One of the most successful mixed martial arts gyms in the world is in Albuquerque. In this special, KRQE’s Sports Director Van Tate has highlighted some of the gym’s best fighters ahead of UFC 239. Holly Holm, Jon Jones and Diego Sanchez all had one thing in common; they were teammates at Jackson and Wink. However, on June 24, Sanchez said he has left Jackson and Wink Academy, the gym he has called home for most of his MMA career.
Even though the trio is not training at the same gym, all eyes will be on the Albuquerque fighters during UFC 239.
Jackson and Wink Academy
Mike Winkeljohn and Greg Jackson opened Jackson and Wink Academy in 2007. They turned the old downtown Albuquerque building into the MMA factory. When the duo started out, they never knew they would one day be called the best.
“When we opened this place it would fill up immediately to the point where we had to create new dorm rooms constantly to keep up with the influx of new students,” said Greg Jackson. “I didn’t think it was going to go like that, so it was a very pleasant surprise.”
With UFC champs calling Jackson Wink Academy home, new fighters come from all over the world to train at the gym.
“You know what’s really fun is to see the countries that would never interact with each other. So you have a Mongolian guy hanging out with a British guy, and two cultures that don’t mix all the time. You’ll see them become great friends,” said Jackson. “The interesting thing about watching these guys is that none of them speak the other language, but English they both do alright. Seeing those new connections and new friendships are so fun to be a part of. It’s just amazing to watch the whole world kind of become one behind the banner of martial arts. It’s cool.”
It’s also an advantage for the fighters inside the Octagon. According to Jones, fighters exchange healing methods, ways of eating and learn from each other.
“Everybody gets together, they work out all day long. It’s like a big laboratory and it’s cool because we can show them something and they start doing things,” said Winkeljohn. “I learn more and more just by watching these guys because they’re so talented coming from all around the world. I think that’s why we’re successful, everyone helps each other.”
Jackson and Wink Academy isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. There are plans to expand with fighters still trying to get into the academy on a daily basis.
In November of 2015, Holly Holm took the UFC Bantamweight division by storm when she beat Ronda Rousey for the title. It was just another accomplishment in a combat career that started with an aerobics class.
“I started sparring when I was 17 and had my first fight when I was 18. Turned pro at 20 and now I’m 37,” said Holly Holm. “It’s a crazy path but I definitely feel like I was able to make a career of it.”
It’s a career born out of a choice of which high school to attend. Holm would have gone to Los Lunas High School since that was the school in her district. However, Holm parents wanted her to go to school in Albuquerque.
“I don’t know why we picked Manzano, but that’s where we went and that’s where a couple of my friends were going to this kick-boxing aerobics class at Wink’s gym,” said Holm. “So I thought I’d try it and just walked into uncle John’s gym that was in the area. I mean if I simply hadn’t gone to Albuquerque for high school, I don’t know if I would’ve ever stepped into the ring.”
Holm, 17-years-old at the time and former soccer player, was ready to give combat sports a try. Holm first started as a kickboxer. However, Winklejohn couldn’t find her any fights which then led them to boxing.
“I was like well lets just box then. Little did I know that was going to become my career for a long time,” said Holm.
After winning multiple world Welterweight titles and being considered one of the best in the game, Holm got bored. It wasn’t long before she would find herself on top of the UFC world.
A stunning upset of then Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey in November of 2015 made Holm a star. She became the first female champion with a world title in MMA and boxing, but lost the belt in her first title defense.
Since that time, Holm has also experienced a life change. She divorced her husband Jeff Kilpatrick in 2018. “It was very tough, mostly because who gets married thinking they are going to get a divorce. I really thought this was my soulmate forever. So it was definitely a journey,” said Holm.
Right now, Holm has a world title on her mind. She hopes to recapture the UFC Bantamweight belt when she meets champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 239.
“I want to win, no more losses all the way until I retire. I don’t know when the retirement will be, but this is a new page for me, a new start. My new deal is six fights. I know I’ve had some losses in my past fights but I don’t want that to be clouding my thoughts,” said Holm.
Diego Sanchez is not slowing down anytime soon. It seems like he’s just getting started. “There’s never been a born or bred fighter out of Albuquerque like myself,” said Sanchez.
It’s always been about heart with Diego Sanchez. In 2000 he helped Del Norte High School win a state championship and won the Ultimate Fighter 1 Middleweight title.
“My most memorable win was going out there and competing for the Ultimate Fighter,” said Sanchez. “There was so much on the line and I fought that whole training camp with a broken leg. Two weeks before the fight I finally healed up and I went in there and I didn’t have anything to lose except for this big thing that was my dream.”
Sanchez has been in more UFC Fight of the Year bouts then most of the competitors on the roster. In a city known for combat sports, Sanchez is carving out his own legacy.
At the age of 37, Sanchez believes he has turned back the clock on his MMA career. His last two fights have been a pair of wins. “I’m 37 and I feel better than I did at 21… I feel incredible. I really truly have tapped into something that is more,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez will be honored for some of his work during fight week on July 5. Including for his epic battle in 2009 against Clay Guida which will be entered in the fight wing of the UFC Hall of Fame.
UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones has a title to defend at UFC 239 in Las Vegas July 6. Jones is enjoying another shot at building his legacy the way he believes it should go.
Jones is grateful for where he’s at currently. He’s also chosen to stay away from making bad decisions, which almost ruined his fighting career.
“We all have our stories in life and unfortunately a lot of people don’t come back from the negative things that happen to them in life. Thank god for the resilience and him just being with me throughout all my struggles,” said Jones. “He gave me the strength to find my way back to being on the right track. Now we just got to stay here forever. Retire and do some great things.”