UFC vet Damon Jackson running actual marathons while launching figurative career sprint

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If he’s being honest, Damon Jackson (13-2-1) can admit he wasn’t quite ready for the UFC when the sport’s biggest promotion came calling. But like any other fighter in his position, when the phone rang, he certainly answered.

“I wasn’t prepared, but it’s one of those things that when you get the opportunity – I was 9-0, but I had only had barely two years of training, and that’s just not long enough to really get the experience and really be well-rounded,” Jackson told MMAjunkie. “I just thought that if I trained a little bit harder of what I was already working, that would be good enough. It’s a bit frustrating to look back and see so many mistakes I made.”

Jackson was brought to the UFC in 2014 as a late replacement opposite a very tough Yancy Medeiros. Less than two years into his professional career, Jackson was unbeaten through nine fights and had just submitted longtime UFC and WEC vet Leonard Garcia, but Medeiros proved the superior fighter, submitting Jackson in the second round.

After losing to Rony Jason in Brazil and then battling to a draw with Levan Makashvili, Jackson was released from the promotion, ending his UFC run in early 2016.

“My entire career, I’d always been moving forward, so whenever I got released from the UFC, it was kind of like, ‘Who the (expletive) are you to let me go for no reason?’ It was for a reason, but I was very angry at the UFC. I was mad at Sean Shelby and whoever because they released me, but at the same time, I now realize I wasn’t ready at the time to go to the UFC. Now that I feel that I’m getting that experience under my belt, I feel like I’m capable of fighting anybody at featherweight or at lightweight.”

Following his release from the UFC, Jackson returned to LFA, where he had previously served as featherweight champion when the promotion has still known as Legacy FC. He’s since gone 4-1, with three of the wins coming by submission.

More importantly, Jackson said he’s making great strides in training, forcing himself into uncomfortable positions in the gym in order to better his overall game.

“I’m trying to improve every single fight,” Jackson said. “I know that sounds so cliched, but whenever I made it to the UFC, I wasn’t even fighting for two years at the time. I just took as many fights as I could, and right after I beat Leonard, I made it in, and I wasn’t really prepared for what I was facing. Now, it feels so good to see some improvement everywhere, and the biggest thing I’ve been focusing on is my boxing.

“I’m trying to show that during my fights and not just rush in for a takedown. When a takedown presents itself, I’m going to put them on the ground. I’m always going to be looking for a finish on the ground. I don’t like to just hold people down. I definitely like to go for finishes every single fight.”

Nearly two years after his final UFC appearance, Jackson believes he’s now finally ready to compete in the octagon, and he’s working hard to earn another invitation.

Damon Jackson and Eli Tamez

And if you wonder what Jackson’s drive is capable of fueling, consider what he did two days after his most recent fight, a first-round submission win over Luis Luna at LFA 28 earlier this month: Jackson ran 26 miles in the BMW Dallas Marathon.

Why? Because in 2014, he had wanted to compete in a marathon just after his Legacy FC 28 win over Hunter Tucker, but lingering complications from a tough weight cut forced Jackson to bow out of the race.

When presented with a second opportunity, Jackson knew he had to seize the moment.

“I had some of my clients that were going to be running the marathon and the half-marathon,” Jackson said. “I’m training these guys to get ready for a marathon, and I just decided the night after my fight that I would run it with them just to surprise them. It was kind of a bucket list thing, and I kind of just wanted to do something crazy. The fight went so well, I didn’t take any damage, so I thought it would be a good time.

“We do so much as fighters to get ready for a fight, so I knew that after my camp I was going to be in good enough shape to put on a decent performance in a marathon, so I just wanted to do it.”

Jackson, who said he doesn’t run as part of his regular training routine but did compete in cross-country in high school, hoped to finish the marathon in a competitive time. Despite some minor cramping about halfway through the race, that target goal was on track until just a few short miles remained.

“It was actually going amazing,” Jackson said. “I got to about mile No. 13, about halfway through, and my leg kind of cramped up a little bit. Nothing crazy; I got a gel pack and had some gatorade and a little water, and I was good to go. I didn’t hit my next wall until mile 23. Then at mile 23, my legs just locked up. I couldn’t lift my toes. Whenever I was running, I had to lift my knees up. I couldn’t lift my foot up to go to the next step, so it looked like I was doing high-knees the last two miles of the race.

“I wanted to place in the top 20 or top 30, but I couldn’t be too mad because I didn’t train for it. It was funny because I was trying to run, and all these medics are coming up to me, like, ‘Hey, stop. Let’s get some water in you.’ And I was just so mad at them. I’m like, ‘Get away. Let me run. Let me finish this race.’”

Jackson is nearing the final few miles of his fighting career, as well. At 29 and with four daughters at home, Jackson realizes the strain that fighting places on his family and knows he can’t continue to compete forever.

Damon Jackson

“I’m fighting until I’m 31,” Jackson said. “I’m not fighting past 32. I’ve got about two years left, and then I’m done. I’m pulling myself out. I do have a big family. I have four girls and obviously a wife, and it puts a lot of stress on everything else we do whenever I’m training daily for a fight. It’s just too much, honestly.”

In the meantime, Jackson wants to compete as often as possible. If that means staying under the LFA banner, so be it. But Jackson does hold out some hope that the UFC will come calling once again, and this time, there will be no regrets.

“I’m happy with everything I’ve done, but obviously I’d like to get back to the UFC and get some wins there,” Jackson said. “I want to be competitive in the UFC. From there, I’ll be happy to be done, but I’m going to go all out for these next two years and just sell out and do everything I can.

“I’m going to go as hard as I can for these next two years and take as many fights as I can. If a short-notice fight comes up with the UFC, I promise you I’ll take it. It doesn’t matter who it is or whatever. Same thing with LFA. If something pops up, I’ll be ready to go either way. I’m always ready for a fight. I’ll accept every fight that I get, so I’ll be ready to go, whoever it is.”

Jackson said he’s no longer angry at the UFC, and he also doesn’t obsess over a second chance. He takes pleasure in seeing his Fortis MMA teammates earn their way into the UFC, such as Rashad Coulter. But Jackson does have that itch, and he wants to finish his own race in style.

“It’s frustrating to just now be ready for the UFC when I had the chance to do it,” Jackson admits. “For me, it’s not just about getting back to the UFC and winning. I want to be successful in every single fight and do exactly what my gameplan is for whatever opponent it is. I want to finish every single one of my fights, and I want to look impressive while I’m doing it. That makes me more happy than anything.”

For more on LFA’s upcoming schedule, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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