In just nine pro fights, Montel Jackson has gone from an unknown to one of the top prospects in the UFC’s bantamweight division. Yet despite his hard-fought status and growing popularity, the Milwaukee native isn’t starting to read his press clippings. What he does read, though, is close to him every morning.
“I’ll take a look at my goals in the mirror, and if they’re not crossed off, that means I’m waking up and I’m chasing it,” said Jackson, whose next goal is defeating Brazil’s Felipe Colares in Raleigh, North Carolina on Saturday. As for some of the others…
“I’ll give you three,” said Jackson. “The number one thing on my goal list is to do the things that I don’t want to do every day. So if I don’t want to go to practice or do my responsibilities, that’s the number one thing – do the things that I don’t want to do. Number two is to always go to practice. Number three is to be on time, to be punctual.”
Well, he’s never missed an interview here. As for the first two items on the list, the proof is in his performances at the highest level of the sport, as he’s beaten Brian Kelleher and Andre Soukhamthath after a short-notice loss to Ricky Simon in his UFC debut in August 2018. Not a bad run for someone with less than ten fights, but Jackson always had the confidence that he would make a mark in the sport that gave him new life after his dreams of wrestling in the Olympics were dashed.
“When I started training MMA at Red (Schaefer)’s, I could see that I was leaps and bounds ahead of some of these guys that had been doing this for two, three years, and even some of the pros I was running across,” he said. “I was only a year into this and I was giving them problems.”
Turning pro in 2017, Jackson hasn’t stopped giving opponents problems, but again, he’s not taking time to relax or get stagnant. For proof, ask him to assess his 2019 campaign.
“Last year was great,” he said. “I’ve got no complaints. I learned some new things about myself. I took a full month off after the Soukhamthath fight and went out to California, saw some different stuff, saw a different way of training, saw a different way of life and just got a chance to mentally decompress from the game and really get my head on straight.”
Wait, is Mr. Milwaukee considering a move out west?
“No, uh-uh,” Jackson said. “Too many people, too much traffic, the cost of living’s ridiculous and I’m not too keen on spending a quarter of my day in a car in traffic. That’s no way to live.”
So he’s staying put, then?
“I’m a home grown guy,” he said. “All my people are here – my family, my friends. Everything’s here and it’s not too big and it’s not too small. I can get from the top of the city to the bottom of the city in 15 minutes. That’s something I value. And just being able to walk down the street and people not hassling you, I’m happy with that.”
That may not last forever, as Jackson’s profile rises with each win. But you do get the impression that the 27-year-old can handle it, just as he can handle himself in the Octagon. And when it comes to that Octagon, he’s got an ambitious plan for the new decade.
“At this rate, coming into this decade, they set the bar a little bit higher,” he said. “If you really want to cement your legacy in this decade, you gotta win two titles. A lot of guys aren’t afraid to go up or go down, so I think that might be the second mountain I climb, going up to ’45 after ’35 and make the run there.”
And how’s the climbing of the first mountain going to go in 2020?
“Greatness,” he said. “This is the year, a breakout year for me.”