Jackson Wink MMA Academy: “An Intense Place”
There’s all the familiar sounds: the hum of airdyne bikes whirling; fighters hanging out on the edges of the mats and chatting; a lone walk-in digging fists into a heavy bag.
In a lot of ways, it’s like any other MMA gym.
But when you walk into Jackson Wink, the first thing you see is the writing on the wall.
Anyone who knows Jackson Wink knows that’s no exaggeration. When you hit those doors, you’re about to enter where the likes of Holly Holm, Jon Jones, Cub Swanson, Diego Sanchez, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, “Groovy” Lando, and other MMA superstars train.
It’s a surreal feeling stepping onto those mats.
My Road There
Jackson Wink was my destination of choice for a couple of reasons:
- It was my dream to train at one of the best MMA gyms in the world.
- I wanted to go on an adventure to see what I was capable of physically, mentally and emotionally.
I went as part of their MMA Fan Adventure program. I initially felt that I may not be the demographic Jackson Wink was after with this program. I am, of course, a fan of the sport, but I also train seriously in MMA.
However, the opportunity to get private lessons with their head coaches, a one-on-one with Coach Wink or Greg Jackson, was too big to ignore. This could be life-altering.
The facility is a two-story building in the heart of downtown Albuquerque.
There are two cages on the first level, along with the mats, bags, locker rooms, women’s dorms and a small weight-lifting area. The second level holds the men’s dorms, kitchen and laundry room. Gloves and other pieces of gear litter various areas of the gym. A glimpse underneath either cage reveals a sea of lost training gear.
I was told there were about 40 men’s dorms and 2 women’s dorms. The dorm rooms have two bunk beds to hold up to four fighters per room. I stayed with Yana Kunitskaya and a visitor from Canada.
When there isn’t training, fighters are often relaxing in their rooms, or eating. There’s not a lot else to do in Albuquerque other than train, rest and eat. Before the end of my trip, I would be told by multiple individuals, including Michelle Waterson and Jon Jones, that Albuquerque is a “fighting town.”
Pro sparring takes place in the morning from 9:30-11:30 (first hour heavyweight, second hour lightweight), and amateur classes are run from 12-1.
Being there for a short time, I tried to take as many classes as possible; I was allowed to take both pro and amateur classes. I was pleased that I could keep up. The amateur program at Jackson Wink is highly competitive with lots of talented prospects lurking about.
The hardest part of training at Jackson Wink was the back-to-back training sessions. Classes are cut pretty close together with just a two or three hour break between.
Every striking and MMA class includes sparring. Every. Single. Class.
If we were instructed to spar at the beginning of class, it served as a warm-up, and was light and technical with the intention of movement and awareness (although, like in any gym, when the word “sparring” is mentioned, some people are just unable to go purely light, so yes, there were those people at Jackson Wink as well).
Most of the hard sparring was saved for the morning professional and amateur sparring classes, though even those practices included intense drilling as well.
A class would typically go something like this:
- Warm-up – Consisting of jogging or light sparring, switching to new partners approximately every three minutes.
- Technique & drilling – In an MMA class, you may focus your drilling on working against the wall/cage, breaking grips, or takedown defense.
- Four to six rounds of sparring.
Everything is geared towards MMA, and I mean everything. This is particularly evident in the focus on stance, clinch work, takedowns, working bad positions offensively and defensively, etc.
The biggest difference to adjust to was the frequent switching between partners during drills, forcing you to constantly work with varying abilities, sizes and genders. Additionally, we never did any standard warm-ups like jump roping in Muay Thai or specific drills for jiu jitsu (although in some of the classes we ran laps and did bear crawls, cartwheels, sprints, leg swings, etc).
Wednesdays are said to be the hardest at Jackson Wink. Wrestling takes place from 10-11 am for professional fighters, and features an hour-long grueling session of non-stop drilling. We worked in groups of threes doing various drills such as winner stays in, loser stays in, and singles and doubles against the wall.
5:00 am – Wake up.
8:30 – Pass by Greg Jackson who is working out on the way to locker room. I ask him what music he’s listening to. His response? “Epic.”
9:45 – The pros are drilling: Holly Holm, Michelle Waterson, Cowboy Cerrone, Jon Jones – – just to name a few.
10:30 – Pro sparring.
We do offensive and defensive work during warm-ups. Yana Kunitskaya is my partner and she tells me to stop running from her. What can I say – I was a little scared.
I’m honored to spar with Michelle Waterson, who is incredibly kind. After my third round with Jon Jones, he gives me some feedback, which is pretty cool. After class, Izzy Martinez asks me to be a body for Waterson to practice takedowns on (I say yes).
12:00 pm – Amateur MMA.
We do a lot of drills in this class. We start with sparring movement warm-ups. We work very simple combos during drilling. Lots of pivot steps to round kicks.
3:30 – Work grappling with head coach Joey Villasenor. We work on half-guard sweeps, butterfly hooks and bulldog chokes.
4:30 – Grappling. Some side control technique and then rolls.
After class has ended, fighters adjourn to their rooms or elsewhere. The mats will be empty for a couple of hours, but eventually fighters start crawling out of their dorms to train or workout again.
You may even see pro fighters holding pads for one another as late as 11 pm. People train all hours of the day here.
One of my favorite experiences at Jackson Wink was witnessing a bunch of fighters pumping one another up as they took turns taking ice baths. Seeing a bunch of grown men shivering in their spandex is a sight to see. I even jumped in and took part of the fun.
If it’s early enough in the day, you may see the pros working one-on-one in the cage. While I was there, Jon Jones was in camp for Daniel Cormier, as was Donald Cerrone for Robbie Lawler.
What Makes It Special
There are a lot of things that set Jackson Wink apart: from the high quality amateur and professional coaching to the training partners, it’s a special place. It’s not everyday you’ll train with mega talent across all levels.
But it really comes down to the attendees and what they’re there to do. It’s apparent to me that those who come to Jackson Wink are there for one reason: to be the best in the world and to focus solely on this mission.
Fighters come from all over the world to train there. They talk about how they’re going to shock the world, how they’re the best, and how nothing is going to stop them. They leave their families, spouses, friends and careers to come to Jackson Wink.
They give up everything to be there and pursue their dreams.
There’s not a lot of joking around during practice at Jackson Wink. Folks there are serious, determined — focused. They have an important job to do: master their craft. In fact, you won’t find too many hobbyists at Jackson Wink. It’s that intense of a place.