Sitting down with free-thinking MMA trainer Greg Jackson
Everything having anything to do with mixed martial arts gives rise to immense contention, so it's a mark of the enormous respect in which the trainers at Albuquerque's Jackson's MMA are held that nearly no one would argue that they rate with anyone in the world. Their fighters, men such as Georges St-Pierre, Rashad Evans, Jon Jones, Nate Marquardt and Shane Carwin, tend to be not just successful but brilliant, working in a cerebral style that leaves opponents looking not just outmatched, but unrefined.
Earlier this week I spoke with Greg Jackson, the camp's front man and ground wizard, and Mike Winkeljohn, the stand-up coach and strategist who isn't quite as well known as Jackson, but whose importance to the team might be best expressed by the fact that its name is actually Team Jackson-Winklejohn. You get the sense, talking to both, that they're halves of the same mind, Jackson tilting slightly toward theory and Winkeljohn slightly toward practice, and that this is a mind operating at a level well above most of the competition. At any rate, what follows is a transcript, edited for clarity, of my conversation with Jackson; in future we'll run a transcript of my conversation with Winklejohn. There is a lot for any fight fan to learn from listening to these two, ranging from the key to effective striking to exactly what Johann Sebastian Bach, John Dewey and Charlie Parker have to offer a fighter.
Our job is to get you to that place where you're going to break, and keep you out of the places that you want to stay, that are comfortable, like living in a mansion for instance. We want to take you, psychologically, out of that nice comfortable mansion and put you in a place where you just want to give up. And the process of doing that can be pretty intricate, depending on the fighter, or it can be pretty straightforward. But that's what it's really all about, is breaking the other person's will.
Bearing in mind Jackson's warnings about numbers, to go by them Saturday's lightweight title fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard is going to be more in the line of a chess match than anything that will excite that part of the crowd that just wants to see a lousy kickboxing match.
According to Fight Metric, UFC's statistical service, Edgar ranks first all time in strike avoidance among fighters who have had at least 500 shots thrown at them. As will surprise no one who saw him slipping B.J. Penn's jabs as if Penn had something other than astoundingly good boxing technique, Edgar's opponents have a striking accuracy of just 24.5 per cent. Maynard, meanwhile, ranks fourth, at 26.6 per cent. Since neither man is in his own right a striking dynamo, this is quite likely to be a five-round battle for positions.
That probably isn't a battle Edgar can win. At 75 per cent, Maynard's rate of successful takedowns is second highest all time, bettered only by Georges St-Pierre. Moreover, he's an exceptional control artist. The first time these two fought, Maynard maintained positional control for 6:18 of a 15 minute fight; Edgar kept it for all of 32 seconds. That's what happens when you're fighting a man who's stuffed 16 of 19 of takedown attempts against him, a rate that will place him fourth all time if he's able to stop one Edgar shot.
Whether this sounds interesting to you is down to taste, but while this is hardly likely to be the most commercially successful bout of the year, it should be one of the more intriguing. There is a lot of sloppy kickboxing to be found up and down fight cards around the world, and next to no tactical defensive fighting on the level Edgar and Maynard can offer. Fighters like these two, UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and Lyoto Machida are probably never going to star in remakes of bad 1980s television shows, but what they do is a fine demonstration of what Jackson is talking about when he says that art can happen when you lock two men in a cage.