To quote Bloody Elbow Editor Emeritus Luke Thomas, Greg Jackson is truly peerless. Jackson is responsible for the ascension of several of MMA's top pound for pound fighters. His work with fighters like Georges St. Pierre and Rashad Evans have made career altering differences and with his latest pupil, the meteoric Jon Jones, on the cusp of glory, the praise continues to build Jackson's profile as the most sought after trainer/coach in all of mixed martial arts. I sat down with Coach Jackson this weekend and in his Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview he talked about being blessed to work with so many great fighters and shared his thoughts on Jones's upcoming title bout with Maurico "Shogun" Rua at UFC 128.
"Well you know we just have to make sure he [Jones] peaks at the right time again," Jackson explained. "That is very important. That he stays creative and in love with it so that he doesn't get burned out. Otherwise we just game plan like we always do, make sure that we watch those things and make sure that he has a good time. It was a real bittersweet moment because Rashad is so close to me and when he got injured and Jon had to step in. It was good for Jon but terrible for Rashad. He had waited all that time to get his shot so there was no celebrating for me."
Jones has quickly risen to a status rarely achieved by young fighters in the sport. The buzz surrounding the Endicott New York native is tremendous and the UFC had to err on the side of caution as they brought the young prospect up through the rankings. The world was supposed to gain an accurate indicator on Jones's progression at UFC 126 as he faced unbeaten wrestling powerhouse Ryan Bader in the night's co-main event. Jones once again showed just a flash of his skill set as he made short work of the TUF winner, submitting Bader in the second round. Immediately following the fight the UFC publically offered Jones the bout with Rua, an opponent who possesses far greater weapons than anything Jones has seen in his young career.
"The thing about that is Jon [Jones] is not a complete fighter yet for me. He's still learning. If he wins this fight against Rua then that is great but if he loses this fight it doesn't really matter to me because he's improving and he's getting better. The Jon Jones you see just turned 23. Wait three years. Wait four years...just wait until we really get him going and then you will see who Jon Jones is. If he can keep his head, stay focused during all of this success and he is "that" individual like GSP is then there are great things in his future."
In addition to the buzz surrounding the title bout at UFC 128 there has been a bit of dust up in the media between Jones and Rashad Evans. After Jones accepted the title fight, Rashad Evans publically stated that he would not face Jones if his friend and teammate were to be successful in defeating Rua at UFC 128. Since that statement Jones has come out to say that while fighting Evans is the last thing he wishes to do, if the UFC and Dana White absolutely demanded, he would take the fight. This prompted Evans to echo the sentiment and while if the matchup were to occur Greg Jackson would have a decision to make, he is positive it isn't the decision that would be the hard part.
"It's definitely difficult and it's a situation that I always up to the fighters and how they feel about it," Jackson replied when asked about teammates fighting one another. "I don't want anything to do with it. But then again I have an easy position. I hold a bucket so it's really not up me."
Regardless if the hypothetical matchup between Jones and Evans ever becomes reality, Jackson first has to get Evans back to action. In a recent interview with Evans he expressed interest in making it back for the July 2nd card and that is a mark that Jackson is shooting for as well.
"I hope so. Rashad is one of the most amazing fighters I have ever trained. He's amazing at what he does, he's so fast and I am so lucky that I get to train him because he is another one of those guys like GSP and Jon Jones in my opinion that really has potential that people really haven't seen yet. I mean you have seen flashes of it but I believe he's really going to shock the world and prove that he is one of the best fighters ever."
Another fighter under Jackson's tutelage who recently found a big victory is former season one TUF winner Diego Sanchez. "The Dream" (as he is now called) defeated Xtreme Couture product Martin Kampmann in a controversial decision victory at UFC Live on Versus 3 last week. Sanchez began his professional career working with Jackson but after issues over Diego's place in the camp's hierarchy arose, Sanchez and Greg Jackson parted ways. For two years Sanchez trained in San Diego but after deciding to return to the welterweight division, he returned to Albuquerque and resumed his training with Jackson.
"He's had two great fights in a row," Jackson stated. "This last fight wasn't as tight as I would have liked and we need to make some improvements but that is what fighting is all about...learning. His fight before this one as well showed good signs and he's unveiled a really good style that we are putting together for him. He did great in this last fight."
Jackson continued as he laughed, "He also received a really good bonus for this fight."
Sanchez has stood out in the minds of MMA fans for his quirky nature nearly as much as the success he's found inside of the octagon. The most recent chapter came in the days leading up to the bout with Kampmann where Sanchez changed his longtime nickname from "The Nightmare" to "The Dream". The Tony Robbins enthusiast hopes the change will serve to promote the positive motivations he currently practices.
"That was all him," Jackson replied when asked about the name change. "Diego is one of those guys and he's constantly looking for new things and ways to reinvent himself. He's always looking for ways to make it exciting so it's a very "Diego thing" or natural progression for him to come up with new stuff."
While Greg Jackson's gym is based out of Albuquerque, his team branches out across North America. Fighters often jump from facility to facility to prepare their teammates for fights and while New Mexico may be the primary location, stops at Grudge in Denver and Tri-Star in Montreal are frequently on the calendar.
"All of us make up one big camp," Jackson explained. "I work with other great people too like Renzo Gracie and Adam Zugec at Zuma MMA. That is on the other side of Canada. You have all of these amazing coaches and I work with all of them...from one side to the other. I am very, very lucky because they are all better coaches than I am and I'm very lucky they keep me around."
Another fighter who Jackson is credited in helping take his game to the next level is current UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. Since losing to Matt Serra, St. Pierre has torn through the division and not only regained the belt but has also successfully defended the strap on five occasions with a potential sixth coming at UFC 129 against Jake Shields.
"I'm just proud to be a part of the process," Jackson replied when asked about St. Pierre. "I feel pride that I am included. I still feel I'm a kid from the south valley of Albuquerque New Mexico and sometimes I look back and just say "Holy Cow" when I look at these amazing martial artists that choose to work with me. I'm just so blessed."
The majority of Greg Jackson's work may come behind closed doors but due to the level of success his fighters have reached, Jackson has become a very visible individual in the sport of MMA.
"Public awareness is the number one thing I've noticed," Jackson answered when asked about changes in the sport of MMA. "I'm nobody. I'm a coach and I get recognized everywhere. It's crazy. Old people, young people...the demographic is all over the place and that recognition was never there before. Don't get me wrong, a lot of people still have no idea but at least they are starting to hear about it. The money and the public recognition have been huge changes and while the Gracies started it, a lot of that credit goes to Dana White and the UFC. They have really taken things to where we can all make a great living at it so I'm always deeply indebted to all of those people."