It’s amazing how so many people from so many different walks of life and upbringings can end up in the same place with a common interest. Next time you’re at a concert, look around. The faces of young, middle-aged, and old may surround you. These are people who have never met before today that will be sharing the experience of a lifetime together. It can be something like being a comic-book fan and going to see the latest Marvel movie. No spoilers here, but Endgame was amazing and really showed the dynamic of fans of all ages.
Our lives are not predetermined, but there is no doubt that the people we interact with and the challenges we experience shape us into the people we are and can become. Island Fights 56 headliner Rashaun “Action” Jackson was shaped by a battle fought by his own flesh and blood.
“I think about my son. I think about my soon-to-be four-year-old. I think about my daughter. I think about all of them, especially my [youngest] son,” Jackson told Combat Press. “He fought for his life. I almost lost him when he was born. He was born 11 and a half weeks early. It was an emergency. [He] lost a lot of blood, all kinds of stuff, and I almost lost him and his mom. And to this day, it still haunts me, because he had trouble breathing, he had to get blood transfusions, he had to be put on oxygen, [and] he had all these medications. I literally lost sleep for like four or five months. I was losing sleep because I would literally stare at him the entire night while he’s sleeping to make sure he was breathing.
“It was crazy, and my son was fighting every single day. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to wake him up because he would stop breathing in his sleep. It was crazy. I had him on heart monitors. It was crazy. If anybody was the strongest out of anybody around me or my family, it’s my little baby who fought for his life.
“My other two kids [were] full-term C-section babies, because they took too long. This one here was an emergency C-section, because he was coming early. It was like 4 a.m. We were sleeping. His mom woke up and yells out my name that something’s wrong. I turn on the light, and there’s blood all over the bed and blood all over the floor, and she’s freaking out. So, I called 911, and I ended up wrapping her up and kept her in bed. The fire department got there. We got her to the hospital. They hooked her up, said the baby’s fine, heart rate and everything was fine, but we had to get him out because contractions wouldn’t stop and she wouldn’t stop bleeding. It was either lose Mom to a lot of blood or lose baby, and they was like, the only way to save them was get him out. So, we had to get him out 11 weeks early and here he is, strong as ever.
“No fight. I don’t care if it’s the heavyweight title of the world and fighting the baddest man in the world who — I don’t care. There’s no fight as strong and as powerful as I went through with my son. I was with him every single day. All day. Every day. I purposely stopped working so I could be with him all day, every day, and his mom held down the household so that I could do that, so we wouldn’t worry about babysitters and all that. And then, as time went on and he started improving better and better, I got an overnight job so I could be with him all day. And whenever he takes a nap, I took a nap, but I still would have him right there next to me with a heart monitor and I would be waking up constantly to check on him. It was a struggle, man, but then we went to the doctor and the doctor was like, ‘100 percent, he’s fine and he’s great. Let’s take him off everything.’ He’s been a trooper ever since — Nicholas James Jackson.”
It was quite a dramatic was for Jackson’s son to come into the world.
“A lot of people always say that my life is a movie,” said Jackson. “I’m like, ‘Man, you don’t know the half of it.’ One day when the UFC finally gives me that shot and makes me a title contender and I’ll start fighting for the belt, and they start filming and can get through my whole life story, [then] maybe that can go ahead and come about getting to the world, so they can get to know me as a person, not just a fighter.”
The concept behind the protective parent seems to be a trait that has followed Jackson throughout his life. It’s something that is inherent to our nature and the nature of nearly every single animal throughout time. In the animal kingdom, the roles of protector and provider can be solely on one member of the family or shared between the parental units. Sometimes the two paths cross and an unlikely, but true, story comes to fruition.
“If my daughter was right here, she would tell you,” Jackson said. “I was dating another girl at the time, and my daughter and her mom calls me and was like, ‘You need to hurry up and get here now. There’s a bear outside.’ And they were flipping out and freaking out. I show up. I don’t see a bear when I show up. When I pull up, my daughter’s like shaking and pointing and, like, freaking out like she doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know what to do, move, nothing. And her Mom is standing there frozen in shock, so I got out of the car and was like, ‘What’s wrong, what’s wrong, what’s wrong? Everything OK?’ And they’re pointing like, ‘It’s over there. It’s over there. It’s over there.’
“I turn and I look, and there is a bear charging directly at me and I literally just — fatherly instincts kicked in — and literally front kicked it right upside it’s face, and it, like, hopped up and stood up when I kicked it, and I just went to rumblin with it. It tried to grab me. I ended up foot tripping it. I started pounding on it and going nuts, and I stood up and kicked it again, and it took off and ran off up a tree. And I look up the tree, and there’s two cubs up there. And I’m like, ‘Oh, I just beat up Mama Bear. Now I feel like shit.’
“People don’t believe it, because bears have been known to be savages and strong. I was like, ‘Hey, if Khabib [Nurmagomedov] could wrestle bears for fun as a kid, I could beat up a bear to protect my children.’ I don’t care what nobody says, but when it comes to protecting your children, your strength and adrenaline go through the roof and nothing can destroy you. I don’t care what nobody says. And to this day, I still think about that bear and was like, ‘Wow. I could have lost my child at that moment, because Mama was protecting her Cubs.’
“Yeah, I lost my mind that day, and the girl I was dating, she got out the car and was freaking out, [because] she thought I was getting killed and then she saw me, like, kick the bear again and then it takes off running, and she was like, ‘Really? You just beat up a bear? Really?’
“It wasn’t like a grizzly or a monstrous 1000-pound bear. It was a mama bear that was a little ol’ brown bear. It wasn’t a savage. It just came to protect its cubs, and I just lost my mind.”
Jackson has come a long way since the chance encounter that could have resulted in a much more tragic ending. He is making the most of it when he takes on UFC veteran Chase Sherman at Island Fights 56. Jackson fought most recently for Art of War Cage Fighting, as well as MaxxFC. It’s a huge opportunity for each fighter to make a statement and prove they belong in the UFC.
“I would say the nerves are there, of course,” Jackson admitted. “But that happens in every fight, because you got so many emotions running through your mind and the anxiety kicks in of what’s gonna happen, what you wanna do, what you’re gonna do, what could happen, what’s the worst that could happen, are you gonna win, are you gonna lose. You know all those emotions run into play, and now that I have the biggest stage, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. This is what I’ve been busting my butt for [and] this is what I’ve been grinding for.
Sherman, who managed just two victories over seven UFC appearances, has been perfect since departing the biggest MMA promotion in the world to return to Island Fights, where he had some of his earliest bouts.
“It really sucks that I have to fight Chase,” said Jackson. “I’ve been a fan of him for so long, since he started, and I followed him throughout the UFC, and I’ve actually met him [and] trained with him. He’s a great dude and I actually consider him a friend, but the business is business. In this business, they don’t care if you are friends. You’re both getting paid to do what you gotta do, and we can still be friends afterwards. You know, at the end of the day, it’s a sport, and we gotta do what we gotta do. We came to work. We gotta clock in. It’s gonna suck, but I ain’t got no choice. He has a family to feed. I have a family to feed. He’s trying to get back to the UFC. I’m trying to get to the UFC. He’s trying to become a champion. I’m trying to become a champion. It sucks that we’re in the same weight class, but we’re both here.”
Jackson’s duty is to his family. He strives to make it to the top of the mountain. He wants the house. He wants the car. He wants to give his kids the life he never had.
“I didn’t have my father growing up,” explained Jackson. “My father abandoned me before I was even born, out of racism. He was ashamed of the fact that he had a black son and didn’t want a claim to that, so he took off before I was even born. My mother raised me to take care of my children no matter what. I wasn’t raised to have hate in my heart when it came to different races and colors. I don’t think like that, and I wasn’t raised to be like that either.”
Jackson’s humbleness really comes full force in an MMA landscape where trash talk is welcomed and the entertainment, a la WWE, helps to promote fights and build rivalries. Some fighters are willing to succumb to this. Others? Not so much.
“All I wanna do is focus on the fight,” said Jackson. “I’m not a person to talk trash. I don’t downplay anyone. I never have, and I never will. You know, I wasn’t raised to be that way. My mother always taught me to be humble. Martial arts has always taught me to be humble. Never underestimate your opponent. Never sit up here and belittle anyone. That’s how I was raised, and that’s what martial arts taught me growing up.”
Recently, the UFC’s promotional machine has backed Greg Hardy. The move has been received with high disdain given the ex-NFL star’s background of domestic-violence allegations. Given the nature of his past, it seems that many fighters and even fans have clamored for the chance to take on Hardy.
“Out of respect of us having the same management, I’m not gonna say anything,” Jackson said. “But everyone knows I wanna fight him. He knows I wanna fight him. [UFC President] Dana White knows I wanna fight him. Everybody knows I wanna fight him, and I’m just gonna leave it at that.
Jackson works with one of Florida’s rising gyms, Fusion X-Cel Performance in Ocoee. It may not look like much, given its location inside a shopping mall, but don’t let the lack of visual bells and whistles fool you. The gym has been making waves with the addition of current UFC middleweight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza alongside UFC welterweight “Platinum” Mike Perry, Professional Fighters League heavyweight Alex Nicholson, and the newest member to the UFC roster, Mike “Beast Boy” Davis.
“I had to earn my way into this gym. I’m not even gonna front,” Jackson admitted. “I couldn’t just walk into this gym and high-five everybody. It wasn’t like that. I came from gyms and there was family high-fiving, but if they didn’t know you, they were like, ‘OK, we’re not buddies. I don’t know you like that.’ But I had to earn my way in here, and I did. When they saw my skill and saw my drive for wanting this, I still had to earn it. You just can’t walk into a gym and pull a coach and say, ‘Hey, I want you to train me.’ It doesn’t work like that. You gotta earn that. It’s the same way it’s been since I started in this sport. Now, I have the best training partners you could have, ranging from Philip Rowe to Julian Williams to Alex Nicholson to Alton Meeks to Jacare to Rodolfo [Vieira]. I can’t really train with Mike [Perry], because he’s a shorter guy, but if I wanna work speed or work some hands, oh yeah, he’ll give ’em to ya.
“Aside from training down here [at Fusion X-Cel], I train in Tampa also at Fight Team, and I got great guys down there, especially my boy Jesus who’s probably the tallest, longest, most technical striker you could ever work with. And I got my buddy Ricky, who’s [an] awesome boxer and best around there, and I got my coach down there, Rich Galicia, who’s a world champion. So, I got awesome guys down there, too. It’s just unfortunate that I can’t train every day down there like I want, so I have to make it there at least once or twice a week.
“The person who has helped me grow the most would be my coach, Mike Sgroi. When I met him, I was a very, very angry individual. He could tell you that, straight up. Man, I was a very angry person when I met him. My life was just everywhere and nonstop, and he literally grabbed me and shook the heck outta me and was like, ‘What are you doing?!’ He has definitely led me down a better path.
“He tells me all the time he sees all the potential in the world for me and that I just need proper guidance and whatnot. Then I started hearing the same thing that he’s telling me from other people who have watched me grow from being one way to another, watched me fight and train with me, promoters and whatnot. They’ve started telling me the same thing, so I started looking at it like, ‘OK, maybe this is God’s way of saying [to] listen.’ It was a big ups to him, basically leading me down the right path of what I needed to do on a personal side instead of the fighting side. I had to get my heart and mind right before I could even try to be healthy for the fight life.”
This seems like the right frame of mind to have headed into a pivotal and potentially life-changing opportunity. The “Octagon jitters” tend to play a huge part when fighters make a big jump, even if it’s coming from the local scene to a more-televised and larger step up in competition.
“I’m expecting the unexpected,” said Jackson. “I know he’s gonna go in there and put friendship aside and put all the crap aside and say, ‘Let’s bang,’ and I’m [gonna] have to do the same thing. I know he’s gonna bring it, so I’m going to have to bring it too.
“I’m also expecting full-blown three rounds [of] going at it, because neither one of us are gonna sit up here and fall so easily. If somebody falls, it’s because the other person earned it. So I already know that neither one of us are gonna be backing down. I know that for a fact. I’m pretty sure it’s making everybody go crazy over it and have fun, but we both have situations that put us in this predicament to where we gotta do what we gotta do.
“At the end of the fight, I’m [gonna] make sure both of our hands are raised up, because we’re stepping in here and giving it all we got, regardless. I’m hoping I’m raised as the winner, but, at the end, I’m still gonna make sure both of our hands are raised. This world doesn’t care if you’re friends or not. It is what it is.”
”Action” Jackson’s fight with Sherman airs live on UFC Fight Pass on Thursday, May 9, as the main event of Island Fights 56.
Jackson, a corrections officer with the State of Florida, would like to thank his job. He would also like to thank Tavern on the Lake in Apopka, Palm Springs Chiropractor with Dr. Mussa-Jimenez, Bobby with Impact, Fusion X-Cel, FitMeals, Impact Mouthguards, his training partners, coaches Rich Galicia and Mike Sgroi, Julian Williams, Leo, Coach Bill, Coach Paul, Coach JT, and his family, children, friends and Julie, who’s had his back since the day he met her.