Quinton Jackson: Changed In and Out of the Ring

By Josh Gross Feb 18, 2005
Days before the biggest bout of his career, Quinton Jackson felt like he was in the middle rounds of a far more important fight. This was a lonely battle, and there weren’t many people with whom he could speak.

Just two months earlier, adrift in turbulent waters that tend to whirlpool around men like him, the swear-word-loving Jackson’s closest allies were sure he had either pulled a genius hoax or turned mad.

Jackson hoped they would come around to see that this change was not a result of his doing. However, that did not happen and there was no way they’d understand. Not now. Not on the eve of his rematch with PRIDE middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva.

Then he found what he thought was the answer:

Fast. Don’t eat? For three days! I have no choice! I’m losing. I have to. I have to.

“One of the hardest things about being ‘born again’ is staying that way,” Jackson told Sherdog.com before leaving for Japan to fight Murilo “Ninja” Rua this Sunday. “I didn’t want to go back.”

In the middle of a late-summer night Jackson and his kindergarten-age son D’Angelo woke up to separate, though eerily similar dreams. Both were shaken, so much so that at 4 a.m. they had to get out of their apartment.

To Jackson, it was a sign.

“You know how girls cry when they’re happy?” he said. “That’s how I was. I think I felt Jesus’ love. I don’t know. I automatically knew everything after I was ‘born again.’”

“God fearing” would not have been the first phrase used to describe him before that night. A product of southern churches as much as Memphis’ streets, the African-American Jackson “tried to follow the 10 Commandments,” even though he probably “broke every one.”

Confused and maybe a bit scared, he took the approach of someone getting a new lease on life. Never before could he have imagined abstaining from sex—“That’s like a heroin addict quitting cold turkey.”—yet he did, intending to remain chaste until marriage.

Concentrating in the gym on his PRIDE middleweight title shot, the first month flew by. He didn’t even look at women, he said. But then things rolled into month two and he remembered his spirit and body clashing something serious.

That’s when Jackson came across the article on the Internet that suggested fasting would help him “fend off the devil.” Three days of avoiding food (water was fine) was recommended. Oh, and he was supposed to keep the process to himself.

“It helped me out spiritually a lot,” said Jackson, discussing it for the first time. “But I didn’t know it was going to take my energy. I thought I was going to be fine. I didn’t think it was going to effect my fight at all because I was fighting in four days.”

After an impressive opening round in which he hurt Silva, the toll of not eating for three days became obvious.

Colin Oyama, Jackson’s trainer, noticed his fighter slowing five minutes into the championship contest. Only later—after Jackson endured a savage knockout that resulted in his being suspended, unconscious, between the ropes—did Oyama find out why his charge could not fight like he prepared.

So upset was Oyama that it took “a while” before Jackson’s trainer and friend could bring himself to speak with the fighter.

“I think back and I’m kinda glad that I lost the fight,” Jackson admitted. “I’m not happy I lost the fight the way I did, but I was convinced God changed me so I could be champion. That was so shallow and so selfish.

“I learned a lot from it. You can’t take it back. Me, now, I’ve learned everything happens for a reason.”

Upon Reflection

With the setback of losing to Silva and the “embarrassment” of fasting behind him, he went about the business of trying to figure out just what happened.

Jackson always considered himself Christian, yet no longer did that simply mean believing in something. He now knew and he began to recall moments that, at the time, seemed trivial but now, in his mind, were instances of God trying to help.

There was the time at a restaurant when a woman walked up to him and said he was a poor role model for his son. Jackson reacted as many of us would. Now, upon reflection, he understood.

Then there were the times when he would scrap because that’s what he had to do. Now, upon reflection, that was God preparing him for his life as a professional fighter.

And then there was Jackson’s drug-using father, who disappeared when Quinton was 10, only to return to his life two years ago as an evangelical.

“I was praying for my father to stop drugs and all that other stuff,” he said. “When he finally did I was surprised. It’s kind of weird how everything happened. My dad starting praying for me when he was ‘born again.’”

Despite his best efforts, however, Jackson soon fell victim to the sorts of things that plagued his father. “I had sex with so many different girls,” he said. “Sometimes I used condoms, sometimes I wouldn’t—it depended on how drunk I was. When you fight, you gotta take those blood tests. If something would have happened to me, my career could have been over. I was so foolish. I thought I was cool. All these cuss words I used all the time and all these girls I messed around with and all the clubs I was going to and getting drunk … I look back at it now and I was foolish. I was destroying myself.”

When Jackson remained behind in Tokyo to relax with friends after knocking out Ricardo Arona in June 2004, a couple of weeks of partying was enough for his life to get out of hand.

“I never craved alcohol before then,” he said. “I knew I had to try and slow down. I thought that to myself. The next day, I was right back at the bar drinking again, hanging out with my friends.

“Normally I wouldn’t drink two days in a row … I started breaking my rule.

“I think I was heading for self-destruction the way I was. I think I was turning into an alcoholic and I’m just thankful, man, that things happened the way they happened.”

His concerns didn’t stem from only the prospect of a ruined fight career or the possibility at missed millions. Now, upon reflection, there’s one explanation for the events of the past six months: his son.

“I think [God] wanted me to be a good father, because the road I was going there was no telling,” Jackson said. “I could have gotten AIDS, or died in a car accident drunk driving, or got shot in the club. Anything. Where does that leave my son now? Who would have taken care of him now?”

Being a Father to His Boy

Jackson, who met his son’s mother while attending Lassen Community College in the California Northwest, took sole custody of D’Angelo five months ago.

A quiet kid with big, curious eyes, D’Angelo, who looks like a miniature white chocolate version of Quinton, hardly spoke with his father when the two first began living together. “He was just there,” Jackson said. “I’d wake up in the morning and feed him breakfast, brush his teeth and do all that stuff. It was almost like having a pet.”

But since returning home after the Silva rematch, Jackson and “D” enjoy a healthier relationship. “Me and my son started talking,” Jackson said. “He saw my face the way it was. We kind of bonded a little bit. I started spending time with him. He started laughing with me and joking. And he started talking to me.”

Today, D’Angelo is a happy kindergartener. And Jackson is an even prouder dad.

“I think I was my son’s last hope,” said Jackson, who claimed that D’Angelo’s mother used drugs during the pregnancy.

As he prepared for his bout against Rua—a win would place Jackson in this year’s PRIDE middleweight Grand Prix—the highly-ranked 205-pounder attempted to balance being a father with doing the things necessary to win a fight at the highest levels of MMA.

Recently, the 26 year old became engaged to a Japanese woman named Yuki. She lives in Irvine, Calif. with Quinton and D’Angelo and has become immensely important in the lives of the Jackson men.

“She has helped me tremendously,” he said. “I can’t even name all the things she does.”

With her help, Jackson said he’s eating properly for the first time in his life. His energy is at an all-time high and he feels confident heading into this weekend’s fight.

Along with Silva and UFC light heavyweight champion Randy Couture, it’s safe to place Jackson among the best fighters at his weight in the world. That won’t change, he promised, because his new priorities have only served to make him “more focused in training.”

“Maybe one day I might deserve to be the champion and I can reflect and look back from there,” he said. “And hopefully I don’t get knocked down, knocked out or submitted too many times before I get there.”
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