Greg Jackson’s big brother – an interview with Mike Winkeljohn

Coach Mike Winkeljohn holds mitts for his student UFC light heavyweight fighter Keith "The Dean of Mean" Jardine

Regular readers of this site will remember when roving reporter/pro boxer/pro MMA fighter Tami Love Carswell was writing her blogs while living in the Tapout House in Albuquerque, N.M., with Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and the rest of the Jackson/Winkeljohn crew.

It was during that time Miss Carswell was able to experience first hand the Jackson/Winkeljohn system of teaching and training. It is a well-oiled system that has helped and continues to help produce some of the highest caliber mixed martial artists on the planet.

Fighters such as Rashad Evans, Keith Jardine, Donald Cerrone, Leonard Garcia, Georges St. Pierre, Julie Kedzie, and Jon Jones are just a few of the well-known fighters who work with coaches Jackson and Winkeljohn.

Tami recently spoke with Coach Winkeljohn to learn more about his background and how he and Coach Jackson teamed up. Coach Winkeljohn also talked about the student he is closest with, Keith Jardine, and what the future holds for him. He also discussed some of his female fighters, which fighters have inspired him, and how he would like to be remembered.

“Mr. Winkeljohn has taught me more about martial arts than anyone else… he has been my mentor for over sixteen years and I still learn from him to this day.” -Greg Jackson

What is your personal martial arts history?

Well in my first semester of college I was looking for another outlet. I started with kickboxing and it became a new love of mine.  I started doing it everyday.  I walked in the gym and saw guys beating the crap out of each other.  I guess I was blessed too because I walked into the right place and Bill Packer had some of the best kickboxers in the world at the time.  It all went up from there.  I was in the ring about four months later with my first amateur fight, I had four of those, and then turned pro in a year.  I fought for about 17 years all over the world and had a lot of fights on ESPN.  They are still to this day shown on ESPN classics.  I won a couple of world Muay Thai titles and then when I started winding down my career I started getting into the wrestling aspect.  It was late for me but I started enjoying it. I finished up my career and met up with Greg Jackson and Chris Luttrell.  That was kind of the beginning of our gym and what we do now.

Old school Winkeljohn

When I first met up with Greg I was teaching him stand up and we became really good friends.  He became kinda like my little brother.  I kind of mentored him business wise as well as with stand up.  He did a lot of Jiu Jitsu with me and Chris Luttrell was also involved with what we were up to.  He was an All-American Wrestler.  We put our heads together and started developing things.  Greg had his own school at that time and I had my own school at that time.  I was still fighting.  That was about 1993-94.  Then in 2006 I decided to retire from a martial arts kickboxing business on a day to day basis. I had some success doing what I was doing and started developing some properties.  I was making some decent money and I told Greg that I just wanted to work with him on things like train the pro fighters and enjoy it.  It worked out really well for me and we started working together.  We had quite a good success with fighters.

I heard that some of the females that you train in professional boxing are considering MMA as well because they are capable of doing both.  Is that true?

Oh yeah especially with Jody Esquibel more than Holly Holm.  Holly has reached a point in boxing that she is capable of making more money than any one woman in boxing out there.  Holly has just grabbed those belts.  She has every single belt at 147, I think
two at 164, three or so at 140.  There is no one else to fight her.  When we first started we thought it would be great to win a world title and then she fought Kristie Martin and dusted her.  Now if someone wants to be a champion in women’s boxing you need to beat Holly Holm.  The Holly Holm name is bigger than sanctioning bodies.  They do not mean much anymore.  Jody who has fought in boxing and done well is willing to jump in there into MMA and she can defend takedowns all day long really well.  Holly, we need to work on some things if she were to get into it and jump in with Cyborg or anyone like that.  She could run around her standing up real well.

Which male MMA fighter do you have the biggest connection with?

Keith Jardine.  We are real tight.  He fought the biggest names out there.  He beat Forrest Griffin and beat Chuck Liddell.  He has had some big fights and he has lost some big fights.  It is kind of a starting over position for Keith right now.

What is the future of Keith’s career?

He is in a starting over spot right now.  We are hoping we are going to fight Matt Hamill if he accepts the fight.  We are getting back to some basics with the wrestling.  In Keith’s early days before he came to me he was a wrestler and great jiu jitsu player.  When he started knocking people out it sold and that is what made him a lot of money in the UFC.  He has marketed himself really well.  Just the mean name, “The Dean of Mean” has done a lot for him. Randy Couture came back and Keith is ready to get back now as well. He looks mean and he is our team leader.  Even though we have a lot of up-and-comers like Jon Jones who we think is going to be the next world leader out there.  We have Rashad and many others, but when it comes down to it, Keith is the leader in the gym. People respect him.  He is always helping others.  He gains the respect of the team.  He is the guy sitting in the corner reading a book at the coffee shop and the nicest guy in the world.

Who inspired you as a coach and a fighter in your career?

In the boxing world it was Muhammad Ali’s boxing style and Roberto Duran with the toughness that he had out there fighting.  In the MMA world I am inspired by my little brother Greg Jackson.  We sit down and come up with game plans together and he is a fun man.  He does the interviews and more than I do getting stuff out there.  He is the best guy at getting out there and putting together what all of the other coaches have come up with.  Every coach comes up with great tactics.  The problem is you need the game plan to be used for that fighter.  Greg will come in and say, “Yeah that’s true but lets just stick with this.”  He is always the best at different strategies.  He understands war strategies and he understands war history.  He reads about all of that stuff.  I am really inspired by Greg Jackson.

How did you guys first get into coaching for MMA?

All along Greg has been the guy that really wanted to help people get better in fighting.  He has been a great teacher.  He did not really care about going out and showing off himself. He is always that guy who just wants to teach stuff.  When I met Greg I was still competing.  I was a little more selfish.  Who would have known that MMA would have taken off the way it did.  It was doing it’s thing, everyone wanted to be good at it.  We were lucky that we were training Diego Sanchez.  Greg took that kid from a high school wrestler to just an outstanding grappler.  He was in the first Ultimate Fighter where Bonner and Griffin had that amazing fight.  Everyone viewed and turned it on.  I think the UFC was born then, as far as being something that people wanted to watch.  All of these other promotions have followed that wave.  We have to be glad that the UFC got picked up by Zuffa.  With Dana White and these gentlemen with the casinos up there, we are all better for it. We hope it will even get to a higher level.

What is your coaching schedule like?

Five to six days a week.  Six days if I have a lot of big guys getting ready for fights  I run the pro stand up classes and I run some beginning stand up classes as well.  That is my job at the gym.  Where Greg teaches a lot of the ground.  I do a lot of private one on one.  I am a big believer in repetition.  I want them to think when that guy throws that punch I want to slip and counter it. It has to happen so we have to do it enough times.  Enough repetitions with me kind of being their opponent. To let that happen I put a lot of hours in mitt work.  I am sure it probably averages out to be about five hours a day of mitt work on top of the classes.

Who coached you and who was in your corner?

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Probably one of the best kickboxing coaches ever, Bill Packer. Of course with the rest of my game it was Chris Luttrell and Greg Jackson.  Bill Packer was probably one of the best trainers I ever ran into in the training of strength of mind.  He believed your body could do more than it should be capable of.  He is that guy. He could talk you into anything and make you believe it.  Almost a self-hypnosis type of situation.  A great leader that way. You have to believe it.  It is so big.  It plays out in the fight. When we get fighters in that mode they will do it but when they second guess themselves they can’t do it and they get caught with the dumb things.  It happens to all fighters.

Who are you working with now?

I am a part of getting Joey Villasenor back into Strikeforce.  Joey is right there behind Keith as one of my favorite guys in the world.  Probably one of the best middleweights in the world but not known for that.  He fought once in the last two years because of a real bad contract.  Joey will be fighting soon. Melvin Guillard, Aaron Riley, and Ryan Jenson all are fighting in the May.  We have Cowboy and Leonard Garcia coming up in the WEC pay per view.  Cowboy should be winning the title with his rematch.

What are some of your interests outside of fighting?

I am a capitalist at heart.  I love developing properties.  Right now it is not happening with the economy.   I like thinking, “What can we do with this if we put some money into this and turn into something that we can all make a profit out of?”  I am in a position right now that I am not able to do it and I am blessed that I am in the MMA game and it is doing so well right now.  My family is the most important thing to me.  I have a brand new nine-week-old daughter.  Even though I am an old guy at 47.  I have another daughter who is 17 and a step daughter who is 10.  Family is the most important thing to me, but you have to go out and earn a living to make things possible for their future.

Any of your family members ever express an interest in the fight game?

My 17-year-old works Holly’s corner with us.  She is a pretty decent wrestler.  I don’t want her to fight.  I might want her in some grappling tourneys.  Right now she is thinking she wants to be a lawyer.  How lucky am I when most kids are hanging out and just playing video games.

When it is all said and done what do you want people to remember about you?

I want people like Keith Jardine saying, “Yeah,” while watching the Keith/Chuck Liddell fight, “Coach Wink designed it that way.”  It is more important to me what the fighters think of me.  When Keith was fighting Chuck we just communicated what we wanted him to do with the game plan.  He could hear us when the crowd got quiet and he believed in me.  It is like a video game.  Him doing what you want him to do and him doing it.  When you team up with a fighter you get really close with the fighter especially on those high levels.

Keith "The Dean of Mean" Jardine and Coach Winkeljohn
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