While there were two big events in the MMA world on Saturday night — UFC on ESPN+ 24 and Bellator 238 — Montel Jackson may have won the entire weekend before his fight with Felipe Colares even began.
Prior to his unanimous decision win over Colares in Raleigh, NC, Jackson walked to the Octagon to a song very few combat sports fans expected to hear: Whitney Houston’s mega-hit song released in November 1992, I Will Always Love You.
The MMA community exploded with praise and positivity, while the crowd inside the PNC Arena sang along to the universally loved track from The Bodyguard soundtrack.
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) January 25, 2020
While the commentators, and most others watching the event were applauding the irony behind choosing such a powerful song for his walk to the Octagon to get into a fistfight with another man, Jackson chose the song for a specific reason: to pay tribute to the late mother of his Pura Vida head coach Jake Klipp.
“My coach Jake, his mom died, I think halfway into my camp,” Jackson told BJPENN.com. “I know he was trying to be all macho and stuff, but I know he was messed up. I know his brother Morgan was messed up, too. I mean, their mom died. For him to still coach and continue to come it just showed how strong he is, how committed he is to me and to my career that he can put his feelings and emotions to the side and still continue to coach, be there for my camp. So it was just like that small bit of gratitude to him, to pay tribute to his mom. I met his mom a couple of times and she was very, very nice.”
The 27-year-old Jackson’s musical selection was certainly a surprise for his head coach and mentor. In addition, “Quik” surprised his manager and the UFC to the point where the organization wasn’t sure they were even communicating with the rising bantamweight contender during fight week.
“No [he didn’t know],” Jackson said of his head coach. “It was even more funny because Heidi [from the UFC] texted me and she asked me, ‘Montel, are you going with your regular walkout song?’, and it’s usually yes because my song never changes. When I told her Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, she said, ‘What? Is this Montel?’, I said, yeah. She said, ‘are you sure?’, and I said yeah. She came back and said, ‘I’m gonna confirm with you in person.’
“Jason [House] texted both of my phone numbers asking me if I was going with that song. I’m like, ‘Yeah, don’t tell Jake either.’ I just thought that was funny. It really was.”
It was a touching moment hearing the story and looking closely at the video of the memorable walkout, as Klipp can be seen having an emotional reaction, while trying to stay focused on the task at hand. All in all, the surprising tribute was a success.
“I knew he was crying but I couldn’t see him because he was standing behind me, “Jackson said. “I saw him crying. But when he came out, I turned around and looked, and he was like, ‘What?’, I told him ‘that’s your song.’ He wanted me to come out to a different song but I wasn’t coming out to that. He thought I’d come out to my regular song so I surprised him.”
As great as that walk to the Octagon was, Jackson delivered in the fight as well. Heading into the fight with back-to-back wins over Brian Kelleher and Andre Soukhamthath, Jackson took on a very game Colares, who was coming off of an upset split decision win over Domingo Pilarte at UFC on ESPN 4 in July.
Jackson pushed a near-overwhelming pace throughout the fight on the feet and with his wrestling en route to a unanimous decision victory.
While getting a third straight win was the top priority, Jackson feels his performance wasn’t his best.
“Like a six,” Jackson said when asked about how he rated his performance. “I felt like I could’ve had cleaner combos and I don’t think I applied enough pressure to this guy — probably in all of the rounds. He was ready to go in the second round. I look at it like it being my fault for dragging the fight on for so long.”
At the end of the first round, Jackson stunned Colares with a punch and began a wild flurry that nearly ended the fight. Colares showed his grit and toughness to make it to the second round — and the remainder of the fight — but Jackson felt that the onslaught of shots kept waking Colares back up to keep him in it.
“I gotta catch my breath and do it again,” Jackson said on his mentality between the first and second rounds. “That’s all I thought about. I think he was knocked out and I was waking him up with the punches. His arm was up at one point and I thought, ‘yeah, he’s knocked out.’ But that’s alright.
“I wasn’t surprised [it wasn’t stopped]. I would’ve thought they would’ve stopped the fight but this dude just ate 15 punches to the face and he was still standing up. The fence was still holding him up so keep punching.”
It was a dominant performance from Jackson, who earned two 30-26 scorecards, along with a 30-25 en route to a unanimous decision win.
In a night that ended with his hand being raised, it began with a touching tribute. While the overall reaction to his walkout was universally praised, Jackson isn’t sure he’ll go back to that well once again. If he doesn’t, Jackson can take solace that he created a memorable moment for himself, his head coach, and the fans.
“It’s Whitney Houston, man. Who doesn’t love Whitney Houston,” Jackson said. “Especially that song… who doesn’t know that song? That song has been played and heard a million times. Nobody in this world… you don’t even have to speak English to feel that song. It’s just pretty dope, man. I love songs like that. I love soulful songs like that.”
This article first appeared on BJPENN.com on 1/29/2020.