Does MMA Coach Greg Jackson Breed Boring Fighters?
There were a lot of stories coming out of this past Saturday's UFC 119 card.
They ran the gamut from bad judging to grotesque cuts to no "KO of the Night" award being given to a fight that KO'ed a whole PPV audience, all 15,000 spectators in the Conseco Fieldhouse, and Mirko Cro Cop's career.
In short, it was pretty much an all you can eat buffet of bad things going down at an MMA event, minus the Diaz brothers jumping somebody in the cage, failing a drug test, jumping somebody at the hospital - ok, so they’re pretty much a buffet unto themselves.
All that being said, the most interesting story to me in the Mir/Cro Cop aftermath is the return to the critical line of fire of a certain MMA coach.
After the guaranteed fireworks of the Melvin Guillard/Jeremy Stephens fight turned out to be not so guaranteed after all, disappointed fans turned their gaze once again to the soft-spoken, smiling man sitting cageside who has been called the Yoda of Mixed Martial Arts.
Now that we're certain that the UFC's run of success is over and the worlds top promotion is about to fall off the proverbial cliff (or as I call it, "the bi-yearly, post-underwhelming UFC event fan narrative") people are once again casting around for someone or something upon which to cast blame. Blame wrestlers. Blame over-saturation. Blame weak PPV cards. Blame M-1. Blame Canada.
Blame Greg Jackson.
Yes, Greg Jackson, that sly rogue, that mountebank. The fighting computer, who sucks the excitement from his fighters like a Hoover vacuum and substitutes a great big helping of "whatever it takes to win".
Or does he? In spite of the reputation incurred by a few high profile fights, I believe that the broad criticism applied to Jackson—namely that he encourages boring, decision-first gameplans above all— is by and large incorrect.
But it’s not enough to just say it. Here are a few well known Jackson fighters, some of the biggest names coming out of his star-studded camp, that I believe more then buck this trend.
Melvin Guillard - Team Jackson fighter since Feb 6, 2010 (vs. Ronnys Torres)
Let’s start with the man who’s directly responsible for this latest wave of criticism. An aggressive and hard hitting lightweight, many were expecting big things from Guillard coming into his UFC 119 bout with equally hard hitting Jeremy Stephens. But instead of the Garcia/Korean Zombie-esque slugfest they were expecting, fans got a more measured, tactical Melvin, who moved in and out and jabbed his way to an unspectacular decision win.
So of course, Greg Jackson "ruined" Guillard, taking the go-for-broke, swing-for-the-hills human highlight reel and turning him into a three-round points fighter.
What’s ironic about this criticism, of course, is that is immediately follows the many months and years Guillard was criticised for being—wait for it—a go for broke, swing-for-the-hills human-highlight reel. Unfortunately, many of those highlights feature Guillard on the losing end of fights he let slip away by simple mental miscalculation, or poor gameplan. Now that Guillard has listened to the critics and made the changes so many called for—well, he’s just not interesting anymore, I guess.
Let’s face it folks, "stand and wang" just isn’t a good strategy against Jeremy Stephens, who hits as hard as any LW on the planet. Guillard took the safest, smartest route to victory, one that favoured his superior speed, footwork, and ever improving technical boxing over Stephen’s power and his own chin in a stand and bang slugfest.
That’s exactly the kind of maturity we’ve wanted to see from him for years now, and I for one and glad it’s finally here.
Blame Jackson? Blame yourselves. If you’re angry about anything, it should be that it took almost half a decade for Guillard to finally listen to the advice of his fans.
Shane Carwin - Team Jackson fighter since before May 24, 2008 (UFC Debut)
The monstrous Carwin is undoubtedly the biggest HW prospect currently fighting out of Team Jackson, their brightest star at 265 lbs. Even a cursory glance at his record doesn’t exactly scream "points fighter". Over his 13 fight, five-year career, Shane has never once seen a decision in his fights—whether via brutally delivered KO or lactic acidosis-induced tragedy.
And it’s not like Carwin is renowned for his in-depth game planning or a conservative, tactical-fight style. In fact, in many of his fights, he often doesn’t play it conservatively enough.
Against Gonzaga, he swallowed a couple haymakers to the dome—shots that broke his nose, wobbled him, and would have crumpled a lesser man. Against Mir, he spent several minutes tangled up with the BJJ master. Not exactly the safest strategy although it certainly worked for him.
Against Lesnar, he left every ounce of cardio in the cage before the first round had even ended, in a five-round championship fight. It cost him dearly.
So if Carwin is a Greg Jackson product—and an acclaimed amateur wrestler to boot—where is his play-it-safe style?
We’ve seen even the mighty Brock Lesnar himself grind Heath Herring like wheat in a mill for three mostly-boring rounds, playing it safe in a "must win" situation. Carwin has been in several "must win" fights in his UFC career (vs. Gonzaga, Mir, or Lesnar) but we’ve never seen him take the safe route, or do anything but try to take his opponents head off in as short a time as possible.
If Jackson encourages victory at the expense of excitement at all times, how do you explain Carwin?
Jon Jones - Team Jackson fighter since Aug 22, 2009 (pre-Matt Hamill fight)
I honestly considered calling this article "Greg Jackson can’t be a grind it out, lay n’ pray enthusiast—because Jon Jones exists" but I thought that might be too long. But it’s true. "Bones" career itself is a testament to the fact that Jackson must have at least some room in his heart for flash and entertainment, not to mention taking risks.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
Jon Jones has:
- Thrown a spinning back elbow
- Executed WWE style suplexes and throws
- Executed complicated Judo tosses and Greco-Roman take-downs in lieu of holding his opponent against the fence
- Spent energy unnecessarily, when he could just coast to a decision win
- Thrown every variety of risky, "don’t do it in MMA" style kick known to man
And that was all in ONE fight.
If Greg Jackson is a winning-first, play-it-safe kind of coach then he must be drunk or something every time "Bones" walks into the gym. Assuming that’s not true, then we can infer from Jones’s incredible flash, propensity for risk taking, and high finishing rate that there must be more to Jackson’s style then just finding the best way to wall and stall an opponent.
Keith Jardine - Team Jackson fighter since before recorded time ( OK, probably not, but you get my point)
Remember when I said I could make this whole piece about Jon Jones and the point would still be made? I honestly feel the same way about one of Jackson’s, uh, less then red-hot but most well known names.
Yes folks, Greg Jackson can’t be MMA‘s Vince Lombardi, otherwise "The Dean of Mean" would have cut out his drunken monkey routine a long time ago. Where’s his ground game? We’ve heard it’s pretty solid, but we’ve never actually seen much of it. Where’s his wrestling? Doesn’t this guy train with GSP, Nate Marquardt, and Rashad Evans? Where’s his in and out footwork, range finding jab, and ability to go all hard and aggressive all three rounds? Where’s his common sense, and ability to game plan a fight?
No, instead Coach Jackson has been content to "let Keith be Keith" and walk into one coma-inducing KO after another by fighters who have long since figured out his awkward, herky-jerky style. I don’t understand how fans can paint Jackson as a do whatever it takes to win coach while Jardine continues to pinch his nipples, make mean faces, do the Techno Viking, and get knocked silly by anyone with a modicum of KO power.
Leonard Garcia - Team Jackson fighter since a good long while ago (pre-WEC debut)
Do me a favour for just a moment.
Go and watch the already legendary Garcia vs. Chan Jung Sung fight. Or watch Garcia’s fight with George Roop. Or any of the Texas native’s WEC fights to date. Grab a bowl of popcorn. Enjoy the hell out of them, as fans do every time Garcia steps into the cage.
Now ask yourself this question: is that fighter you just watched go shot for shot with a dude named "The Korean Zombie" a Greg Jackson fighter? The answer is yes, he is.
When people criticize Jackson as a preacher of the church of boring in MMA, I wish they would remember that Garcia is one of his longtime products. Garcia, the human rock ‘em-sock ‘em robot, who doesn’t know the meaning of "play it safe" and who takes every fight with the mindset of a Roman gladiator trying to "win the crowd"— not to mention kill his opponent (or himself).
Garcia’s upcoming fight with Mark Hominick should provide fans with another enjoyable barnburner, and it’s certainly a winnable fight for the former UFC lightweight.
If Garcia comes out looking to shoot for double legs and hold Hominick against the fence for 15 minutes, I’ll eat every one of these words. But he won’t. We know he won’t. He’s going to come out with a grin on his face winging haymakers like a Mexican panzer tank for as long as he’s standing upright—all under the watchful gaze of Greg Jackson.
Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course. Not every Team Jackson fighter is a go for broke dynamo. But for every Rashad Evans, there’s a Nate Marquardt. For every Joe Stevenson, there’s a Donald Cerrone. For every GSP vs. Dan Hardy, there’s a GSP vs. BJ Penn, or Jon Fitch.
My point is that Jackson doesn’t instill winning above all, lay n’ pray, wall n’ stall tactics into every one of his fighters as a matter or course.
Actually, it’s the exact opposite.
Go down a list of Team Jackson notables, and the list reads like a who’s who of "Fight of the Night" winners across every weight class. Instead, he teaches safe strategy, finding and maximizing one’s own strengths and potential, and breaking down an opponent into technical, scientific strategy, in order to find the best route to victory.
So next time you see a boring fight and notice Greg Jackson sitting by the cage, don’t blame him, blame the fighter—or blame no one, come to think of it. Hell, Jackson did tell GSP to start punching Hardy and stop trying for Kimuras, after all.
Cut the guy some slack.
By Elton Hobson
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