ATLANTIC CITY - Rampage Jackson scowled, howled, then bellowed to the crowd: “I’m back! I’m back!”
With rebuilt knees and a new promotion, Jackson might have one more act left in MMA.
Jackson’s Bellator debut ended in a hurry when the former UFC star dropped Joey Beltran with a second left in the first round to win by knockout Friday night.
“It’s only the beginning,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot more stuff coming.”
In his first fight outside the UFC banner since 2006, Jackson connected on a series of left hooks to send Beltran to the mat. Jackson finished him off at the 4:59 mark, then threw back his head for his signature howl.
The arena darkened as Jackson made his way to the cage with a scowl. He was mobbed by fans on his way to the cage, then grabbed the microphone after the short bout to proclaim he was back to an appreciative crowd at Revel Resort casino’s Ovation Hall.
Jackson won his first MMA fight since he beat Matt Hamill by unanimous decision on May 28, 2011, at UFC 130.
Unwanted by UFC after three straight losses, Jackson’s debut was his first fight in 10 months. He blamed his decline on bad knees that slowed him down. Jackson thanked his doctors for the various procedures on his knees over the last year.
“Fans keep thinking I’m making excuses, but now it’s on,” he said. “I have a lot more years left in me.”
He used a series of hooks to put Beltran on all fours. One or two punches more to the face ended the bout.
“I proved I still got it,” Jackson said. “If I train hard, I can deliver.”
Jackson hurt his right knee training for a 2010 fight against Rashad Evans and hurt his left knee in a 2011 bout against Jon Jones.
“I haven’t enjoyed training for years because I was in so much pain,” he said.
He hadn’t been the same since — until a left hook made it a buzzer beater to remember. Jackson had a series of platelet-rich plasma treatments designed to stimulate recovery in aging joints to aid his recovery.
Jackson was originally slated to fight former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz on pay-per-view. Ortiz backed out because of a neck injury, forcing Jackson to fight Beltran (14-10). Jackson said this week he has no intention of fighting Ortiz.
“I’ve moved on from that,” he said. “Much love to Tito, I’ve got mad love for him, but that was a big letdown.”
Beltran, another former UFC fighter, lost a three-round split decision on UFC Fight Night on Oct. 9.
“I would love to fight Rampage again,” Beltran said. “We’ll do it a catchweight, at heavyweight, I don’t care.”
In 2007, Jackson unified the UFC and Pride 205-pound titles with a unanimous decision over Dan Henderson. In his next UFC fight, he lost his crown to Forrest Griffin.
He also served as a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Outside the cage, Jackson is most known for playing B.A. Baracus in the film version of “The A-Team.”
The 35-year-old Jackson also made his professional wrestling debut of the sports entertainment kind this year, making appearances for TNA Wrestling. Jackson scattered his appearances over three months before he left in September to focus on the fight. He said his dream was to become a professional wrestler and wanted to return to TNA at some point.
In the other featured bout, Vitaly Minakov stopped fellow Russian Alexander Volkov at 2:57 of the first round to win the heavyweight championship. Minakov landed repeated strikes to Volkov’s face before the referee stepped in and stopped the bout. His first defense will come against former UFC heavyweight Cheick Kongo.