Last week on MMA Nation on 106.7 The Fan, I caught up with famed MMA coach Greg Jackson as he prepares Carlos Condit for Dan Hardy (and previously prepared Yoshihiro Akiyama for Michael Bisping) at UFC 120. Jackson seemed as calm as ever, as happy as ever to be doing his normal routine.
Opportunities to pick the brain of the thoughtful in MMA are few and far between, so I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted to know what he considered to be best practices in cornering a fighter, how we responded to Hardy's criticism that Jackson fighters are risk averse and what he fought of the upcoming Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez mega fight. We also talked more sensitive subjects, like the future of Keith Jardine (Jackson says he's got a fight upcoming). Below are Jackson's responses, which are as polite as they are candid, if sometimes buried underneath intentional obfuscation.
To listen to this interview on a mobile device, click here. Audio player:
Full transcript below:
LT: Alright, joining us now is arguably the best coach in all of mixed martial arts. Been on the show many times, always happy to have him back. He's cornering another amazing fighter in another big bout. We want to talk to him about that. He also has a brand new book out that I also want to talk to him about. The one and only, inimitable Greg Jackson joins the show. Greg, how are you, sir?
GJ: Wow, feel great after that introduction. I should have you walk around with me and introduce me everywhere. That'd feel good.
LT: - Laughs - I would do that for you, Greg. I would happily take that mantle. Hey Greg, last week on the show I had on another one of your students: I had on Brendan Schaub.
GJ: Oh yeah, the man, yeah.
LT: Let me tell the sense I got about him. Obviously torn through several guys here in the UFC heavyweight division. And one thing I noticed was that he is just dying to have a tougher fight because he believes he has skills to showcase and that he hasn't had the opportunity to do that. Now, obviously that's a good thing because he's hungry, but let me ask you about the flip side to that: is it too much eagerness? Could that get in the way of a more strategic, cerebral gameplan?
GJ: No, I don't think so, because he's a really sharp guy. So, I think you should be eager to prove yourself and that's kinda what fighting's all about. So, I think it's a really, really good thing. You know, Brendan's not going to be running with his face out in front of him with his hands down and trying to get hit. He's a really smart guy. So, I think that eagerness is going to be nothing but a positive thing for him. I can't wait to see his showcase in the next fight.
LT: Do you ever get bored with MMA? Does it ever get uninteresting?
GJ: Ha, no, not yet. Not yet, but you know what's funny about that is I like to watch zombie movies or horror movies because I enjoy so much seeing what the structure is, like what are the rules, right? Can the ghosts hurt you, can you hurt the ghosts, and then trying to figure out a strategy to deal with that. It's what I do all the time, so I think I would be bored without mixed martial arts, without that constant mental reinforcement, that mental challenge. Even when I'm not thinking about martial arts, yeah, I'm doing that when I watch movies or whatever, so it's kind of how I enjoy spending my time.
LT: Do you ever get sick of talking about it?
GJ: No, not yet either. I love my art, I love it so much my whole life . I'm not sick of it yet. I suppose when I get sick of it it'll be time for me to go, but I'm still pretty excited.
LT: Let me ask you: if you could keep all of your guys, everyone who you train from the highest pro to the newest white belt, you could have the same facility and we transplanted it to, say, I don't know, Kansas City or Boston or New York City or wherever, could you do what you do? I guess what I'm asking is: how important is Albuquerque, how important is New Mexico to you being able to do your job properly?
GJ: Well, the thing about this place is that it's got altitude. It's rough and tumble, I mean, the desert is a place that will forge you. You know, there's not like lush, big trees and big running green rivers. It's a place where it's making you for battle. So, I know all the places to run. I mean, I grew up here, this is like my backyard, this whole state. So, I know where to go, I know at what point and in which fights I want to take to which runs. The landscape around me has become very important. If I had to do it somewhere else I guess I would. Like, if for some reason New Mexico was suddenly shutdown and everyone had to leave, because I have so many great coaches around me do it again somewhere else, but the landscape is part of who we are. You don't really get a sense of that until you're on a sand dune or until you're running next to these cholla cactuses. It's just barren and the sun's beating down on you and you know you're there for war.
LT: Yeah, but see that's a strategic calculation. I guess what I'm getting at is is there something soul satisfying about New Mexico?
GJ: For me it is, yeah. I mean, I love this place. For me, it's a very, I guess "spiritual" is a word that I would be careful with. I love it here. This is like my home, you know? So, I don't want to leave it. Just for me, I sure love it here.
LT: When I was talking to Brendan [Schaub], I mention something about coaching styles. A lot of times - and to some extent it makes sense - my point was a lot of MMA coaches, particularly when they're cornering a fighter they're screaming at the top of their lungs and they're very agitated and they're very intense and aggressive. They're barking commands. Now, I was in the military so for me that makes some kind of sense, but I've noticed you don't really do that, at least not nearly to the same extent and I asked Brendan Schaub about that and he confirmed it. Are you trying to provide a different experience? Why is it that so many coaches are intense and you don't seem to share that kind of coaching behavior?
GJ: Well, I guess it's an individual style. My thing has always been when things are going crazy around you, you need to be kind of calm and calculated and make sure that everything gets taken care of. Just adding to the stress of that isn't going to be able to add anything beneficial to that. So, the way I come at it is I try to get the fighter calm, get them focused. Every once in a while, you know, if they're not performing at the level they're capable of you kind of have to get up on them a little bit, but even that has power because you're always coming at it calmly. So, if you're in a room with a guy that screams all the time, pretty soon you just tune out his screaming. You're like "Ok, he's screaming all the time." But if you're with the quietest, nicest guy and all of a sudden he yells at you after two years that has an impact. You're like "Whoa, I better pay attention." It just seems to me the smarter strategy just to stay calm, cool and collected. If you need to get up on them you can and it'll be more powerful that way. But you don't need to add anything to a stressful situation. You need to be calm and professional about making sure they do their job.
LT: Tell me if I am wrong here. I'm a big boxing fan, I know a lot of MMA guys aren't, but I am.
GJ: Oh, I am, too.
LT: Ok, cool. The difference between boxing and MMA cornering. A lot of times in boxing cornering, let's take Saul Alvarez, this guy I like so much, Canelo. He has a lot of older men who train him and older, wiser men who corner him and it's all about his experience. A lot of times guys in MMA simply have their training partners, other young fighters. I don't mean to diminish their capacity to give good advice, but it's more than just a tradition thing. Why don't more fighters in MMA seek the advice of more, I don't know, tenured coaches, more tenured veterans when they select their cornerman?
GJ: I think some of that has to do with how young our sport is and there's not a - if I can use a good word - plethora of coaches that are tenured out there. Because our sport is so young we don't have the elder statesmen yet. You know, we have a few that have been around for a while, but there's so many fighters now that I don't think there's a pool for people to draw from, so you're forced to deal with these other guys that are at least as knowledgeable as you are because the sport is so cutting edge everything is changing and evolving all the time right now - the time that we're living in. I just think it's kind of hard for them to do that. They don't really have a guy. You can bring in a great old boxing trainer, but once they start wrestling or going to the ground they're not going to be sure what's happening. They feel uncomfortable, you feel uncomfortable and I think it kind of forces you into that position.
LT: You don't have to name any names and I know you wouldn't anyway, you're too nice of a guy. But name something you've seen - corner advice - and I don't mean obvious stuff like forgetting en swell or the bag of ice or something like that. But in terms of the strategic way in which a corner approached a fight, what is one thing you've seen that's really just made you say, "Wow, that is not the way you do it"?
GJ: Well, that's a very individual thing because you could have a guy that only responds well when you yell at him and so, I don't know if I've ever seen bad cornering that way. And we all make mistakes, maybe call for the wrong thing in the corner because we're off that night it's not working out the way we thought it was. I guess the thing I've seen the most is when people who don't really understand the game and they're trying to give you advice. Not even saying the wrong thing, just not understanding they're saying the wrong thing. So, I've seen that especially on the smaller - not so much on the big shows - but a lot of the smaller shows because you have to remember I've been cornering since '94, I guess.
On the smaller shows, sometimes they don't understand what's going on and they'll tell you to do the wrong things. I think ignorance is the number one sin I've seen in the corner.
LT: I don't want to spend too much time on this topic, but I'm a bit of a nerd so I'm going to push it just a little bit further. Who is a corner you've seen in any sport, I don't care which sport it is, that you admire? That you say, "Wow, that's really great. Everything about that corner is slick and well operated."
GJ: Well, there are some MMA corners like that obviously, but yeah, I really admire a lot of the old boxing corners. Angelo Dundee is, I feel, a great corner because he was able to, like when [Muhammad] Ali was in trouble with Henry Cooper he was able to tear the glove a little more to buy him time. Little tricks like that that a corner can do. And that's been done against me, people accidentally breaking ice bags to give their fighters more time. It's those tricks, but I admire those tricks. I see what they're doing and it's not exactly within the rules, but I'm like "Ok, I wouldn't do that myself, but I admire the strategies. It's very good. "
Or, like another Angee Dundee moment when he was telling Sugar Ray [Leonard] that he was blowing it against Tommy Hearns and kind of motivated him and got him going. Stuff like that I really admire in corners. I really like a lot of the old corners from way back in the old boxing days, so I try to study and learn and emulate the ones I feel are good.
LT: MMA coach Greg Jackson joins the show here at MMA Nation. Alright, coach, you got a big fighter in your midst. You always do, but this one is even bigger. Yoshihiro Akiyama, a very special guy out East. I don't want to get into his whole history. Tell me how it came to pass that he was training with you?
GJ: He came down to get ready for the Bisping fight, which is going to be a very tough fight. He came and spent a couple of weeks in New Mexico and we did what we always do, tried to help him out as best we can while he was here. He's an amazing athlete and a great, great guy and we're really lucky he decided to come down and train with us for a while. And we also have Carlos Condit fighting that same night, so we've two REALLY, really tough fights.
LT: I want to get to Carlos in just a minute. Talk to me a little more about Akiyama. Listen, he's not a Satoshi Ishii kind of judo player, but certainly internationally credentialed. What did you learn from him? How good is his clinch? Talk to me about what kind of experiences you had training with him and that you thought were really impressive?
GJ: I really like how coachable he was is what impressed me about him. You can tell he spent a lot of time in competitive arts because he was very, very easily coachable. He would listen because we had a bit of a language barrier between us it was a lot of fun to see me say a move and show a situation and he immediately picks right up on it. I was really impressed with his ability to pick up things quickly and how coachable he was, especially for having a large language barrier between us. I thought that showed a lot of talent.
LT: In your mind, Karo Parisyan had good judo for guys who, I don't know, I'm not going to say were bad wrestlers, but didn't have a more comprehensive wrestling game. In your mind, can Akiyama bring his judo to bear in a way where he can execute it over Michael Bisping or does he really have to mix it up in this one?
GJ: I think he does have to mix it up. I think Karo Parisyan has amazing judo. I really enjoyed working with him and seeing his judo stuff. And Akiyama, I think, has to mix it up. If you run in and try to grab on to Michael Bisping and throw him with a judo throw you're going to eat a lot of leather and be chasing him all night. I think it's important to mix it up. Of course, judo is always going to be there, it's always going to be an important factor in the fight.
LT: In your mind, what is judo's best asset in MMA? Yeah, they have throws people don't know about, but what makes judo excellent for MMA under the right practitioner?
GJ: I think that it complements wrestling very, very well in a good judo player. The things that you do in judo can be anti-intuitive in wrestling. You think, "Oh, I can take this guy's back or move to this angle a little bit" and then all of a sudden you're flying through the air. And I think it's a great, great - especially against the cage - a great compliment to a good wrestler to have really good judo skills. And it's just a little unexpected, you know what I mean? If you've been wrestling and the other guy's been wrestling and you both wrestle and all of a sudden you're doing these foot sweeps and all that stuff it's just going to add more tools to your game and I think judo's best asset is that it takes stuff that's anti-intuitive and makes it work really well.
LT: Alright, the other guy you're cornering (editor's note: Jackson is only cornering Condit, not Akiyama) is Carlos "The Natural Born Killer" Condit has fought nothing but tough guys his entire career it looks like, fighting another one Dan Hardy from the UK. Dan Hardy has said that Carlos' natural style is to be aggressive, come forward and to fight sort of, bite down on the mouthpiece king of thing, and that you're going to try to disrupt that, his natural rhythm, and that's going to be his undoing. Your comments about Hardy's analysis.
GJ: I'm sure he's entitled to his opinion. I think there's an illusion that I try to make every fighter hyper-conservative, so those of you guys who watch the Donald Cerrone WEC fight (the rematch against Jamie Varner) can see, of course, that Donald isn't hyper-conservative at all and it's all about game plans and individuals. It would be nice to be in a world where I've made everyone run away the whole time and hold people down, but obviously that's not the case. What we try to do is take Carlos' natural style and augment it and the nice thing about Carlos is he really doesn't have a natural style. Carlos natural style is to win and to do what it takes to win. He can move around to do that, he can move forward to do that, he's done a lot of stuff in his career in different fights to come out the winner. That's what we're going to look for.
And I think Dan Hardy is an incredible fighter. I have so much respect for him. When we fought him with Georges [St. Pierre] I was impressed with his toughness. I scouted him a lot then and yeah, I think he's a great fighter.
LT: I have to ask you one question, he's a show favorite. I've had him on the show many times, we wish nothing but the best for his career, but I have a question about Keith Jardine. Listen, he won that third round against Trevor Prangley no doubt about it. He looked great doing it, but my thought was if you're trying to rebuild, a tough guy like Trevor Prangley - maybe that's not the best fight to take outside the UFC. What's next for Keith Jardine? He's a tough guy, listen, Keith Jardine has fought nothing but the best guys in the world since he's been in the UFC, but is he taking the smart fights?
GJ: He's fighting again in a couple of months. I don't know if it's signed yet, so I can't say anything, but it'll be a tough opponent. But not super top A-level that he's been fighting, so it's one of those things where Keith has to get up for a fight and he gets up by giving his opponent a lot of respect and wanting to go to war and stuff. That's really important. The ability to kind of make sure we take a step back and kind of build his career up I think is an important ability for us to have at this point, so we're going to try to do that.
LT: Alright, I want to get to your book here coach before you get out of here. It's available currently on Amazon.com courtesy of Victory Belt. I know the guy who helped you write it, Kelly Crigger, an awesome guy.
GJ: Oh, Kelly's the man, for sure.
LT: He's the man, for sure. Now, I had you on when your striking game book came out, now your ground game book came out. I haven't had a chance to look through it, actually I have a little bit, but not enough to give people a comprehensive sense of things. What is it about this book? There's a lot of books that Victory Belt makes. [Rodrigo] Nogueira's got a book, Anderson Silva's got a book, [Lyoto] Machida's got a book, BJ Penn's got a book, Fedor [Emelianenko]'s got a book. What is it about the Greg Jackson system, what is unique about the content in this book?
GJ: It's grappling for MMA, obviously. It's very comprehensive, you're going to have a lot of different positions and a lot of different moves. On top of all that we've got stuff all fighters need to know like P.R. Cole put a nutrition section in there, so you can understand your diet and how to cut weight and do that whole thing. You've got kind of an entire comprehensive book on not only just MMA techniques and jiu-jitsu techniques on the ground, but also diet and all that stuff as well. We're trying to give you everything you'll need to know to deal with the jiu-jitsu on the ground. Both defending it and standing back up, finishing holds, sweeps, the whole nine yards. We're trying to make it more comprehensive than a lot of books and certainly more well-rounded in the fact that you also have things outside of those techniques like the nutrition section.
LT: Alright, coach, before you get out of here, and again, the book is Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts: The Ground Game. You can get it at Amazon.com, you can get it at Victory Belt's website as well. We'll put a link to it on our station site here. We're asking everyone who comes on the show, no waffling, coach, no waffling. Who do you like: Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez? Make a pick.
GJ: * Laughs * I never make picks because I enjoy the process more than the outcome. I think that if Cain can keep it on his feet and kick box, it's going to be him. If Brock can get it on the ground, it's going to be him. So, it's going to be exciting for me to see who is going to be able to enact their game plan. The ending, to me, isn't nearly as exciting as the process. I'm really excited to see who can impose the process on the other. That's what I'll be looking for.
LT: I lied I have one more follow-up. You deal with tough guys every day of life. The first round [of Lesnar vs. Carwin], a 10-8 round in MMA is not like a 10-8 round in boxing. If you get a 10-8 round in MMA, you got beat on and you got beat on for a sustained period of time. Brock Lesnar clearly lost that first round 10-8 to Shane Carwin. And his response was, "The guy had heavy shots. I was going to sit there and wait it out." Have you ever seen anything like that out of a human being before? That, to me, I mean - that is an athlete of epic proportions. Talk to me about your experiences. Where does that rank in terms of what you've experienced?
GJ: As far as a guy just taking punishment and outlasting the other guy?
LT: As far as a guy calculating himself through a terrible situation to persevere in the end.
GJ: Oh right, that's great, but that's what fighting is. Fighting is sometimes things not going your way, you not panicking, you learning to breathe, you learning to stay calm in the storm, and just keep yourself together. Especially when - you don't see it much in MMA now because the weights are very similar and there's time limits and stuff - but if you're a guy my size, I'm a little 155lbs guy, you're fighting a big giant dude. Even if they're not all that skilled sometimes, you have to be able to weather that storm. So, that is a skill in martial arts that you don't see because the competition is so high and the weights are very similar, weathering the storm is an important factor in MMA as it is in a normal street fight or if you've got no weight classes. But that is an entirely underrated, I guess, skill to have and it's an important skill. Obviously it can pay dividends.
LT: The book, again, is Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts: The Ground Game. It's a compliment to the other book, Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts: The Stand-Up Game. You can get them both at Amazon.com, we'll put up some links to a bunch of places, we'll make sure folks know about it. And, of course, the next event UFC 120, October 16th at the 02 Arena, London, England. This one will be free on Spike TV.
Coach Greg Jackson, congratulations on the book, thank you for being on MMA Nation and best of luck to you at UFC 120.
GJ: Thank you, sir. Thanks for having me.