ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A sign at the entrance of Jackson Wink MMA Academy boasts that behind its doors "walk the greatest fighters in the world." And those with dreams of becoming the next great mixed martial arts fighter flock here from around the world.
The academy's team of coaches has trained some of the sport's top fighters and transformed itself from a small, obscure gym in a rough part of Albuquerque to a 10,000-square-foot facility located a block from the historic Route 66.
Among those who train at the gym are UFC bantamweight champion Holly Holm and former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon "Bones" Jones.
"You got to go where the best are to be the best," said Dominic Waters, a UFC welterweight fighter who left California for Albuquerque to train at the gym. "That, in a nutshell, is why I'm here."
The athletes say they are attracted to the gym not only because of the coaching but also for the city's high altitude, nearby mountains and weather that complement all-year training.
Before MMA's rise, Albuquerque was a popular boxing training spot, producing such legends as Johnny Tapia and Danny Romero.
Started in 2007, the gym was a partnership between Greg Jackson, a martial arts instructor who once shunned competitive fighting, and Mike Winkeljohn, a former kickboxer and 5th degree black belt in Kempo Karate.
Around 100 or so fighters train at the gym. The facility also has dormitories and apartments for athletes. Admission is based on past performances, tapes of bouts or training, and recommendations.
The pair has brought a new training style and philosophy that centers on humbleness and aggressive fighting borrowing from a variety of traditions, said Josh Nason, an MMA writer for the Wrestling Observer, a website that covers mixed martial arts.
"They've had a huge effect on the sport," Nason said. He said the gym's philosophy on humbleness counters much of the trash-talking associated with most fighters.
Cody East, a heavyweight fighter who was recently signed with UFC, said the all-star cast of athletes, which includes some current and former champions, "humble" all incoming trainees and helps put in place anyone who tries to overstep a welcome.
"If you come to Jackson's and you have the right attitude you're not going to get star-struck. You come to Jackson's because you want to be the best in the world," said Phil Hawes, a former New Jersey resident and fighter with Titan FC.
During a recent training session, Hawes sparred with Jones before moving on to East.
Holm (10-0) was scheduled to train in the gym later, but officials said she had been overwhelmed with interview requests and wanted to concentrate on her upcoming fight. She is scheduled to fight against Meisha Tate (17-5-1) on Saturday at UFC 196 in Las Vegas.
Co-owner Mike Winkeljohn said the advantage of having the gym in Albuquerque is that the low-key city doesn't have the "distractions" that could "get fighters in trouble" as larger cities. He said each fighter gets individual attention, superstar or not.
"We become part of their team," he said. "No egos here."
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