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Team effort keeps top gym in business

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Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA general manager Ricky Kottenstette is one of the people behind the scenes who takes care of the business side of operating one of the world’s top professional mixed martial arts gyms. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA general manager Ricky Kottenstette is one of the people behind the scenes who takes care of the business side of operating one of the world’s top professional mixed martial arts gyms. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Dana White, the UFC’s outspoken president, likes to call Albuquerque’s Greg Jackson “a businessman.”

If that’s true, he’s a reluctant one.

“I can’t stand it,” Jackson, one of the world’s most successful MMA trainers, says regarding the financial aspects of running one of the world’s most successful MMA gyms.

“I can’t stand any of it. I just want to do the part that I love (training fighters).”

Fortunately, regarding the business, Jackson has plenty of help.

His wife, Stephanie, keeps the books.

“I manage the finances, yeah,” she says. “Greg has never cared about the financial side of it.”

Ricky Kottenstette, general manager at Jackson-Winkeljohn Mixed Martial Arts, runs the gym.

“Basically,” Kottenstette says, “I’m coordinating between managers, agents, fight promotions, the gym, coaches, monies, the financial side. I basically traffic-direct all that stuff.”

Mike Winkeljohn, the other half of Jackson-Winkeljohn, makes sure fighters pay their dues.

“I don’t like that dynamic between me and the fighters,” Jackson says. “I don’t like asking them for money. Thank goodness, Wink’s taken a lot of it over. I’m so happy about that, because Wink, he is a business guy. He wakes up for it and goes to bed the same way.”

While there might be tons of money to be made in MMA, Stephanie Jackson says, her husband isn’t making as much of it as some might think – at least, not from the pro gym itself.

“Not at all,” she says, when asked if Greg Jackson is getting rich from the profits at Jackson-Winkeljohn. “… I don’t know any coaches that make a lot of money.”

Fighters’ purses vary widely from organization to organization, and even within the UFC. There is no typical payment.

Jackson-Winkeljohn’s Jon Jones, the UFC light heavyweight champion and generally acknowledged as the best fighter pound for pound in the sport, made a reported $400,000 for his victory in April over Glover Teixeira.

At the June 7 UFC Fight Night Card at Tingley Coliseum, Albuquerque’s Diego Sanchez was paid $140,000 – half of that for fighting, the other half for taking a victory by hotly disputed decision over Englishman Ross Pearson.

John Dodson, Sanchez and Jones’ Jackson-Winkeljohn teammate, is the No. 1 UFC challenger in his weight class. But he made only $40,000 – $20,000 for fighting, $20,000 for winning – for his June 7 victory over John Moraga.

Winkeljohn and Greg Jackson typically get 10 to 15 percent of a fighter’s official earnings, Stephanie Jackson says. Customarily, they’ll share that split with Brandon Gibson and Mike Valle, who also coach at Jackson-Winkeljohn.

“It doesn’t add up to Greg making a lot of money,” Stephanie Jackson says.

Nor, says Kottenstette, is the gym itself a gold mine.

Kottenstette came to Jackson as a student in 1997. Not always able to pay, he made himself useful by helping organize Jackson’s finances at his old gym on San Mateo Place Northeast.

“I helped him set up his first billing system, because he never had one,” Kottenstette says. “Everything was just, ‘Hey, pay me when you can.'”

Things are far more structured now, Kottenstette says, but the bottom line hasn’t changed all that much.

“Most people think we’re rolling in money,” he said. “But with the bigger operation and the bigger amount of people that are in here, it takes more people to run it.

“A certain portion of (the gym dues) goes to the overhead – lighting, electricity, insurance. You’d be surprised at how much insurance costs in a facility where guys beat the crap out of each other.”

Yet, Jackson has other revenue streams.

He conducts seminars. He’s a published author, having written two books on MMA: “The Ground Game” and “The Standup Game.” He teaches self-defense to military and police, and has been an advisor on movie sets and TV productions.

In addition to their pro gym in southeast Albuquerque, the Jacksons have their Martial Arts & Fitness Academy in the Northeast Heights.

“Those are two separate entities, two separate businesses,” Kottenstette says.

There’s also the Jackson’s MMA Association, founded to distribute an MMA curriculum Jackson has developed.

“We developed this curriculum and we started selling it around the world,” Kottenstette says. “Jackson’s MMA Association enables people from all around the world, at a very reasonable price, to come together to learn Greg’s knowledge.”

When White called Jackson a businessman, he didn’t mean it as a compliment. He was suggesting that the Albuquerquean’s reputation as an almost monastic devotee of the martial arts was a fraud.

Not so, say those close to him. He’s a teacher first, they say, a competitor second, a businessman somewhere far down the line.

“Greg is such a nice guy,” says Kottenstette, “that a lot of these (fighters) will come to him, and say, ‘Hey, Greg, I’ve got this going on in my life, this is happening in my personal life and I can’t catch a break.’

“Greg never got into the sport for money, so he’ll give every single one of those guys a pass in there.”

If there’s a businessman within the tandem of Jackson and Winkeljohn, it’s not Jackson.

Winkeljohn and his wife, Heather, have their own gym in far Northeast Albuquerque, where they teach MMA and self-defense. Winkeljohn has a degree in business administration from the University of New Mexico and operates a commercial contracting business.

“Wink will put the hammer down and say (to fighters), ‘Hey, you’ve got to pay,'” Kottenstette says. “Since Wink’s kind of started to head that part of the program up, a lot more guys are paying now.

“Our goal is to have 100 percent on that, but at the same time, that goes against what Greg has always been about, and that’s helping people.”

Helping fighters would be an easier task in a bigger, newer expanse than is provided by the current, cramped, dark and dingy pro gym on Acoma SE. Winkeljohn is in charge of that project, as well.

“Our hopes and dreams,” Winkeljohn says, “are early next year to have a new, modern facility that shows Albuquerque what the rest of the world already knows: that this is where people come to train for MMA.”

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