in it,” Jackson stated.
Empathy for ‘Killashaw’
TJ Dillashaw’s recent suspension has left the bantamweight division wide open. While many fighters have jumped at the chance to criticize Dillashaw, Jackson is not yet prepared to attack the two-time champion.
“I wish him nothing but peace and blessings. He’s in a tough situation. My heart goes out to him and his family.”
The full details of Dillashaw’s suspension are still unknown and whilst the NYSAC cited adverse findings in his post-fight test as the reason for his suspension, it remains unclear what the adverse findings were. Jackson feels that until the full details of the case are made public, the MMA community should not jump to conclusions.
“Now in society people really don’t have any empathy for people. They don’t even know what really happened. They don’t know if he took tainted supplements, they don’t know if someone spiked his drinks. They don’t know.”
He continued, stating that if he was in Dillashaw’s position and his innocence was proven, he would not accept any sort of apology from those who were critical.
“I don’t know about TJ, but I’m not that forgiving. I don’t forgive people and I don’t forget. Once you said it, it’s over.”
A difficult upbringing
Every fighter on the UFC’s roster has dealt with some kind of adversity during their journey to the promotion; Mike Perry grew up in poverty, Mark Hunt served time in prison when he was very young, and Montel Jackson has experienced his share of trouble.
“I spent most of my time in the streets, I wasn’t too much concerned about education or my future. I was just trying to do what I had to do, I was just living to survive. Most of my friends are either dead or in jail. I had to make a choice.”[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Most of my friends are either dead or in jail. I had to make a choice”[/perfectpullquote]
Initially, ‘Quik’ found solace in wrestling and he immediately set a goal of competing in the Olympics.
“My goal was to wrestle and go to the Olympics. I was like, I’m a good wrestler, I can use my wrestling to get me where I need to be in life. I never thought I’d be fighting at this level or anything like that.”
At the same time, he began to separate himself from the people he felt were holding him back.
“I had to get myself out of those circles and surround myself with positive people, surround myself with people with aspirations and goals. If you hanging out in the hood, it’s your destiny almost for that wrong-place wrong-time situation. I was going to end up like them and I didn’t want that for myself.”
MMA as an escape
For a variety of reasons, fighters often cite their initial venture into mixed martial arts as a changing point in their life. For some, it provides a way of controlling aggression; for others, it proves to be a way of harnessing physical strength while simultaneously developing mental fortitude.
For Jackson, the guidance he received from coaching staff and training partners alike at his gym Red Schafer, as well as coaching other students himself, proved to be the reason he was able to turn his life around.
“I started going to Red Schafer. I started really coaching wrestling with city kids, so I started spending my time with the youth and I had to really change.”
Jackson now trains out of Pura Vida gym in Milwaukee. This gym boasts other notable UFC talent such as Leah Letson and Zak Ottow, however, Jackson feels very much like a leader.
“I’m a strong-willed person so I carry everybody. Those guys, they spend a lot of time with me… Solo [Jackson’s head coach], he takes time away from his kids to be here for me. Zak, he takes a lot away from himself to help me out, so I’ve really got to go out there and do my best.”
After knocking out Rico DiSciullo on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018, Jackson waited patiently for a UFC call up. This came just two months later at UFC 227 when he faced Ricky Simon on just 11 days notice after Simon’s original opponent Benito Lopez withdrew from the fight. Jackson lost the fight via unanimous decision but returned four months later to face Brian Kelleher at UFC 232. This time he was victorious, defeating Kelleher via D’Arce choke in precisely 100 seconds.
Whilst Jackson has five finishes via strikes, this submission victory is the only one on Jackson’s 7-1 record. However, Jackson didn’t plan to submit Kelleher.
“I get in there, I see what they got to offer, I take what they give me. I don’t get in there with the mindset of ‘I’m going to do this and that’; I get in there and whatever’s available, I take it.”
Despite his victory over Kelleher appearing somewhat flawless, Jackson felt he made some errors in his 100-second victory. As with many fighters, Jackson is his own biggest critic.
“I made some mistakes in that fight, so right away, we put it on the board, and we’re trying to fill those holes and improve. You don’t want to sit there and gloat or ponder or smell the roses for too long, you’ve got to move on.”
UFC 236 – the next opportunity
At UFC 236, Jackson will face Andre ‘The Asian Sensation’ Soukhamthath who is currently 2-3 in the UFC. While this is arguably ‘Quik’s’ greatest test yet, he remains unfazed.
“I don’t really put too much into anything. It’s just another fight to me.”
Should he defeat Soukhamthath, it will move Jackson one step closer to entering the bantamweight divisions rankings, however, this is a prospect that Jackson has paid little attention to. Instead, Jackson feels a victory over Soukhamthath will do no more than cement his position at the division’s summit.
“I’ve always been at the top. I already know where I’m at, everybody else has got to catch up. People, they get so caught up in these rankings. I don’t even think about that stuff, that stuff is irrelevant. I know who I am, it’s up to them to find out.”