Albuquerque native Greg Jackson, co-owner of the Jackson Wink MMA Academy, started training fighters in 1992. One year later, the Ultimate Fighting Championship took the sporting world by violent tempest, and it quickly became — and has remained — the world leader of mixed martial arts promotion and competition.
Over the years, Jackson’s reputation as a trainer has risen in tandem with the ascending popularity of UFC mixed martial arts; the Jackson Wink MMA Academy is now widely considered one of the top MMA training centers in the world, drawing top professionals and hungry hopefuls from Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Russia, to name just a few countries.
Mecca of MMA Training
Some MMA insiders even refer to the Jackson Wink MMA Academy as the Mecca of mixed martial arts training. Located right off Route 66, in downtown Albuquerque, the gym is synonymous with cultivating the biggest marquee names in combat sports, regularly attracting curious MMA fans and tourists who stop to pose for photographs outside the facility.
“Greg Jackson preceded the UFC to be the godfather of mixed martial arts coaching,” said Michael Lyubimov, general manager of the Jackson Wink MMA Academy. “Albuquerque is popular because of its long tradition of so much experience in fights. The majority of legends in MMA, they were either born here, or they live here, or they moved here and then became big names.”
At approximately 5,352 feet above sea level, Albuquerque’s thin, dry air is one of the gym’s greatest training assets.
“When you are competing while training at above sea level and going against someone who is training only at sea level — it matters,” said Lyubimov. “You perform much better with above-sea-level training. Cyclists, runners, fighters, they all come to Albuquerque for that reason.”
Growth of Jackson Wink Academy
In 2007, Greg Jackson teamed up with longtime colleague and fellow martial artist Mike Winkeljohn to create the academy as it operates today. Their original intent was to work exclusively with professional fighters. But then the academy added an amateur MMA program, keyed toward those individuals with some fighting experience, such as collegiate wrestling, or kickboxing, or karate. Now the organization welcomes those without any previous fighting background, in the form of a beginner program.
In 2015, the academy moved to its current location at 301 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave NE, and since then Jackson Wink MMA Academy has taken the business of mixed martial arts training to an unprecedented level.
State-of-the-art Training Facility Spawns Success
The Jackson Wink MMA Academy offers a state-of-the-art training facility that spans 50,000 square feet, equipped with the newest and most conducive equipment. Part of the attraction is the built-in living accommodations, half a dozen rooms with bunk beds for about eight. The gym is open 24-7 and there are even a coffee shop and barbershop on-site as well as an MMA-themed cafe.
There are about 50 to 60 fighters living at the dormitories at any given time, many of whom are younger than 30 and trying to establish or reshape their lives for the better. On this note, Lyubimov said that the gym emphasizes that the better times of tomorrow are built upon the performances of today.
“Speaking for myself, this gym saved my life,” said Lyubimov. “A lot of kids go into fighting sports from underprivileged backgrounds, bad neighborhoods, crime, and hardships. You get a young kid with no direction into the gym where they can see all the success around them. They see the people who’ve made something out of themselves, and it drives them to do better. Some of the big names in MMA were once living in the dorms, and they’ve fixed themselves, and now they are in the spotlight, going all over the world, and chasing greatness.”
Indeed, greatness is something that Jackson has long established in the Jackson Wink MMA Academy; the Rio Grande High School graduate is considered something of an originator of his line of work. He has trained many successful fighters, including a number of current or former UFC champions and a host of other UFC contenders and combat fighting champions. Among the most recognizable and accomplished of his protégées would be Albuquerque native Holly Holm, inarguably the most successful boxer to ever transition to MMA. Holm is presently the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion.
Beginners Encouraged to Apply
Whether novices, amateurs, or even the sport’s very best, MMA fighters flock to the gym because it is known for producing champions. Lyubimov’s advice for newcomers: don’t wait for a “better time,” because the better times are built on what you do today. MMA training for beginners is as simple as joining the gym and committing to learning at least a few sessions a week.
“The best way to start the process is to submit a training inquiry and submit the questionnaire application on the Jackson Wink website,” said Lyubimov.
MMA is still in its infancy and the academy intends to leave its mark today, tomorrow, and well into the future, and, in the process, flash the spotlight on the city where it was formed.
“MMA is seen as a brutal sport,” said Lyubimov. “But it’s a science in its own way. Fighting is something in our DNA here in Albuquerque. We see it as a sport that puts people on the right track in life and brings good light to Albuquerque.”