Gloria (Devon Frieder) is shown with some of the Washington Senators, from left, Smokey (Jordan Queen), Mickey (Dennis Wees) and Sohovik (Josiah Cote). (Courtesy Amber Lerae Earls)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There are currently 10 female fighters training at Jackson-Winkeljohn
Greg Jackson has seen it all in the mixed-martial arts game.
The co-architect of what has grown into Albuquerque’s now world-famous Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA gym said one thing he didn’t think he’d ever see was women become truly accepted in the sport.
“I didn’t think it would be in our lifetime that we’d see women in UFC,” Jackson said from a small back corner office in his gym in southeast Albuquerque.
“It’s surprising and it’s encouraging to see the women getting this much attention. They’re always bringing it. There’s no doubt they’ll scrap.”
He would know. He now has 10 female professional MMA fighters training in his gym, including four who have televised prizefights this month alone.
Six years ago, there was only one.
Julie Kedzie, who has become one of the pioneers in the women’s mixed-martial arts game with 27 pro fights on her résumé and plenty of broadcast work, remembers when she was the lone woman in the gym pursuing an MMA career.
Sure, Holly Holm was around training to become the world champion boxer for which she’s most well known, but Kedzie was the gym’s lone woman making a career out of MMA.
“Holly was boxing and beating the hell out of me on her feet,” said Kedzie. “Then there were some girl grapplers who were tapping me out all the time, but now everybody is MMA. …
“It’s very much growing, and you’re seeing people from other sports transition into it, which brings a higher level athlete to the table. It’s really awesome. I’m excited about it.”
In fact, the women’s MMA scene has grown so much that Kedzie will be fighting on national TV on July 27 against Germaine de Randamie on the UFC on Fox 8 card in Seattle. Her fight will be on the cable network FX before the top four fights on the card air on FOX.
You’d be hard pressed to find any women fighting on TV when Kedzie first started at Jackson’s six years ago.
Then things started to change.
Four years ago, fighters such as Emily Kagan, who fights Ashley Cummins on the Invicta FC 6 card Saturday night in Kansas City, Mo., left her home in Maine to join Kedzie and the Jackson’s crew.
“You don’t pack up your car with two months’ planning,” Kagan said, “drive across the country with no friends or no family and with no plan for a job or a place to live – and as a woman, especially – if you’re not ready to commit everything to it.”
Commitment at Jackson’s is not an option. The time and resources of the top trainers in the gym are too precious to waste on fighters not giving themselves entirely to the sport.
Joining Kagan on Saturday’s Invicta card is 25-year-old Norma Center, a former state high school wrestling champion from El Paso who is considered one of the sports top young fighters just two fights into her professional career.
She shares her teammates commitment to the sport.
“If you don’t really want to do this, you don’t come here (to Jackson’s),” Center said. “Who wants to come (and) get punched by Holly Holm all the time?”
As for Holm, whose July 19 fight against Allana Jones at Legacy 21 in Houston will be her first as a full-time MMA pro, the camaraderie and mutual support of the women at Jackson’s is something she hopes will help her reach the same heights in MMA as she achieved as a world champion boxer.
“I don’t want to be behind the curve,” Holm said. “I don’t want this sport to take off without me. I want to learn it, too, and I think that’s what is really good about all of us here.”
That group of 10 female fighters (see the list accompanying this story) at Jackson’s with nicknames like Fireball, The Preacher’s Daughter, The Karate Hottie and Amazon Barbie are now putting the Jackson’s name out there in the MMA world of women’s fighting just as it has become considered by many to be the premier gym for male MMA fighters.
And that’s something Jackson couldn’t be happier to be a part of.
“I know you’re always going to have guys who are insecure say, ‘I don’t want to see a girl get smashed up,’ ” Jackson said.
“That’s just life. That’s the culture, and I’m glad these girls are aiming to change it. I’ve always said if you tell my daughter she can’t do something, then you and I have a problem. It’s good to see these women out there trailblazing.”