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Greg Jackson talks about coaching Jon Jones and his expectations of Jake Shields in the UFC

By Zach Arnold | July 28, 2010

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Greg Jackson, coaching master to the stars, had a terrific interview on Sherdog radio this past Monday for about a half hour. Greg is one of my favorite people to listen to in MMA-related radio interviews. He’s very media savvy and also honest (as much as he can be).

I didn’t transcribe the entire 30-minute interview, but I did transcribe about 15 minutes of it and here are some of the interview highlights. (Including his thoughts on Shane Carwin’s loss to Brock Lesnar.)

Tell me about the first time you saw Jon Jones in your gym, you training him at 23 years old. This guy’s a phenomenal athlete. What is it like to coach Jon Jones?

“Well, you know, it’s a lot of fun and it’s a real challenge because you want him to have strong basics but you can’t give him the basics in the normal way because you don’t want him to lose his creativity and his flair and his explosiveness and all of these things that make him great. So the real challenge for me is to keep him excited while allowing him to progress, you know, on the ground and his wrestling, kickboxing, and stuff. So, it’s a lot of fun to be in that challenge, to be able to keep a guy creative and flowing with kind of the other side of that making sure that his basics are really strong as well, so if we get in trouble we can get out. And so that makes it a really, really fun and like I said, exciting process for me.”

Coming up with a game plan with Jon Jones, when you sit down and watch him fight… It doesn’t look like he has a game plan where he sits down like other fighters and says, ‘OK, this is going I’m going to do.’ He seems to really just go with the flow. How structured is the game plan with Jon Jones? How structured is a game plan with him?

“It’s structured in a non-traditional sense. In other words, if you are looking at a game plan in a very traditional do-this, do-this, do-that, it’s not that way. What I do instead with Jon is I give him four or five, we look at our opponent’s tendencies and their safety zones and we give him four or five options off of each one of those and how he puts those together is what you know is going to define that fight for us. So, instead of saying, OK you know stay away from this and do this and that, I say here’s several things that you can do off of this and play with him, here’s several things that he tries here and play with him, which is very… it’s a unique game plan for that kind of fighter. Cub Swanson’s another kind of guy we do like that as well. But you have to keep that element of creativity flowing and where other fighters have very linear, I guess you could say, like OK when he tries this you need to make sure to enact this defense or stay away from this safety zone or whatever it may be. It’s structured but it’s more of an open structure if that makes any sense.”

Vladimir Matyushenko is a veteran, he’s been in this for a long time. You pretty much know what you’re going to get from Vladimir. How would you rate Jon Jones’ wrestling versus Vladimir’s wrestling?

“I think he easily is as good, if not better than Vladimir only because of his unique wrestling style. He has a style that if you haven’t dealt with it it’s very, very difficult to deal with. So, Matyushenko’s of course much more decorated wrestler and has probably more experience but I think what negates that is Jon Jones is unorthodox wrestling. He has moves where you think it’s all over and you got him and all of a sudden you find yourself on your back and not really knowing how you got there. So, it’s one of those things that it’s hard to just gauge wrestling to wrestling because Jon Jones is kind of unorthodox and Matyushenko is so solidly experienced that I think I feel very comfortable in the wrestling department. I fully expect [Jon Jones] to get taken down at some point in the fight and we’ll be ready for that if it happens. If it doesn’t happens, that’s great. We’re definitely prepare for the contingency if he does get taken.”

Is that pretty much the #1 concern? That’s what Vladimir does, he puts people on their backs and beats them up. Is Jon Jones fine off his back?

“Well yeah, I mean, he’s getting really good on his back. I’m not overly concerned with any one part of the fight. I want to watch the pace because Vladimir’s just trying to get in there and I think and stuff us, get inside, smother, break it. That’s my concern with him just to trying to smother and staying on top and he’s going to try to stifle Jon’s creativity I’m sure, so we’ve been working a lot of good inside stuff and you know wrestling and all that stuff so we should be well-prepared for his game plan. I hope, you know. All you can do is hope and hopefully all the things that we’ve been working on will come to fruition. But yeah I fully expect him to come in, swinging at Jon’s head and try to take Jon down and holding Jon on the ground.”

Jon Jones has an 84 1/2″ reach. That’s remarkable. He’s obviously probably going to have the reach advantage in every fight that he’s ever in. Does that tie into the game plan a lot or do you just kind of say, well you know, that’s the way it is and he’s going to be able to outreach everybody?

“With Jon, because, of course you want to utilize all of your advantages so we enjoy utilizing the reach but people are eventually going to get past that reach so we’ve been really working on what happens when that happens, when people are getting able to get inside on him and stuff so if it stays a distance, we feel comfortable. If it comes in, we should feel comfortable and you know Vladimir’s a really, he’s only lost a couple of times, he’s a super super tough guy and so we’re taking him really, really seriously. I mean this should be the toughest fight to date when they always are when they are in front of us. Utilizing that reach is important but also utilizing what happens when we don’t have that reach, that’ll mean that their arms are longer with actually being negated because of their control of the distance and able to get around it, underneath it, whathaveyou. So we should hopefully be ready for that as well.”

You bring up the fact that Vladimir is very tough. He is very tough and a veteran of the sport. He’s been in pretty much every situation. He’s just not one of those flashy type of guys that I don’t think is necessarily a fan favorite like Jon Jones. The odds are huge. Vladimir’s a huge underdog. Why do you think it is? Because we know that Vladimir’s a very good athlete, a very good wrestler, a very good Mixed Martial Artist. Why do you think he’s probably not very popular in the eyes of MMA fans?

“Well, a lot of these fans are newer fans and they might not know, they might not have been around you know what I mean when he doing (his thing). I’ve noticed that a lot and I think that there’s a lot of hype with Jon right now, a lot of people are praising him as a big deal and all of this stuff and that’s how it always happen, you know what I mean? It’s always this big enormous hype and like with Fedor and any of those guys, when they lose once and a lot of people you know, ‘Oh I knew he wasn’t that good anyways,’ so a lot of that I think is just hype and none of that can matter to us, you know what I mean? We just have to get in there and control our performance and do our job and have a good time doing it and I think Matyushenko is a great, great threat and I’m not sure why people don’t appreciate that but he’s certainly is and he should be taken very seriously.”

There’s a lot of hype of Jon Jones. How do you keep him grounded? Is there any problems there? Obviously people react differently. After a while of hype, some people start to believe in it. Do you have to work on keeping Jon Jones grounded at all?

“The great thing about Jon is he just the sweetest, nicest guy and no, I haven’t, I mean he’s been totally humble, completely coachable. He’s just a wonderful human being, so we’ve had no problems with that at all, surprisingly because you know there’s so much hype and so many people are whispering in his ear about how great he is. He’s surprisingly humble, hungry, and especially I mean he just turned 23 last week. For being that young, it’s phenomenal. His attitude impresses me way more than his athleticism or his ability to pick up moves, too. I mean he’s just a great guy.”

I think that’s a sign of the times. I mean, you have a lot of fighters in the gym, more fighters than I can name. Do you see them getting younger and younger? I mean we see kids now, it’s becoming like soccer and baseball. You have 6, 7, 8 year olds in jiu-jitsu class and wrestling class. Where do you think that’s going to make the sport be in 10 years? Is everyone going to be a Jon Jones getting into this sport?

“I don’t know if everyone will. Jon Jones is definitely something special to me, but I think it’s definitely getting younger and younger. I’ve noticed that as well. A lot of the new fighters coming up. Because it used to be college wrestlers or people with kickboxing careers and MMA was new so they’d make the transition over. Yeah, now it’s certainly is younger. I’ve got a ton of 18 year old kids in here now just, you know, hungry to fight and they’re already with a lot of rolling experience. So, the times they are a changing, that’s for sure.”

How long does it take you and your other coaches to come up with a game plan for a fighter like a Vladimir Matyushenko?

“It depends a lot, I mean it’s kind of a case-by-case basis. It depends a lot on the fighter, the opponent, and the circumstances. So, because we get together as coaches and we really bounce a lot of ideas around and you have the fighters as well, the fighters also contribute enormously. Sometimes it very obvious what we need to do and what we don’t need to do. Sometimes if they’re a lot more skilled, we need to you know you got to break it down a little bit more. I watch film every morning, so that’s basically how I spend my mornings. So, it can be sometimes you can see it right away and sometimes it takes a little bit longer. It’s really a case-by-case basis. There’s no formula, I guess there’s no real formula other than a lot of hard work.”

Shane Carwin, we all saw him go out in that fight (against Brock Lesnar), dominate the fight. What were the thoughts during that fight or after that fight? He said he had some medical problems. He knew what he did and that’s what made him get tired. What are your thoughts on that and how are you guys going to fix that so next time that doesn’t happen?”

“Well, a lot of the time it’s just an experience thing and what I mean by that is we all thought it was done in the first round. Once I realized it wasn’t going to be done, we were all screaming to breathe. But that’s just an understanding how to pace yourself when you’re trying to finish somebody and what he did is he GAVE IT EVERYTHING HE HAD and when you do that, when you’re a little overly excited the way he was, you can hit the wall and hitting the wall is a real serious and a real big deal and that’s, we try to train for that. So Shane hit that wall and it was really, really hard to come back from it because Shane hasn’t really hit that wall before… and so it was just a learning experience, you know what I mean? And that’s the thing is, that’s what make you a veteran fighter is being able to go through those things and learn and Shane’s just demolished everybody so he’s never really had to be in that situation before. Now he has and he’ll be better for it, but I think a lot of that is just an experience thing and Shane Carwin’s incredibly smart. He’s one of my favorite people in the whole wide world and he’s going to come back stronger than ever.”

Did you think that fight could have been possibly been stopped there?

“Anything’s possible but I never live in that world, I never live in the ‘oh you know what I mean it should have been stopped’ because it wasn’t. We should be able to adapt to that and so for myself I want to try when I’m working with Shane next we’ll try to address that but I don’t think that it’s going to need much addressing. I really think, because I’ve seen it before in so many fights and the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of fights that I’ve done, where you just give it everything you’ve got and then you kind of hit the wall and that wall and unless you’ve been there, you have NO IDEA what it’s like. That wall is one of the scariest things in the human experience and so learning to master that wall and getting around it is a big part of what Shane’s going to need to do now and I’m sure he will because I like said, he’s incredibly smart and a great guy.”

What’s your impression of Jake Shields and how do you feel about Jake Shields and do you think that he will be a force in the UFC like he was a force in Strikeforce?

“I think Jake Shields is amazing and what a fighter. He’s got a great jaw, he’s super-tough, and he has amazing jiu-jitsu so I absolutely think he’s going to be a very serious threat to everybody in the 170 pound division. We’ve got GSP and we’ve got Carlos Condit in there right now, so it’s going to be a big deal. We’re taking him, I’m taking him very, very seriously. I really like the way he works. He’s a lot of fun to watch for a guy like me because he’s so technical and his timing is so good and he’s an amazing fighter and yeah I can’t wait for the challenge to putting one of the guys against him just because he’s so good that it will be great to see how we do.”

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