EXCLUSIVE | Mike Winkeljohn talks starting JacksonWink and becoming a top gym in MMA

Mike Winkeljohn, Jon Jones

When Mike Winkeljohn and Greg Jackson first teamed up to start an MMA gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico, neither man ever dreamed it would become one of the top camps in the sport.

Today, JacksonWink is not only considered a top gym in MMA, but both Winkeljohn and Jackson are considered elite coaches in the game.

“When Greg and I first started it we didn’t think the sport would blow up. We had Diego Sanchez on the first Ultimate Fighter show and then it blew up,” Winkeljohn said to BJPENN.com. “It is amazing how many people came out of Albuquerque and got to the top in the UFC. Now we have people coming here from around the world who are flying here for training because we have trained everyone in Albuquerque.

“There is not much we can do about that other than the young ones,” he continued. “There is a new crop of them coming that will be the next champions that we have been developing behind the scenes. That is what is so nice about the gym is that it is like a big laboratory that Greg and I and the other coaches can throw ideas out and sit back sometimes and watch these guys do things. I’m learning constantly from my fighters and we also find out what doesn’t work.”

Since they first started, MMA blew up as Winkeljohn said. However, while that may have been a good thing for the gym, it proved to be a challenging time for the coaches. Everyone had to learn that much faster and outsmart their opponents to make their fighters better. In the end, Winkeljohn and JacksonWink tried to do exactly that.

“It is definitely a process like the learning curve took off. Everybody started getting better and better,” he said. “When the sport first started nobody knew what the other person was going to do with styles. Now with the internet, and fights on TV, everybody is studying and everybody got that much better that much faster. But, it is starting to peak out a little bit because we have these group of kids at 19 or 20-years-old who can hang if not beat the old timers who were the best ever. That is how much better the sport has gotten, there is always a new way to beat people. You have to start looking at habits, so you start to one up that. It is just a big game of chess out there.”

As the gym started to get better, more and more fighters headed to Albuquerque to train at JacksonWink. However, for Winkeljohn and company, before anyone is allowed to train full-time, they have to know the fighter will be there day in and day out. They don’t want fighters who bounce around from gym to gym or any gym drama. Rather, they just want to train fighters and win UFC fights and show the MMA world that they are the top gym in the game.

“Our biggest thing when a fighter reaches out to us is that I’m all about loyalty,” Winkeljohn said. “If they think they need to improve on something or get different looks, we are willing to work with them. It is a pretty cool feeling and we are proud of where we are at. We have to stay at the top of the game or we will get knocked off quickly.”

JacksonWink is fresh off of Jon Jones’ TKO win over Alexander Gustafsson to reclaim the light heavyweight belt. However, the work doesn’t stop there and it is on to the next fight and so on and so forth.

This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 1/12/2019