(Photo courtesy of JacksonsMMA.com)
Greg Jackson wants to get one thing straight: he did not start the nipple tweak. He doesn’t endorse it and doesn’t seem to understand it any more than the rest of us, and frankly he’s getting a little tired of being associated with the idea of grown men pinching their own nipples on TV. And yet, as long as his fighters keep winning with it, he’s resigned to the fact that it may not be going anywhere.
This is just one of the fascinating topics we covered in our exclusive talk with trainer Greg Jackson. Read on and see what else he had to say.
CagePotato.com: Thanks for talking with me Greg. I know you must be busy with so many different guys fighting in different organizations. Tell me, what’s a typical month like for you? Like the next thirty days, who have you got fighting?
Well let’s see, in the next thirty days we’ve got Donald Cerrone fighting in the WEC in San Diego, and then immediately after that we’ve got Georges St. Pierre defending his title against BJ Penn in Vegas on the 31st, and the after that I don’t have anyone until Nate Marquardt fighting in England on February 21st. After that it heats up again in March.
Does it ever get hard to keep track of so many different guys and their different game plans and strategies?
It’s my job. It’s like anything. If you’ve got a long day ahead of you, you’ve got a long day. I don’t do anything else. I don’t manage. I just train guys and make sure they’re following their own personal growth plan and at the same time that they’re training specifically for their opponent. That’s all I do all day long. Sometimes it seems overwhelming, like when I step back and realize I’ve got eleven different game plans working, but as long as I take it one at a time it’s not a big deal.
B.J., I think, will not gas out in this fight. I don’t know that he gassed out tremendously in the first fight. But it doesn’t matter because B.J. is a different fighter now and so is Georges. They’ve both evolved and changed and I’m expecting quite a different bout the second time.
I think B.J. is going to be in phenomenal shape and be ready to go, and that’s great because you never want a fight with those excuses. You want two fighters at 100%, that’s when it’s the most fun. We don’t count on B.J. gassing at all. He’s an amazing fighter. I mean, holy cow, that guy’s phenomenal. It’s a real honor for me to be coaching a fighter against him. So having B.J. Penn gas out is not part of our game plan, I’ll put it that way.
Where do you think B.J. is most dangerous in a fight?
B.J. is endlessly creative, it’s amazing. His comfort zone is anywhere he’s comfortable. I can’t say too much, but that makes it a real challenge. The stuff he comes up with on the fly, it’s just amazing.
Tell me a little about your background. How did you get into being an MMA trainer?
It all really happened by accident. When I started teaching in ’92, I was all about the street stuff. I didn’t really care about competition. It just didn’t seem relevant to me. All I had grown up with was street stuff. Competition just seemed like karate point-fighting. My students actually talked me into taking up grappling and these old school Vale Tudo-style stuff. So I got into it mainly because they wanted to get into it and wanted me to coach them, but I was never that interested in it. Then I got into it and we started winning stuff and it just grew and grew from there.
What drew you to fighting to begin with?
I was born in Washington D.C. but when I was about six months old my parents moved to Albuquerque. I grew up in the South Valley, which is an amazing place. I was one of the only white kids in the South Valley. It’s a predominately Hispanic area. They have a real machismo culture here and it was basically, can you fight? If you can, you get respected. If you can’t, they really don’t care if you’re a doctor or a lawyer. Some kids, and even some adults, didn’t care if they spent the next night in juvy or the next night at home. It was all the same. The only thing they respected was whether you could fight or not, so I figured I’d better learn how to do that.
Like anyone I got in my fair share of tussles when I was a kid and people wanted to know how I was doing what I was doing. I came from a wrestling background. My father wrestled, my grandfather wrestled, my little brother was a state champion here in New Mexico. So I started teaching classes in ’92 and my students talked me into competition.
What do you think attracts fighters to your gym now?
It’s not just me. That’s an important thing to understand. Even just at this school we’ve got myself and Mike Winkeljohn, who’s a phenomenal striking coach and good on the ground, too. Chris Cottrell is an amazing conditioning coach and strategist. But also people go to Denver and to New York, so we all help each other. It’s a structure that gives you different looks and helps you gain more knowledge.
But what do you think has made your gym so successful?
I really think it’s the guys themselves. We put money on the last tier. That’s a big part of our philosophy. It goes friendship first, the art second, and then money third. So there’s never any money issues between me and the fighters or the fighters and each other.
We’re also very cooperatively competitive. We have a dojo where we don’t fight each other. You can be safe. You can train hard and show a guy everything you have. You can give him your heart and he can give you his. You’re competitive when you spar, but you’re also helping one another since you know you won’t have to fight him. It creates a sharing, all-for-one atmosphere. I think that attracts good fighters and they make each other better.
What about the situation that happened when you brought in Georges St. Pierre and Diego Sanchez wasn’t too happy about it? Isn’t that part of why Diego left, because he felt he wanted to be your guy at 170 lbs. in the UFC?
Diego kind of wanted to go and see the world, so to speak. He had a kid in California and a fiancée there, so he wanted to go to California. I brought Georges in the way I brought Rashad in with Keith, with the idea that these two guys will make each other better. And it worked out like gangbusters, so we were following that formula.
I think maybe Diego got a little upset that Georges was coming in, but at the end of the day you have to trust your trainer. If you don’t trust your trainer, then you shouldn’t be training with him. So at the end of the day he decided to go to California. We’re still on really good terms. We talk all the time and he’s a great guy, just an amazing person, and we wish him the best of luck.
You’d have to ask them that. I just take it fight by fight. All I can say is I would never coach one of my guys against another one of my guys. If you’re on this team, I’ll just never do that. I’ll never coach someone else on the team to fight you. I don’t manage anyone. I’m dumb, but smart enough to know I can’t wear all the hats. All I do is train them, but I wouldn’t train them for that. There are other options. You can change weight classes, you know. There are always options.
How do you go about formulating a game plan for one of your guys? Like for Rashad’s fight with Forrest, how did you put together a strategy for that?
It’s the same way you always go through a game plan. You have to know your enemy and know yourself. You know what Rashad’s good at and what he’s not good at. Then you break down the guy you’re fighting, what he’s good at and what he’s not. It sounds simple, and it really is. You just stop him from doing what he wants to do, hopefully capitalize on it when he tries to do it, and then you keep him out of his comfort zone. Wherever he feels comfortable in a fight, you don’t want him to be there. You stay out of there.
I couldn’t tell you how I do that. I just watch a guy and pick up on things. I’m not a genius at it. Anyone can do it, it’s just preparation. You don’t just have one little idea and the whole fight comes together. Okay, sometimes that happens. But usually it’s real specific stuff: if he does this, you do that.
What, specifically, was the plan for Rashad in the Forrest fight? Where was Forrest’s comfort zone?
With Forrest, I wanted Rashad to catch the kick. Forrest almost always commits to the same kind of combination: jab, cross, kick. Like that. He typically ends on a kick. I knew that would be in his plan against Rashad, hoping to slow him down by going to the body and the legs a lot with the kicks. So I wanted Rashad to wait until he committed, catch the kick, and use it to take him down. Rashad had to get warmed up in that fight and get going, and he did, so I was glad it worked out the way it did. In addition to that, Mike Winkeljohn put together a great striking plan, so it’s a team effort.
How about mentally, how do you prepare your guys?
We just live for the fight itself. If you win, that’s great. If you don’t win, we’ll live to fight another day. If you make it a big deal, it becomes a big deal. If you think, ‘Oh no, this is a title fight, if I lose I won’t be considered the best 205-er in the world,’ that puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on you and makes it not fun. Fighting should be fun. There’s nothing scarier than hitting a guy and having him laugh at you. Or he’s all cut up and he’s loving it, having a great time. To me the guys who are posturing and working themselves up, getting real mad, they’re scared. They don’t love it. We love it.
Chris Cottrell likes to use dog analogies. The dogs that are scared to fight are always barking and jumping at you and then jumping away. But a pitbull is just wagging his tail as he bites your neck and takes you down. That’s how we try to be. We love it. All you have to do is remember that you love it. And what’s the worst thing that can happen? Okay, I get knocked out in twenty seconds. I’m okay with that. I don’t want it to happen, but I understand it can happen. I’m not going to let it make me scared to compete.
But seeing a guy you’ve trained who you’re close with get knocked out, that must be tough. Like when Keith was knocked out by Wanderlei Silva.
Yeah, it sucks. I hate losing, because I didn’t do my job right. And that’s why I hate it. The wins are for the fighters and the losses are for me. If they lose it’s because I didn’t do something right. That’s how I look at it. And people might say that’s arrogant or putting too much importance on myself, but I think that if I do my job right my guys are going to win, and if I fuck up they’ll lose. I always take the blame on myself. I can’t not. I hate that I’ve let my friends down. Honestly, sometimes it’s just not our night, or the opponent’s really good, but I never think like that. I think that it’s something I did wrong and I want to go back and fix it and not have it happen to us again.
You say you didn’t come up with the nipple tweak…
…But it is associated with your guys and your gym now.
You know, I’m actually really glad Rashad didn’t do it this last time. We’ve been on a winning streak with it but I’m glad Rashad won and didn’t do it, so now we’re free of the nipple tweak, I hope. Georges did it first and I don’t know why he did it, but everyone was giving him a hard time about it and we’re a real team so Rashad did it so people would stop giving Georges so much flack. Then Nate Marquardt did it and Loiseau did it and forget it, after that everyone did it. I’ve been asked, ‘does it stimulate electricity through your body?’ No. No it doesn’t. They’re just a bunch of big dorks. That’s the answer to that question.
I read where Rashad said he realized the reason he started slow was because he forgot to do the nipple tweak.
Oh no, he said that? Great, now we’re back to the nipple-tweak. At least he showed you can win without it, which would be just fine with me.