Greg Jackson On Guillard, Riley, Evans, And Being A Bulldog
Quinton Jackson vs. Rashad Evans is a dream to promoters, matchmakers and ringmasters. You have two elite fighters who hate each other, and have engaged in hissy fits on television, Twitter and a wild UFC 114 conference call. Vince McMahon would look at this as bliss. Dana White is living the dream.
Greg Jackson? Ho-hum. It’s only two grown men who will trade punches, blood and sweat in the main event. It’s nothing new to the prominent MMA trainer. Soaps have no place in his gym except for the showers.
“You don’t want to get caught up in that stuff because it’s distracting from your job,” Jackson said. “That’s motivation but it shouldn’t be focus, and there’s a big difference between motivation and focus.”
Jackson’s been doing this since 1992 when he founded and created the martial art Gaidojutsu that combines wrestling with judo locks and various styles of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Kickboxing. He’s responsible for a large stable of prominent fighters led by current UFC champions Georges St. Pierre and Shane Carwin (interim), and won two World MMA Awards for “Best Coach” and “Best Gym” in 2009. Evans became a champion once Jackson and his camp built his game from a place where he told striking coach Mike Winklejohn, “All I’ve got is a jab.” A rising light-heavyweight, Jon Jones, joined Jackson with the intent of taking his game to unimaginable heights. Two young veterans at a crossroads, Clay Guida and Melvin Guillard, walked through his Albuquerque, New Mexico, doors to ask for help with a career reboot.
Guillard presented a special case. His fate as a bust, nearly sealed, he came with hands open nearly three years after his suspension for cocaine. Contrary to his track record, Jackson will tell you he’s “not the greatest coach in the world.” Meeting Guillard was a case study of why he’s doing this in the first place.
“I got into mixed martial arts to change people’s lives. I don’t really need to be famous, that’s the fighter’s job,” Jackson said. “I really want to do just a couple of things, fulfill my potential as a trainer, take care of my family and help people. That’s what I do. You have to give people second chances and sometimes even third chances, and just have this bulldog, unwavering faith in people and hopefully they don’t disappoint you, and don’t disappoint themselves more importantly.
“The only thing I ever have going for me: I’m not a top-level fighter, but I’m bulldoggedly relentless.”
Evans will need determination and MMA excellence to defeat Rampage, a fearsome opponent whose brutish power slams and intimidation made him a superstar in Japan and UFC light-heavyweight champion. Jackson is simply rolling with those punches, just like he’s done while prepping Guillard for a sudden switch in opponents. Thiago Tavares pulled out his scheduled bout with “The Young Assassin” three weeks before UFC 114 and was replaced with a promising prospect named Waylon Lowe, an accomplished wrestler entering his UFC debut on a six-fight winning streak and billed as tougher than a bed of nails.
“That’s the fighting game,” Jackson said. “We just refocus on what we have to do and do as much work as we can in the small space that we have. It’s a very important skill to have, to not get mentally discouraged or scared, and Melvin’s good. He’s just really excited to fight, I think. He’s just happy as a clam to go out there and do it.”
Like Evans and Guillard, Aaron Riley, the third Jackson fighter competing May 29 in Las Vegas, is attempting to rewrite the course of his career. Riley is 29 years old and a veteran of 41 MMA fights (28-12-1) looking to rebound from a devastating loss to Ross Pearson when he takes on Joe Brammer. Even though Riley is far down his career path, Jackson overhauled his game, changed his style that proved to be a challenge for someone who’s done it so long.
“There’s going to be growing pains while he’s going through that and things that are going to be frustrating, but I’m very excited about Aaron Riley,” Jackson said. “He has a lot of potential that he hasn’t shown yet and I’m really excited to be writing a new chapter in his fighting career. I haven’t been this excited in awhile to be retooling the way somebody fights. We’ll see if it works.”
Most of what Jackson has done is working. In 2007, Sherdog.com reported Jackson fighters owning a win percentage of 81 percent. Since a second-round knockout by Lyoto Machida, the first of his career, Evans unveiled new wrinkles when he defeated (and survived against) Thiago Silva. Guillard’s submission defense and composure improved exponentially versus Ronnys Torres. Next month one of Jackson’s first stars, Keith Jardine, will face Matt Hamill in what could be do-or -die for The Dean of Mean, who has lost three straight and four of five since defeating Chuck Liddell.
Jackson downplayed the potential of Jardine competing for his UFC life. Following February’s third-round knockout loss to Ryan Bader, Jardine was back in the gym immediately after returning from Australia.
“He’s relentless, he learns from his losses,” Jackson said. “He gets better, stronger and changes things up. He never lets anything stop him. He keeps trying and trying and trying and never stops. I don’t think it’s ever do or die for Keith Jardine.”
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