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Jackson's gamble to become a fighter paying off

Mike Jackson admits that he isn’t necessarily in the fight game to become a world champion. That’s an honest statement, and if anything, “The Truth” lives up to his nickname when it comes to his place in MMA and on Saturday’s UFC 225 main card, where he faces former WWE superstar CM Punk.

“I just love fighting,” Jackson said. “I don’t have to fight. I was supposed to be a doctor. (Laughs) My dad’s a doctor and he wanted me to go down that path, and I hate school. In high school, I was in an engineering program, and I ended up going to Texas A&M and I was supposed to be an engineer. But I said, ‘Man, I don’t want to even do this anymore. I’ll fight.’ It was a gamble, though.”

Jackson ended up getting his degree from the University of Houston in 2015, with a major in Sociology and a minor in African-American Studies. By then, he was seven years into his fighting career, and whether it was boxing, kickboxing, MMA, or even as someone covering the sport from outside the ropes, he was all-in when it came to this world. And he was making waves, enough of them that when the UFC needed someone to fight Mickey Gall for the right to face Punk in the Octagon in 2016, he got the call.

He lost that fight, getting submitted by Gall in less than a minute. But when Gall issued a similar submission defeat to Punk a few months later, Jackson knew his time might be coming again, and he prepared accordingly.

“I didn’t know what was gonna happen as far as if they were gonna give Phil (Brooks, Punk’s real name) another fight or not, but once I did hear, I knew that was my fight,” he said. “For me, there is no other person in this world who belongs in there against this guy. It really doesn’t make sense. If you factor in the storyline, factor in the weight, it was the right place, right person, right time. I felt the fight was meant for me, and I went out there and grabbed it.”

So when Jackson got that call again, once more he said yes. It was the answer any fighter would give in such a situation, yet there are some – okay, many – people who don’t like the idea of Punk fighting in the UFC again, and hence don’t like Jackson doing the same thing. But as the 33-year-old striker explains, business is business, and there are a lot more people who want to tune in Saturday night to see if Punk can earn his first MMA victory.

“A lot of people are upset about this and what I tell them is, everybody is on a different path,” said the Houston native. “My goal isn’t to become a UFC champion. I’m an entertainer first and my goal is to entertain the fans, the people that are going to purchase this Pay-Per-View.”

As for the critics?

“Who are you to tell me why I belong or why I don’t belong,” he said. “I’m obviously here, I’m two pro fights in, they’re both in the UFC. There’s only a handful of people who can say they had their first two professional fights in the UFC.”

This is true, and it’s something not lost on Jackson, who has mastered the art of marketing outside the Octagon.

“You have a lot of people who just want to fight,” he said. “I get that, that’s your job. But what a lot of guys have to understand is that they’re a brand and a business. And if that’s not your thing to market and promote, you have to have the right team around you.”

Jackson is doing just fine, thank you, and even more people will know about the “Mike the Truth” brand over the next couple days. He doesn’t even mind hearing some boos in Punk’s hometown of Chicago in the process of getting the word out.

“I’m the anti-hero fighting in his hometown, and I’m gonna get booed,” he said. “The wrestling fans are trying to troll me on Twitter, but the thing is, I’m the MMA secretary of counter-trolling, and these dudes don’t have the aptitude for this. But there’s a lot of people who apparently really like this guy.”

Jackson is growing on some folks too and, well, that’s the point, right?

“This comes naturally to me,” he said. “I’m taking it all in stride and I’m enjoying it. You know how people live their dreams and make all these sacrifices? I did that. I paid my dues, and now I’m here. And we’re about to take it to the next level.”

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