UFC’s first Albuquerque show is a long time coming for Jackson’s MMA

Rustam Khabilov (from left), Diego Sanchez, John Dodson and Erik Perez are all on the main card of UFC Fight Night in Albuquerque.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Greg Jackson plops down on the couch in his cluttered office and puts his feet up. It’s a momentary respite in yet another hectic day.

Moments later, Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA gym manager Ricky Kottenstette emerges in the doorway. He fills Jackson in on a contract issue with a former fighter. A few minutes after Kottenstette leaves, a female friend stops in to say hello. Jackson pauses to speak to her.

It’s the middle of the day. There are no fighters anywhere at one of the most renowned mixed martial arts gyms in the world. The mats are empty. The cage is quiet. But that doesn’t mean Jackson stops working.

"Every day there are fires and every day I have to put them out," said Jackson, who founded the place with partner Mike Winkeljohn in 2000.

This week is different. It’s tougher. On Saturday, UFC Fight Night (FOX Sports 1, 10 p.m. ET) comes to Tingley Coliseum, walking distance from Jackson’s gym. Jackson hasn’t been home for a UFC fight week in 20 years of doing this and things have been hectic. At least when he’s on the road with his fighters, he doesn’t have to worry about whatever is going on back at the gym. Now he has double the fires to put out.

For the team, for the state, for all of us, even for me personally, it’s intense. But it’s very good.

-Greg Jackson on the UFC in Albuquerque

Jackson could not even attend the weigh-ins Friday, because it was the same day as his oldest sister’s wedding. Of course, despite all the chaos, the UFC being in Albuquerque is a big deal for the city and for Jackson-Winkeljohn, which has four fighters on the main card — Rustam Khabilov, Diego Sanchez, John Dodson and Erik Perez.

"For the team, for the state, for all of us, even for me personally, it’s intense," Jackson said. "But it’s very good."

Jackson was raised in the South Valley after his family moved from Washington, D.C., when he was 3 years old. Sanchez and Dodson are both Albuquerque natives and received huge ovations at the weigh-ins. Sanchez said he’ll have 160 family members in attendance for his co-main event fight against Ross Pearson.

"I felt this fight motivated me very similar as if I was fighting a title fight, if not more, because of the passion I have for my city, my hometown," Sanchez said Thursday at media day.

Sanchez, who just fought at UFC 171 in March, said he vehemently asked UFC matchmaker Joe Silva to give him a bout at the Albuquerque event.

Greg Jackson has been even busier than usual with the UFC in his hometown of Albuquerque.

"Put me on this card," Sanchez said he told Silva. "I will fight at 185, I will fight at 145. I don’t care. I’ll fight at 170. I will fight any guy on the roster, it doesn’t matter. You bring him to Albuquerque and I’ll beat him."

Khabilov meets former lightweight champion Benson Henderson in a pivotal main event. Dodson takes on fellow ranked flyweight John Moraga and Perez takes on a fellow ranked bantamweight in Bryan Caraway. Every one of the four Jackson’s fighters has a chance to make a huge statement at Tingley.

"We have a great showing, that just shows everybody that we’re still the best team out there," Dodson said. "It’s not somebody has the best lightweights, some people have the best heavyweights. We’re all around the best team."

Obviously, Jackson-Winkeljohn boasts UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. But this is another opportunity to show its depth.

More so, for Jackson, it’s a big deal for the city. Outside of the University of New Mexico, there aren’t many sports to root for here. The crime rate is high; so is the unemployment rate. The city is best known for being the setting for "Breaking Bad."

We’re the closest thing this city has to professional sports," Jackson said of his fight team. "For something as huge as the UFC and our sport to come here and do it in our backyard, it says something. ‘Oh, Albuquerque is a little bit on the map. We’re going to Albuquerque.’ They’re usually in Vegas or California or Baltimore, all these bigger cities. That they came to a little place like this is cool. It’s awesome."

Even it means more work for him.