Damon Jackson fought through the worst kind of adversity to compete on Saturday.
A week before his fight against Pat Sabatini at UFC Vegas 60, Jackson found out that his brother passed away from unknown causes. While many fighters would have opted not to fight that weekend, Jackson chose to do so, defeating Sabatini in just 69 seconds and dedicating the bout to his late brother.
Speaking Wednesday on The MMA Hour, Jackson explained what happened in the lead-up to the fight and why he ultimately chose to compete.
“On Saturday I found out about it,” Jackson said, “and it was definitely hard to just sit there and not be around my mom and dad to figure out the planning of where they were taking him, what testing they were doing on him, how I couldn’t be of any help. Because I knew once I heard the news and thought about everything, I was like, ‘I have to take this fight.’ In order for me to not go out there and get hurt, I had to have my focus, so I told them, ‘If you really need my help, please contact me and let me know, but if not, then I’m not going to talk to you guys until after my fight,’ which was really hard because normally me and my dad talk every day and me and my mom talk often.
“It was really hard to kind of push them away, but it was really important for me to take the fight and I knew that if I thought about it all week while I was cutting weight and doing all the normal fight week stuff — which is already crazy stressful, but if I was doing all that while thinking about this on my downtime, it would have been really, really hard.
“I just pushed it off until the end, and you could see in my fight — I’m not a super emotional guy like that, and it just really hit me when I looked up in the stands and saw my mom there. She’s always been there for me and my sister and brother. She’s always been there cheering. My parents support everything that we’ve done, and to see her up in the stands after she had just lost her son, it’s really hard to sit back and not — I still right now get teared up just thinking about it, because she supports us so much, and to see her up there cheering, and I know she was going through so much pain, it was just really important for me and to look up there. I just kind of lost it. I held it together all week, and towards the end I really lost it.”
Following the win, Jackson broke down into tears during his post-fight interview, as did his family who were in attendance to watch him compete. That’s why Jackson says he never once considered withdrawing from the fight: Because he wasn’t just fighting for himself, but also for everyone affected by his brother’s passing.
“Not even a second,” Jackson said. “Dealing with injuries, dealing with — I have four daughters. I have a really big family, I have a really close family. I’ve lost people in the past. I’ve never lost someone in my immediate family like this, but I’ve lost people in the past before fights or have had something big like this happen, and it’s something where I feel like this is the best distraction ever. Cutting weight is not easy, doing all these things is not easy, but staying busy all week is one of the most important things for me. It keeps my mind busy. I feel like downtime is where you get real lonely, or you get these bad thoughts in your head, or you get overly overwhelmed with sadness when you’re sitting around and thinking about it all the time.
“Once you lose somebody like that, that’s that close to you, I think the best thing to do is stay busy, stay active, and do your normal routine. So it was really important for me to get out there, not just for me but for my family, because it kept them distracted all week. It kept them focused on something else, and to get the win the way I did, it was just the best feeling in the world to hear my uncles, aunts, cousins, everyone tell me how awesome it was for them, and to help them get through it, because it helped me so much to go through it.”
The win moves Jackson to 5-1 since returning to the UFC in 2020, and earned him a Performance of the Night bonus. But Jackson left Las Vegas with more than an extra $50,000 dollars; he also got a new nickname. Jackson adopted his brother’s sobriquet “Action” to honor him for the fight, but after hearing the response afterwards, the man formerly known as “The Leech” thinks this name makes more sense.
“I was just doing it for that one fight, but hearing it in the cage when they said my name the first time, it kind of hit me pretty hard, so I think I’m going to keep it,” Jackson said. “It means a lot to me because of what it was when I was a kid, I would hear it over and over. My brother was playing football, ‘Action Jackson on the tackle,’ whenever they would say it, constantly hearing it as a kid. It brought back a lot of memories, so I think I’m going to keep it. It means a lot to me. ‘The Leech’ means a lot to me too, but that’s just my fighting style, whenever I got the nickname from my buddies. So I think I’m going to keep it.”