ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Why Albuquerque (of all places)?
Greg Jackson grew up here, learned martial arts here, began teaching martial arts here. For Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA, Albuquerque is where it all began.
This question has been asked, however, often and with some validity: Why is Jackson-Winkeljohn still here, after all its success, and not in a bigger, more attractive market?
In the asking of that question, Albuquerque has sometimes taken a beating. Why would Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn et al, choose to remain in a such a poor, crime-ridden burg with so little to offer?
Ben Fowlkes, who covers MMA for USA Today and mmajunkie.com, was a particularly harsh critic – citing Albuquerque’s crime rate and poverty level and wondering in print not just why Jackson-Winkeljohn is still here (of all places), but why anyone would choose to live here.
The answer, says Stephanie Jackson, Greg’s wife, Jackson-Winkeljohn’s keeper of the books and a vice president of the company, is simple.
They don’t see it that way.
“Greg loves New Mexico, and so do I,” she says. “It’s our home. And there has never been any question (about moving). It’s never even come up.”
Actually, says Ricky Kottenstette, it has.
“We’ve been offered millions of dollars to move this gym,” says Kottenstette, Jackson-Winkeljohn’s general manager. “(But) this is where we’re all from – Greg, Wink, myself, Greg’s wife, everybody is from here.
“… We take pride in the community, in building the sport up here. We’ve always been from here, and it makes no sense for us to go somewhere like (Las) Vegas.”
While it might actually make financial sense to move the gym, Kottenstette says Jackson-Winkeljohn has never been built on money. He, Jackson and Winkeljohn all make more money from other related enterprises than from the pro gym.
“That’s what makes us different from everybody else,” he says, “is that we’re not built on that financial model.”
One benefit of Albuquerque’s relative isolation, Kottenstette says, is that there are few distractions for the many fighters who come here to train.
“The party scene, restaurants, hotels, you never run out of things to do in big cities,” he says. “In Albuquerque, there’s the climate and the altitude. And there’s not a ton of things for the guys to do besides focus.”
Stephanie Jackson hails from southern Arizona but moved to Albuquerque in 1996 after college. She has been here since – marrying, raising a family (Samantha, 13, James, 11), working in UNM’s Public Health Program and keeping the books for Jackson-Winkeljohn.
She and her husband have done it all, she says, in the city of their choice – and will continue to do so.
“I’m a Southwest desert girl,” she says. “We like it here.”