HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – Neiman Gracie claims the original plan for Bellator 255 was to have him fight Michael Page, and not Jason Jackson.
Gracie (10-1 MMA, 8-1 BMMA), a former welterweight title challenger in the promotion, has been trying to make strides toward a second title shot. He thought he might get champ Douglas Lima next, but then said Bellator matchmakers tried to pit him against Page (18-1 MMA, 14-1 BMMA) in what would’ve been a definitive title eliminator.
It didn’t shake out that way, however, and now Gracie gets Jackson in Friday’s co-headliner at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The event airs on Showtime following prelims on MMA Junkie.
It’s not the fight he wanted most, but Gracie said he still sees Jackson – who is coming off a win over former UFC champ Benson Henderson – as a matchup that can drive him toward a shot at Lima.
“I heard a lot about fighting for the title and I thought it was going to happen,” Gracie told MMA Junkie. “But in the end they tried to make another fight that didn’t go through against ‘MVP.’ I don’t know what happened. I really wanted that fight so bad, but it didn’t happen and maybe it’s because he was having some problems in the U.K. And then they throw Jason Jackson’s name on it, and I said, ‘Of course.’
“I need to fight. This is my job, and I’ll fight against anyone. I think this fight against Jason Jackson will be a title elimination fight, for sure. So whoever wins this fight will definitely be next for the title.”
Gracie hasn’t fought since a submission win over Jon Fitch at Bellator 246 in September. He said he’s made big changes in the time between fights, including a major switch in his everyday training situation.
After spending his formative years fighting out of Renzo Gracie Academy in New York, Gracie recently made the full-time move across the country to Southern California, where he now trains at Kings MMA.
Gracie said the move was prompted by COVID-19 lockdowns in Manhattan, as well as the desire to get his wife and 3-year-old daughter away from the harsh East Coast winters. He said his family has a “better life” in California, but it’s also been good for his career.
Although his uncle Renzo will still be his chief corner at Bellator 255, Gracie said the oversight of famed coach Rafael Cordeiro has helped elevated his game going into fight night.
“Master (Cordeiro) is such a good mentor, he never asks me to be a striker,” Gracie said. “Every time I train he always says, ‘If you see the takedown, go for it.’ He never says, ‘Don’t go for the takedown. Strike and knock him out.’ He knows what he’s doing, and he reminds me a lot of Renzo. They’re always happy and always smiling and they have a lot of similarities and this is awesome. I’m still talking to Renzo and going there training. So I’m still with both. It’s going to be a good thing.”
Gracie ultimately hopes to secure another submission victory for his legacy against Jackson and move on to bigger and better things at 170 pounds. His first crack at Bellator gold against then-champ Rory MacDonald at Bellator 222 in June 2019 ended in a unanimous decision loss, but with the changes Gracie has made, he expects a different result if he get a shot at Lima.
“I’m definitely a different fighter right now,” Gracie said. “I feel mentally, physically – I think it was too soon to go for the title fight. But anyways, it was a great fight, we fought five rounds. In the last round, I started coming on. I think next time I will have a better strategy. I’m not just going to try to finish, finish, finish. That’s what I did against Rory my first fight.”