When it comes to the role of coaching fighters in mixed martial arts, no one is more associated with success than Greg Jackson.
The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native has played a crucial role in the development of some of the sport's biggest stars. Alongside his coaching partner Mike Winkeljohn, he has shaped a roster that is filled with champions, contenders and fighters who carry a hefty amount of promise and potential. With Coach Wink's lengthy track record in the kickboxing realm and Jackson's resume in submission fighting, the two men came together to create one of the most formidable coaching combinations in combat sports.
While they initially led two separate facilities in New Mexico's largest city, they eventually decided to combine their talents and bring their focus on professional fighters under one roof, which yielded immediate results. In addition to the hometown talent such as Diego Sanchez, Joey Villasenor and Carlos Condit that began to ascend the ranks, the gym also became home to fighters like Rashad Evans, Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, Clay Guida and the man who at just 26 years old is already arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time: light heavyweight phenom Jon "Bones" Jones.
It wasn't long before the Albuquerque-based facility became a prominent staple on the MMA landscape. Their fingerprints could be found at every major level of the sport, and the fighters under their banner either held world titles or were on the hunt for them.
With such a high concentration of elite-level talent operating in the same space and the rise of individual fighters on the team receiving the bulk of the public's focus, the foundation of knowledge and the system that every fighter on the team's roster operated within fell quietly to the background as MMA continued to surge.
Even with that being the case, the education process and information mill continued to churn, and the achievements rolled in despite the twists and turns of an ever-changing sport. Once the gym became locked under the spotlight, the two coaches found a new level of recognition among the fighting faithful.
Jackson became recognized as a master of fight strategy—the unbreakable calm in the chaos and the zen in the storm—and Winkeljohn was credited in crafting powerful and efficient strikers out of athletes who initially found success behind other disciplines.
As success inside the cage mounted, the work to build an effective method that could be applied to every fighter in the gym never halted. The application of knowledge has never fallen by the wayside, and it is one of the priorities in Jackson's sights these days. The strategy guru recently launched Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts Association, which the legendary coach believes has the potential to generate a tremendous push for the future of the sport.
"We are looking at MMA as the new martial art," Jackson told Bleacher Report. "If you owned a karate or tae kwon do school and you wanted to introduce a mixed martial arts curriculum into your school, you could use our program. The curriculum we are using has proven time and time again to be effective, and then you would teach it to your students. The system is user-friendly where everything is organized for you and you don't really have to worry about much.
"It's all set up and ready to be taught in a manner that makes sense and builds in a logical and progressive fashion that will ultimately build those who learn it a complete and confident martial artist."
In order to send a charge into the future ranks of MMA, Jackson will use his vast wealth of information to serve as the conduit to educate the uninitiated. The Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts Association provides a curriculum that can be adopted and applied in gyms across the globe. Once the structure to run the program is in place, certified coaches in each facility will use the same methods and techniques that Jackson has used over the past 20 years to instruct their students.
In addition to JMMAA providing the blueprint on how to run a mixed martial arts program, one of his primary focuses in this project is to turn MMA into a recognized discipline. Whereas every strip mall across the country once housed a tae kwon do dojo or a karate studio, the days of walking past trophy-filled front windows have come to pass. Granted, many of those places still exist, yet most suffered tremendous damage as MMA and the UFC stormed into the mainstream during the mid-2000s.
The majority of the businesses that managed to survive eventually gave into the storm and now offer some form of MMA training. With his system, Jackson sees a way to blend and strengthen both worlds.
Whereas a particular sensei might be a fourth-degree black belt in karate and was previously ill-equipped to verse his pupils in necessary disciplines like muay thai and jiu-jitsu, the application of Jackson's system will create an environment where every block of the foundation is laid with proper cause.
Every session in gyms that use the program will have a concrete focus. The work in those classes will provide the information to excel in the next phase of the program and allow the students to develop the technique necessary to handle, understand and execute the next submission or strike in the chain.
"Times have definitely changed in the world of martial arts, and a lot of schools are now offering their version of MMA," Jackson said. "We want to get the word out to people that this system is available and let them know the options. If they want to take the next step and make an MMA school that is profitable, makes sense, has been organized in a fashion where everything has a purpose.
"It is not just thrown together where one day we are going to teach triangle chokes and the next day jabs; all the moves are locked together in a progressive way. It is MMA and not a single discipline like boxing or jiu-jitsu. Those elements are definitely involved in addition to wrestling, kickboxing, ground-and-pound and some self-defense techniques mixed in. If people want to learn those things, we are here to give it to you."
Much like traditional martial arts, students of the JMMAA will operate in a belt system. Prowess in MMA will be reflected by the individual rank that a fighter carries, which will ultimately depend on his or her ability to ascend the ranks of the program. Jackson believes his system can create a uniform standard in the sport of MMA, and this would greatly benefit the fighters of tomorrow.
Across the landscape of MMA, the majority of fighters—save for the small percentage who train with elite teams at state-of-the-art facilities—have to travel to multiple locations to work with a variety of coaches in order to get the necessary training required to be successful. That particular issue will be a problem of the past with teams that adopt Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts System, as the program will put every avenue of training under one roof.
Ricky Kottenstette has worn many hats in his time with Jackson, with one of his major roles coming in the general management of the Albuquerque facility. He's had a front-row seat to how this system has developed and has full confidence the program has the ability to change the landscape of MMA.
"Greg's philosophy on this is to share his knowledge and the things he's learned throughout his time in mixed martial arts. There isn't much he hasn't accomplished in the sport and you won't find many people who are considered to be the coach he is or has the reputation he carries. There are a lot of good coaches in the sport, but the best coach in the world is Greg Jackson. I think Greg is coming to a point where he doesn't know how much more to offer the sport of MMA, but on the other hand, he can spread his knowledge of MMA all over the world and teach other people how to use his craft.
"I'm very excited about the system and this is the next big wave for our business. The fight gym is something we've been doing for a long time and Greg has enjoyed teaching the fighters on our team. But this program presents a different kind of opportunity where he will be able to share his knowledge all over the world and that's something he really finds interesting. Any kid who is aspiring to become a mixed martial artist can now learn and rise through the ranks of Greg Jackson's system.
"The system operates off a database where everything will be available to the instructors," he added. "They essentially log in, see what curriculum they are supposed to be teaching and see what moves they are supposed to cover in the session. Those moves are laid out in full detail with pictures and instructional videos of Greg and Joey Villasenor working through the techniques. All the material used to educate the students will continue to grow and change as Greg sees fit.
"We already have gyms signed up in different parts of the world that are ready to go. Their instructors have received their certifications and they are set to begin teaching the system. I think this is the start of something great for people who love mixed martial arts."
While the rollout for Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts Association has just gotten under way, the prototype for the curriculum has been in motion for several months under the guidance of Team Jackson/Winkeljohn staple and retired MMA veteran Joey Villasenor. As the program's lead instructor, he has a unique perspective on the material they are working with, as he was one of the original fighters to work under Jackson.
Villasenor has seen the system grow into a living thing over the past 20 years and knows the depth of the work that has been put into the program. While the system is focused on helping the future of the sport, he appreciates the history of how it has come together.
"This is a process that has been going on for a long time and it's great to see what it has become," Villasenor said. "All the old-school guys like myself, Nate [Marquardt], Keith [Jardine] and Rashad [Evans]; we were there for the trial and error. We went through the process of figuring out what worked and what didn't. What people are going to get now is a cleaned-up version that is filled with techniques that have been proven to work over and over again.
"People are coming to MMA at a younger age than ever before. The refined information that is available to them has created a situation where they can progress very quickly. The new wave of mixed martial artist today looks much different than it did when I was fighting, and because of a system like what we are teaching, the next wave is going to look even better. These kids are really easy to teach, man. The athleticism and toughness in some of these younger kids is incredible. They get a nice easy format taught to them and I've really seen some of these kids excel because of it.
"This program covers all aspects of MMA in a method that is very easy for people to pick up. Instead of running around to different classes, this system teaches you mixed martial arts right off the bat. Naturally you start out with the basics, but students are going to get striking, wrestling, kickboxing and jiu-jitsu taught to them right away. That way they have a well-rounded base and I believe that has always been a trademark of Jackson fighters.
"We are versatile fighters and have earned the reputation over the years for being capable of fighting anywhere the action goes," he added. "That's because we were taught in this mixed form rather than putting all the focus in one place. The students who will come into this program will have the opportunity to receive the same teaching, and the method is very appealing to those who are learning and attempting to improve their skills. Rather than just learning grappling or striking, this system keeps things moving through all the disciplines and that keeps it fresh while still pushing and building their skill sets."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.