By Damon Martin
Cornering a champion on Friday night. Cornering another champion on Saturday night. And in two weeks, he’ll be cornering yet another champion. And this is the life of New Mexico native and guru instructor, Greg Jackson.
Jackson is the man who brought up “Ultimate Fighter” season 1 middleweight champion, Diego Sanchez, from the very beginning of his career. He is also the man who has helped to hone the skills of current KOTC middleweight champion, Joey Villasenor, and most recently added 7-time King of Pancrase, Nathan Marquardt, to his stable of fighters. Last weekend Jackson was an extremely busy man as he was with Villasenor on Friday night, then to Las Vegas on Saturday to corner Marquardt in his UFC debut and is now back in New Mexico getting final preparations together for Diego Sanchez’ official octagon debut.
Jackson sat down with MMAWeekly to breakdown the fights over the weekend and the upcoming fight with Diego Sanchez and Brian Gassaway at UFC 54.
MMAWeekly: So Friday night you had Joey Villasenor defending his title at KOTC against Jorge Santiago, tell us a little bit about that fight?
Greg Jackson: Joey as always stepped up amazingly well. Jorge Santiago and the American Top Team are such a brilliant team and he’s an amazing fighter. They had a gameplan and scouted him out perfectly but it was just our night, we were the better fighter that night. He had blocked almost every left hook that Joey threw at him, and if you know Joey you know his left hook is lethal. He’s really stepped up, but it just wasn’t enough to beat Joey.
MMAWeekly: Joey had commented that you had prepared as if you would go to a decision. Did you focus a lot on his stamina and endurance for this fight?
Greg Jackson: Yes, absolutely. We always train like it is going to be 3 or 5 round war, depending on where we’re fighting. But we always give our opponent the maximum amount of respect. We always assume that everything is going to go wrong and that we are just going to have to fight our hearts out. So if it doesn’t happen we’re pleasantly surprised, if it does happen we’re prepared.
MMAWeekly: What do you see next for Joey Villasenor?
Greg Jackson: We really want to get him into that Pride 183lb tournament. I would die to do that. We’re really trying to push it through.
MMAWeekly: On Saturday night, you were cornering Nathan Marquardt in his UFC debut, tell us about that fight and how his preparation was leading up to it.
Greg Jackson: No sleep in between those two nights I might add! Well, Nate is just an amazing athlete. Imminently coachable, just as tough as they come, you should see him run the mountain, he’s an amazing athlete, it’s an honor for me to work with him. On top of all this technical information he has, he just has heart, won’t stop, won’t quit, and he’s got all these elements that is real rare for an individual to have. And he’s not arrogant at all, after every round he’s asking, “Coach, what can I do better?”, so he also adapts and gets better. Salaverry is a great counter fighter and we didn’t want to get sucked into that counter game so we have to be real careful how we approached him everytime. Salaverry did a lot of backing up and he’s such an amazing fighter, we gave him so much respect before the fight, I wish we had gotten in there a little more, but when you’re dealing with two such dangerous fighters, you have to fight a smart, tactical game.
MMAWeekly: It seemed like Salaverry was backing up for a lot of the fight, did it frustrate Nate at all when he was trying to press the action or how did he approach that?
Greg Jackson: No, that is part of Salaverry’s game. What makes Salaverry such a brilliant fighter is that he will frustrate you, and then pretty soon you want to push the pace and boom, you walk right into a triangle, boom you walk into a right hand. We knew he was going to try to suck Nate into that. I wouldn’t say that he was frustrated, because we were prepared. I look much more at the psychology of the fight. What is he trying to do? He’s trying to frustrate Nate, he’s trying to suck Nate in so he can nail him. And that’s what makes Salaverry so dangerous.
MMAWeekly: With no disrespect to Matt Lindland, Nate just beat possibly the top contender for the middleweight title in the UFC. Where do you think that win puts him in respects to the UFC middleweight division?
Greg Jackson: I hope we get a title shot! I think Nate’s ready to go. If we have to fight Lindland, if we have to fight Doerkson, if we have to fight Franklin, whoever, as long as we stay busy. I think Nate deserves a shot at the title, if not only for the Salaverry win, but he’s a 7-time King of Pancrase, and that’s not just some guy off the street who beat Salaverry. He’s got the experience, he’s done his time. That was just his first fight in the UFC. I think Salaverry was the top contender, and I thought Nate beat him convincingly. We would love a shot at Rich Franklin. Let me tell you, we have so much respect for Rich Franklin, he’s such an amazing athlete, he’s so phenomenal, it would just be an honor to be in the cage with him.
MMAWeekly: Now you got a little bit of sleep, but coming up is Diego’s first official match for the UFC. How is training going?
Greg Jackson: Wow, you should see how hard Diego is training. We’ve got a strength and conditioning coach who used to work with Oscar De LaHoya, works with all these football teams, named Rob Garcia, and he’s been living down here and helping with Diego’s conditioning, we’ve got him training with our entire team and he’s on fire.
MMAWeekly: Diego is going to be the last guy from the “Ultimate Fighter” to step into the octagon, and with everyone from the show winning their fights the other night and with Forrest Griffin winning in his debut as well, does that add any pressure for Diego to come out and perform?
Greg Jackson: No, Diego is real good about pressure. We really haven’t paid that much attention to that stuff. We just want to go out there and do the best we can. If you start thinking like for the finals, “Wow, 2 million people are watching every move I make,” that just puts too much pressure in and of itself. And on the internet everyone judges every little thing. But he’s worked his kickboxing, he’s worked his takedowns, he’s worked his submission grappling, he’s worked his ground and pound. He’s just so well rounded, I’ve never seen him look this good.
MMAWeekly: How is Diego’s health now? He had taken some time off with a hip injury so how is he healing and is he completely healthy for the upcoming fight?
Greg Jackson: He’s looking great, in perfect health, which is rare for him because he’s always banged up. We’ve really got the package together for this fight.
MMAWeekly: His opponent, Brian Gassaway, is a kickboxer, good stand-up fighter, what do you think of him as an opponent?
Greg Jackson: We have nothing but utmost respect for Brian Gassaway. We are trying to exploit every weakness that he may have, whether that be on the ground or on the feet. He’s an amazing opponent, period. He’s a great fighter and we’re really looking forward to the challenge.
MMAWeekly: It was announced today, the list of fighters from season 2 of the “Ultimate Fighter” and Keith Jardine, one of your fighters, is on the list of heavyweights. How did that come about and how does he feel about the opportunity?
Greg Jackson: It was so awesome for him. The show was great, they treated him great. I mean that show just makes you. You get so popular from that show, everybody wants to see you and after that, you are made. Then you just have to win fights!
MMAWeekly: Keith Jardine is a guy who is a great fighter, but we’re you guys concerned at all because he’s more of a light heavyweight fighter going into the heavyweight division?
Greg Jackson: We totally were. They said, “Hey, would you want to do season 3 with the light heavyweights?” but you never know, they’re may not be a season 3, so we took the opportunity. Keith’s not a heavyweight, he’s a 205lb fighter, but he just has such big balls that he was just going to step up, even though most of these guys outweigh him. Even the heavyweights that weight the same as him are going to be heavier, because he just doesn’t hold onto his weight when he trains, and he’s definitely going to be the lightest guy in that division.
MMAWeekly: What else do you guys have going on besides a plate that already seems full?
Greg Jackson: Yeah, Sam Nest is fighting the weekend after the UFC in Utah, he’s an Australian champion. Then we got a whole team of us going to Japan in September. Then I’ve got Danny Higgins fighting a Pancrase fighter in Australia in October. I need to breathe but I love it.
Greg Jackson’s non-stop whirlwind of travel to be with his fighters will next show up in Las Vegas on August 20th for Diego Sanchez vs. Brian Gassaway.