MMA academy brings success and fame to Albuquerque

Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque  has produced some of the most prominent names in professional mixed martial arts — names like Jon “Bones” Jones, the current defending Light Heavyweight champion, and Holly Holm, a former champion in the women’s Bantamweight division.

“What makes us unique is the family aspect,” said Eric Dodson, a Jackson Wink amateur fighter.  He said he enjoys getting to know the champions.

“Those bigger names are those who invite you in,” Dodson said.

The general manager of the academy is Michael Lyubimov who said the gym’s global reputation for success is what draws young fighters from near and far. Examples include Buren Wuliji from China, Sebastian Heil from Germany, or Tsogookuu Amarsanaa from Mongolia.

“This is what we do, this is what we are known for,” Lyubimov said. “We are like the essential hub. Once we got the notoriety and the success, other establishments started trying to imitate our success. And it’s not only in New Mexico, it’s all over the world.”

The gym was established in 1992 by renowned trainers Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn. The UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) — MMA’s most notable promotional organization — went into operation in 1993. Both have grown exponentially. Today, MMA is a multi-billion dollar industry.

If you want to become good at this sport, you need to become obsessed with it.”

— Michael Lyubimov, General Manager at Jackson Wink

“The experience is what these fighters come here for — the amount of high profile fights, which is around 50 a year in the UFC — which speaks for itself,” Lyubimov said.

In addition to Holly Holm and Jon Jones, the Academy has trained such notables as Cub Swanson, Lando Vannata, Ray Born, and Michelle Waterson. While drawing fighters from all over the world,  it has also produced homegrown talent from Albuquerque — fighters like Diego Sanchez, who wrestled at Del Norte High School before transitioning to the UFC, and former welterweight champion Carlos “The Albuquerque Bandit” Condit, who graduated from Cibola High School.

“When I first walked into the doors, I didn’t know what to expect. It was like being a kid on the first day of school,” said Alex Cardenas, an amateur fighter who moved from Atlanta, GA. and has lived at Jackson-Wink, residing in the dorms, for 10 months.

Cardenas said training in Albuquerque was like a dream come true.

“First thing you see is some of the greatest fighters in the world, and that is intimidating but also inspiring,” Cardenas said. “Then you wonder if you’re ready, and after the first session you just keep going.”

“We are a one stop shop,” Lyubimov said, explaining that the dormitories can house up to 50 men and women. “It makes it easier for fighters all over the world to train here. They don’t have cars and they don’t need to look for an apartment. They just come in, train, eat and sleep. They don’t have to worry about anything else.”

The success of Jackson-Wink is reflected in news articles, industry blogs and sports publications — naming it among the top MMA camps. The Bleacher Report ranked it number one in 2014, saying, “The best gym in MMA is in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon.”

That spotlight on Albuquerque has also produced a surprising number of small, locally-owned training studios specializing in everything from Muay Thai to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Since Jackson Wink MMA’s rise, places like Westside Power Gym, UFC Gym, and Sigala’s MMA have sprouted up to bonify the MMA scene in the Albuquerque area.

“Some guys come here, starting at the bottom and trying to climb that ladder to the top,” Lyubimov said. “Some take it serious, others may not. It’s the cycle of life you know.

The Academy offers more than training in martial arts. It includes many health services, such as a nutritionist, doctors and therapists. According to the Los Angeles Times, it costs 500 dollars a month to train there.

A typical resident at Jackson Wink Academy can expect rigorous training 2-3 times a day.

“There has been deaths in MMA competition,” Lyubimov said. “There is always a possibility of getting your brain rattled, that is why they need to focus on wrestling, grappling, strength and conditioning.”

Lyubimov says complete neophytes may find this program challenging. “I prefer people to come here with a base, just so they know where to begin.”

But, Lyubimov says, any fighters wanting to train at the academy will find knowledge, experience, convenience, and a team community.

“We all share information and ideas openly which kind of helps everyone grow,” said the professional-want-to-be fighter, Eric Dodson.

Cade Guerrero and Daniel Zuniga are freelance reporters for the NM NewsPort. They can be contacted on Twitter @CadeGuerrero and @DanTheManj12.