ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Greg Jackson has seen it all in the mixed-martial arts game.
But the co-architect of what has grown into the famous Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA gym said one thing he didn’t think he’d ever see was women become truly accepted in the sport.
“I didn’t think it would be in our lifetime that we’d see women in UFC,” Jackson said from a small back corner office in his gym in Albuquerque. “It’s surprising and it’s encouraging to see the women getting this much attention. They’re always bringing it. There’s no doubt they’ll scrap.”
He would know. He now has 10 female professional MMA fighters training in his gym, including four who recently have had their prizefights televised.
Six years ago, there was only one.
Julie Kedzie, who has become one of the pioneers in the women’s mixed-martial arts game with 27 pro fights on her resume and plenty of broadcast work, remembered when she was the lone woman in the gym pursuing an MMA career.
Sure, Holly Holm was training to become the world champion boxer for which she’s most well known, but Kedzie was the gym’s lone woman making a career out of MMA.
“Holly was boxing and beating the h--- out of me on her feet,” Kedzie said. “Then there were some girl grapplers who were tapping me out all the time, but now everybody is MMA.
“It’s very much growing, and you’re seeing people from other sports transition into it, which brings a higher level athlete to the table. It’s really awesome. I’m excited about it.”
In fact, the women’s MMA scene has grown so much that Kedzie fought July 27 on national television from Seattle against Germaine de Randamie in Seattle. Kedzie lost on a split decision.
MMA fans would have been hard pressed to find any women fighting on television when Kedzie first started at Jackson’s six years ago.
Then things started to change.
Four years ago, fighters such as Emily Kagan left her home in Maine to join Kedzie at Jackson’s gym.
“You don’t pack up your car with two months’ planning, drive across the country with no friends or no family and with no plan for a job or a place to live – and as a woman, especially – if you’re not ready to commit everything to it,” Kagan said.
Commitment at Jackson’s is not an option. The time and resources of the gym’s top trainers are too precious to waste on fighters not giving themselves entirely to the sport.
Norma Center, 25, a former state high school wrestling champion from El Paso, Texas, is considered one of the sports top young fighters just three fights into her professional career. She shares her teammates commitment to the sport.
“If you don’t really want to do this, you don’t come here (to Jackson’s),” Center said. “Who wants to come (and) get punched by Holly Holm all the time?”
As for Holm, whose victory over Allana Jones on July 19 in Houston was her first fight as a full-time MMA pro, the camaraderie and mutual support of the women at Jackson’s is something she hopes will help her reach the same heights in MMA as she achieved as a world champion boxer.
“I don’t want to be behind the curve,” Holm said. “I don’t want this sport to take off without me. I want to learn it, too, and I think that’s what is really good about all of us here.”
Jackson has no objection to women breaking into a previously male-dominated sport.
“I know you’re always going to have guys who are insecure say, ‘I don’t want to see a girl get smashed up,’” Jackson said. “That’s just life. That’s the culture, and I’m glad these girls are aiming to change it. I’ve always said if you tell my daughter she can’t do something, then you and I have a problem. It’s good to see these women out there trailblazing.”