For Greg Jackson, Coaching Against Former Pupils Now Par for the Course

By Tristen Critchfield May 20, 2015
Greg Jackson will be coaching against Travis Browne at UFC 187. | Dave Mandel/

Once upon a time, before he was adequately prepared to deal with such things, the idea of a teammate vs. teammate fight was a sensitive subject for Greg Jackson.

As his Albuquerque, N.M.-based camp continues to grow, Jackson finds it more and more difficult to avoid cornering against opponents with which he has had absolutely no connection.

Case in point: At UFC 187 on Saturday, Jackson will be the lead man between rounds in critical bouts for Andrei Arlovski, Donald Cerrone and John Dodson. However, the respected trainer will also have more than a passing familiarity with their foes: Travis Browne, John Makdessi and Zach Makovsky.

“It’s 22 years in this thing,” Jackson told “Everywhere I look I’ve at least worked with somebody that we’re fighting. It’s a little crazy.”

While Makdessi and Makovsky both visited Albuquerque in passing and have long-term affiliations with other gyms, Browne was a staple of Jackson’s team for several years, from 2011 right up until his loss to Fabricio Werdum in a title eliminator bout at UFC on Fox 11. After that, the 6-foot-7 Hawaiian left the desert to train at Glendale Fighting Club under the guidance of Edmond Tarverdyan, who is probably best known as the head trainer of UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.

Browne’s first fight with his new team came in December, when he stopped Brendan Schaub in the first round at UFC 181. Now it gets a little more personal, as “Hapa” squares off against Arlovski, a current Jackson-Wink MMA member who used to live with Browne when he would come to New Mexico for his camps.

The two heavyweights have shared enough cage and mat space in recent years to potentially make it an awkward pairing, but according to Jackson, it is simply the cost of doing business for two Top 10 talents in a division starved for new contenders.

“They were really good friends and still are, I think. He [Arlovski] was living at his house,” Jackson said. “It was really difficult for him. Travis is No. 4 [ranked]. If you want to climb the ladder you’re going to have to fight those guys. That was the fight they offered and the fight we needed to take.”

These days, Jackson himself is much better equipped to handle encounters like this one. That came out of necessity after he was ambushed during the whole Jon Jones-Rashad Evans situation, which ultimately resulted in Evans leaving the team before the two Jackson-Wink MMA staples squared off at UFC 145. Since Evans set up shop with the Blackzilians in Florida, Jackson agreed to corner Jones, who would win via unanimous decision.

“I dropped the ball because I didn’t have protocols for it,” Jackson said. “That was never part of the plan. We didn’t have a plan. That was what made that bad.

“It’s up to the individual fighter; they can refuse to fight their friends. I would never bring him into a room and say, ‘Listen, you have to fight this guy.’ It’s up to the fighter,” he continued. “If they’re both cool with it, I’m cool with that. If one of them’s not cool with it, I’m cool with that too. But that’s their decision, not my decision. That’s what I had to come to. I will step out if they’re both on the team; but Travis is not on the team.”

In the end, it’s not personal. Jackson keeps in touch with Browne and dined with the heavyweight contender when they crossed paths at a recent event.

“It sucks because it’s Travis and I like him and somebody has to lose. That part of it sucks, but it’s business,” Jackson said. “Travis is with [Edmund Tarverdyan]. He’s a great guy and a great trainer, but [Browne’s] not really on the team anymore. It’s just business; it’s just the sport. It’d be different if we were at war and these people were trying to kill each other; they’re just competing against each other in a fight.”

Three times on Saturday night, Jackson will do his best to help defeat an opponent he once tried to teach. Nowadays that’s pretty much par for the course.

“I’ve trained a lot of people over the years,” Jackson said. “This weekend is an example in a lot of ways of fighting your own handiwork.”


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