Questions and answers: Am I a professional or even amateur fighter? No. Do I have an expert grasp of the fundamentals of any one of the disciplines that make up MMA? No. Do I have intimate knowledge of Greg Jackson’s approach to training and coaching? No.
Have I watched hundreds, if not thousands of MMA fights? Yes. Do I follow the sport almost obsessively, spending far more time ruminating about its nuances than any sane person not professionally involved in the sport should? Yes. Did I once engage in a drunken “voice-off” with Michael Schiavello? That’s private.
What I am saying is that I am an MMA fan. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less. With that in mind, bear with me while I offer my two cents on what specifically makes Greg Jackson the best coach in MMA today.
I GOTTA’ BE ME:
There are those in the MMA community that have accused Greg Jackson’s fighters of being boring tacticians, an opinion with which I completely disagree. Is Donald Cerrone a boring fighter? How about Carlos Condit? Leonard Garcia? Melvin Guillard? Keith Jardine? Jon Jones? Jackson’s fighters are all tacticians, but most of them are far from boring. Of course, the criticisms of his talented MMA stable were spawned not by the fighters previously mentioned, but in response to the portion of his team that has employed wrestling-centric attacks and position control as a means to dominating decision victories (GSP, Rashad Evans, recent Clay Guida). However, I see the same overriding philosophy at work in all of these fighters games- Jackson does not teach his fighters to play it safe, he helps them to discover and emphasize what they do best and use it appropriately. This approach is just as apparent in the diverse and rambunctious striking attack of Cerrone as it is in the dominant, tactical grappling of GSP. Jackson does not try to force a predetermined style upon his fighters, rather, he observes a fighter’s inherent stylistic tendencies and builds the training and game plan around that, an approach that does not curtail the individual athlete’s natural strengths, but embraces them. In other words, Cerrone is never going to be the wrestler that GSP is and GSP is never going to have the no holds barred striking of Cerrone, despite training or practice...and that’s okay. In fact, not only is it okay, but by accepting these inherent elements of physique, physiology and disposition Jackson is able to help his fighters build the most effective style FOR THEM as an individual.
STEP INTO MY OFFICE:
There may be no aspect of MMA that is more consistently frustrating to watch than the cornering of a fighter between rounds, especially a fighter who is exhausted, battered into a daze or down on the score cards. How many times have you seen a physically and mentally drained fighter return to his corner only to be yelled at by three different people, simultaneously offering 3 different pieces of contradictory advice that couldn’t possibly be put to use in the next 5 minutes? How about when coaches spew out a rambling, overly complex monologue complete with EVERY possible thing the fighter could be doing better while the fighter stares into space like he’s trying to remember which continent he’s on? Or coaches that, between rounds 2 and 3, blatantly disregard the very likely fact that there fighter is down 2 rounds to nothing and allow the fighter to continue to delude themselves that they can coast in R3 to a decision victory.
Jackson gets it right. The very first thing he does is sit the fighter down and put them in the right frame of mind to actually absorb what he is going to tell them. Using breathing techniques and a calm, direct tone of voice, Jackson takes the fighter out of the chaos of the preceding round and allows them to mentally and physically reset. Once they are calm and lucid he delivers useful, clear advice in portions that can be digested by a man or woman with 45 seconds to spare in between some of the most grueling 5 minute periods of their lives.
DARWIN WOULD BE PROUD:
One of things I find most interesting about MMA is its constant evolution. From the Jiu-Jitsu dominant days to the era of the wrestlers to the modern, well-rounded mixed martial artist, we are constantly seeing the rise of new, effective techniques and, in response, the development of a counter technique or defense. In order to remain competitive in this shifting landscape, one must constantly be honing and perfecting new attacks and defenses. Greg Jackson seems to understand this perfectly, as his fighters always seem to be on the cutting edge of mixed martial art technique.
The best example of this is Jon Jones, whose spinning elbows, front-leg low side kicks and fight-stopping elbows from inside the guard have no-doubt changed the way many fighters think about these tools. Now, Jones, of course, is a uniquely skilled and naturally creative fighter, but there are few fighters in Jackson’s camp that do not consistently impress with a wide variety of new, unorthodox, fresh skills (Cub Swanson comes to mind). There’s no resting on your laurels in MMA and neither is there in Jackson’s training camp.