Even during the worst stretch of his career, Jason Knight was ready for his next opportunity to prove himself inside the Octagon.
Sure, he’d just lost his fourth straight fight, a unanimous decision loss to Jordan Rinaldi at UFC 230, but Knight was a fan favorite, a classic action fighter who had drawn stylistic comparisons to the popular Diaz brothers (hence the Mississippian’s unofficial moniker of “Hick Diaz”). The Rinaldi fight was just the second of a recently inked contract, so Knight had reason to think that his good relationship with the company would keep him employed.
On Thursday, Knight announced that he had in fact been released by the UFC and went as far as to mention a handful of promotions that he’d be interested in fighting for. It’s a fresh start for the 26-year-old featherweight, who wants to put a rough 2018 behind him.
“I honestly thought that I might be alright because they like me. Everybody’s cheering for me every fight that I’ve had, I’ve always had the fans behind me, especially the last two. Dana White and them still put me on the FS1 main event spot, so I believe that they were hoping for me to get back on top, but I had a shit year,” Knight told MMA Fighting.
“No excuses, by no means, I had a lot going on and it led to making poor decisions. I think that once I get everything cleared up and get everything back in order mentally, then I believe that I’ll be able to step back into the cage and go out there and have some fun and kick some ass again.”
It wasn’t long ago that Knight was a budding contender in the UFC’s 145-pound division, racking up consecutive wins against Jim Alers, Dan Hooker, Alex Caceres, and Chas Skelly from July 2016 to May 2017. He earned three $50,000 fight night bonuses during that stretch, life-changing money for a young man who like so many entered the sport with a full spirit and empty pockets.
By his own admission, the pitfalls of becoming a well-paid fighter overnight tripped Knight up. After knocking out Skelly, Knight went on to lose his next four. The worst part of it all wasn’t just the poor results or how Knight was fighting. It was why.
“I got caught up in the lifestyle,” Knight said. “I won four fights in a row in the UFC, I made several hundred thousand dollars. I went from making a hundred thousand dollars a fight and being able to live that lifestyle of having a hundred thousand dollars in my account to after the Ricardo Lamas fight I only had a $30,000 paycheck. I still tried to live the hundred thousand dollar lifestyle for a while like I had that money there.
“Next thing you know I started getting myself in debt and it went from I was fighting for fun to I had to fight to get the money. I had to get this money to get my life back straight, to get back on top. What I’m doing right now I’m pretty much completely out of debt and I’m getting my life to where I don’t have to worry about fighting to provide for my family and stuff. I’m providing for my family outside of that so I can get back to fighting for the love of the fight.”
Knight recently opened up his own gym in his hometown of Lucedale, Miss., while getting business advice from his de facto manager, former UFC middleweight Alan Belcher, who specializes in consulting fighters in financial matters. He’s currently in the process of making sure that the everything is in order at his gym so that it can run without him when he returns to competition (Knight still plans to conduct his fight camps with Belcher’s team), which he plans to do shortly.
Where Knight’s talents will be utilized remains to be seen. On the North American side, he mentioned Bellator, Titan Fighting Championships, and Legacy Fighting Alliance as possibilities — the latter two proven routes to the UFC — but Knight also said he would like to fight in Asia for the first time.
That could mean signing with Singapore’s ONE Championship, or joining Japan’s Rizin Fighting Federation (he’s already talking about fighting Rizin lightweight Damien Brown) where the more open rule set suits his style.
“I haven’t really paid much attention to the rules but I was down with Pride rules back in the day,” Knight said. “The way I look at is if you can knee me in my head standing up, how is it so much f*cking worse if we’re on the ground? If you can soccer kick me in my head on the feet, then how is it so much worse if we’re on the ground?
“The only thing that I think would really suck is if you’re getting foot stomped in the face and the mat’s not giving any give for your head or whatever.”
According to Knight, he left the UFC in good standing and he expects it will only take a few wins to get re-signed; however, he’s keeping his options open and if a long-term deal with another promotion makes sense, he’s all for it.
The only thing Knight can guarantee is that the next company he works for will be getting the best version of him yet.
“I think that it was a great learning experience,” Knight said. “I’m still young. And I know that next time, once I get back on top and I start making that kind of money not to sit here and try to act like I’m f*cking ballin’. I went from being a broke-ass kid all my life, never having any money, to all of a sudden having $200,000 dropped in my lap.
“What did I do? I went and I splurged and I had fun and I made a lot of stupid, young mistakes, but that’s stuff that I can learn from and I’m excited to see where my career goes in the future.”