Twelve major players in the past, present and future of mixed martial arts in Albuquerque:
GREG JACKSON: All roads led to his old gym on San Mateo Place. That’s where it started.
MIKE WINKELJOHN: Perhaps best known in Albuquerque as the trainer of world champion boxer Holly Holm, he’s better known elsewhere as the standup coach at Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA. His partnership with Jackson has taken MMA in the city to new heights.
DIEGO SANCHEZ: Jackson didn’t want Sanchez, one of Albuquerque’s pioneer MMA fighters, to participate in the inaugural “The Ultimate Fighter” on Spike TV in 2005. Now, Jackson says, “Thank God he did.” Sanchez’s victory in the TUF finale made him the school’s and the city’s first UFC contract fighter. Many more would follow.
CHRIS LUTTRELL: One of Jackson’s first students, Luttrell was a competitor in grappling tournaments that helped shape the team’s identity and was a major contributor to Jackson’s “Gaidojutsu” style of submission fighting. Plus, it was Luttrell who introduced Jackson to Winkeljohn.
TOM VAUGHN: One of Jackson’s first black belts, Vaughn worked for Jackson until striking out on his own and establishing his FIT-NHB gym with his wife, Arlene Sanchez Vaughn. While Jackson speaks affectionately of Vaughn, there clearly is an edgy, Avis vs. Hertz rivalry between the two gyms.
KEITH JARDINE: “The Dean of Mean” followed Sanchez into the Ultimate Fighter and became Jackson’s second fighter to earn a UFC contract. Jardine’s upset of MMA legend Chuck Liddell in 2007 was a major coup for the team.
CARLOS CONDIT: Like Sanchez and John Dodson, Condit, the former UFC interim welterweight champ, is a home-grown MMA star. The desire to find and develop more local talent is a major reason for the existence of the Jackson’s MMA Series and Jackson’s Protegés Series. Condit is rehabbing a knee injury and is expected back in the Octagon early next year.
JON JONES: As the world’s virtually undisputed pound-for-pound No. 1, “Bones” gives Jackson-Winkeljohn even more leverage in the sport than it had before his arrival.
RASHAD EVANS: Though his relationship with Jackson ended badly, Evans in 2008 became the first full-time Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter to win a UFC title.
ARLENE SANCHEZ VAUGHN: As the standup coach at FIT-NHB, she’s as important to that gym’s success as Winkeljohn is to Jackson-Wink.
RICKY KOTTENSTETTE: As the general manager at Jackson-Winkeljohn, Kottenstette juggles myriad responsibilities. Bottom line, whether it’s promoting the Jackson Series or working with an out-of-state commission to make sure all the proper hoops are negotiated, he makes the fights happen.
HOLLY HOLM: The former boxing world champion, arguably the most popular athlete in the city, is 7-0 in the cage. Potentially a better MMA fighter than a boxer because of her powerful kicks, she’ll be competing in the UFC soon.
TWELVE MORE, in no particular order: Thomas Schulte, Julie Kedzie, Michelle Waterson, Joey Villaseñor, Jon Judy, Tim Means, Ray Borg, Donald Sanchez, Ray Yee, Mikey Lovato, Gerald Lovato, Lenny Lovato.