The man who said it and the one he was talking about have long since moved on.
But don’t think UFC President Dana White’s infamous 2012 blast of Albuquerque fight guru Greg Jackson is forgotten inside the walls of the Jackson-Wink MMA Academy – the gym where some of the world’s best mixed-martial artists converge to try to perfect their craft.
“I’ll go on the record saying this guy is a (expletive) sport killer,” White once said of Jackson, who advised then-champion Jon “Bones” Jones not to take a short-notice fight that the UFC wanted him to take.
Well, the sport, and the UFC in particular, seems to have weathered the storm just fine.
In fact, the UFC is now counting on several Jackson-Wink fighters to play big roles in continuing the recent successful run of record-setting pay-per-view events well into 2016.
Four New Mexico residents and Jackson-Wink fighters, including three who were born and raised in Albuquerque, are headliners for UFC championship belts between Sept. 5 and Jan. 2.
“We’re not killing the sport. We’re evolving the sport,” said flyweight title hopeful John Dodson, who fights Demetrious Johnson at UFC 191 on Sept. 5 in Las Vegas, Nev. “… I guess people that say we’re sport killers, they’re correct. We’re killing the chances of anyone else at having a title.”
Dodson, the former state wrestling champion at Moriarty High School who grew up in Albuquerque, says he’s batting leadoff for the team in his main-event fight with Johnson next week. It’s a rematch of a 2013 loss many consider Johnson’s toughest championship defense to date.
On Nov. 14, Cibola High graduate Carlos Condit headlines UFC 193 from Melbourne, Australia, where he’ll take on welterweight champion Robbie Lawler.
On Dec. 19, Edgewood resident Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, who was born in Denver but has called the Albuquerque metro-area home for years, headlines the nationally televised “UFC Fight Night” on Fox from Orlando, Fla., with a lightweight title shot against Rafael dos Anjos.
Then, on Jan. 2 in Las Vegas, comes the bout that has had the MMA universe buzzing the past few days: Manzano High graduate Holly Holm challenges the sport’s most dominant current champion, Ronda Rousey, for the women’s bantamweight title.
“We’ve never had a four- or five-month span like this where we have championship fight after championship fight,” said Jackson. “I think we’ve lost one fight in the UFC in the last six months, so we’ve been doing extremely well. But that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t go south tomorrow.”
There is no question the energy level and optimism around the gym, a facility that has been open just two months, is running at a very high level.
“The vibe is awesome,” Condit told Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour podcast on Monday. “These title fights can go either way. I think all of us are underdogs, but honestly I don’t think that means a whole lot. I see at least a couple of titles coming back to Albuquerque in the next five or six months.”
It’s not just the title shots that will keep the gym busy in the coming months. Several other fighters – including Andrei Arlovski who has a co-main event heavyweight bout against Frank Mir at UFC 191 next week – have key fights in their careers that could position them for future title shots.
And none of this is to ignore that somewhere on the horizon is the return of Albuquerque resident Jones, under indefinite suspension from the UFC after the April hit-and-run case for which he still might face charges.
The gym is hopeful that the next five months serve as a reminder to the fight world that Albuquerque is a place that still produces combat sports champions.
“The Bob Fosters. The Danny Romeros and Johnny Tapias. The kickboxers who came along who didn’t get as much notoriety – that’d be me. Albuquerque is all about that. It’s about fighting, and hopefully Albuquerque supports us even more,” said Mike Winkeljohn, the other man behind the gym that has become the home of some of MMA’s most dominant athletes.
Now, the task at hand for the Jackson-Wink team is trying to diffuse the hype, making the next five months of title fights business as usual.
“To me, it’s just a process,” Jackson said. “We get world titles; we don’t get world titles; it’s not that big a deal to me. If you put that pressure on yourself, you’re already thinking past the fight. You’re thinking of the accomplishment, and that’s the wrong thing to think of. You need to think of the fight and solely of the fight, and then the accomplishment will take care of itself.”
ANOTHER BIG ONE: The UFC on Tuesday announced another Jackson-Wink fighter will be added to the Dec. 19 card in Orlando along with Cerrone’s headlining title fight.
Heavyweight Alistair “The Demolition Man” Overeem, who trains at Jackson-Wink by way of the Netherlands, will fight Junior Dos Santos in the co-main event.
MOVING ON UP: For those not paying attention, Albuquerque has not been a one-horse town in the MMA world for years.
While Jackson-Wink still gets the most publicity and attention, the team at FIT-NHB also continues to gain respect in the sport.
Albuquerque fighter Ray Borg, who had a dominant unanimous decision win over Geane Herrera on Aug. 8 in Nashville, Tenn., moved up to No. 12 in the UFC’s latest flyweight rankings released Tuesday.
In the next five months, four who train at Jackson-Wink MMA and call New Mexico home could bring back UFC world championships