No sport does contrast quite like mixed martial arts does. The fighters are almost cartoonlike physical specimens, all Michelangelo muscles and cables of veins. Yet, on the interior, they are some of the most delicate -- sometimes even damaged -- and gentle souls you could hope to meet.
The UFC, the sport's undisputedly dominant organization, is a case study in slick marketing and new school media, going so far as to broadcast undercard fights on Facebook and give fighters financial rewards for upping their Twitter following. Yet the sport itself is powerfully raw, old school and stripped of gloss. Two fighters -- wearing only shorts, gloves and abundant tattoos -- enter a chain-link octagon. They fight. One wins. One loses.
Maybe most significantly, there's this: MMA is the ultimate individual sport, gladiatorial combat stripped to its essence. Yet it's also a team sport. You can't train alone. You can't spar by yourself. You also can't deal with the rhythms -- the surges, the setbacks, the uncertainty, the intensity two or three fights a year, buffeted by months of training and contemplation -- in solitude.So it is that fighters align themselves with camps. They don't just train together; they exist together, sometimes even living at the facility. For all the mythology of conventional teams bonding during road trips, long bus rides and flights, they seldom sleep together at the stadium. Like families, each MMA camp is different in its own way, almost like its own nation-state, flush with its own customs, ethical code, hierarchy, economy, even dialect.
Located on a charmless Albuquerque sidestreet, the Jackson/Winkeljohn gym is arguably the most successful, and inarguably the most unusual camp in MMA today. The roster of past and current fighters speaks for itself. Georges St-Pierre and Rashad Evans are among its alums. Jon Jones, the UFC current light heavyweight champ and brightest star in the MMA cosmos, is the camp's current alpha dog. But the gym is built in the image of two contrasting coaches, Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn. And that's makes the place what it is. -- Jon Wertheim
War And Peace In Jackson's GymProduced By:Jon Wertheim, Collin Orcutt
The soul of America's fastest-rising sport can be found in a desert octagon where mysticism mingles with mayhem. This is where the best of MMA come to train. Click below to watch each individual episode.
MECCA OF MMA: JACKSON/WINKELJOHN GYMHundreds of fighters have decamped to the mecca of MMA on a hardscrabble Albuquerque street far from the glittering venues where the slickly packaged UFC cards are held.(click to play)
THE FACES OF JACKSON'S GYMMeet some the best of the best in the MMA, the fighters who train out of the Jackson/Winkeljohn Gym in Albuquerque, N.M.(click to play)
INSIDE THE OCTAGON: CLAY GUIDAGet an inside look at how MMA fighter Clay Guida trains at Jackson/Winkeljohn Gum as he prepares for his upcoming bout against Gray Maynard.(click to play)
INSIDE THE OCTAGON: DIEGO BRANDAOA behind-the-scenes look at how Brazilian fighter Diego Brandao, winner of The Ultimate Fighter 14 featherweight tournament, trains at Jackson/Winkeljohn Gym.(click to play)
MMA TRAINING CAMP: THE HILL RUNIntense training: Mike Winkeljohn puts his fighters through grueling training runs in the Sandia Mountians of New Mexico(click to play)
DORM TOUR AT JACKSON'S GYMA number of MMA fighters take dedication to a new level by sleeping at the Jackson/Winkeljohn Gym in Albuquerque, N.M.(click to play)
BEHIND THE SCENES: CLAY GUIDABehind the scenes with Clay Guida, who lives at an RV park while training at the Jackson/Winkeljohn Gym. Guida is a former wrestler who worked as carpenter before climbing the lightweight ranks.(click to play)