Coach DJ Jones from Jackson–Winklejohn’s MMA: One Tough Family

James Ryan

To this day, Coach DJ Jones still contends that she was born on the “wrong side of the tracks” in Weleetka, Oklahoma.

It was this childhood adversity however, that no doubt helped to transform DJ into the incredibly strong and amazing woman that she is today.

“What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.”

DJ spent the years of her late youth and early adulthood singing in a rock ‘n’ roll band, drinking alcohol, and doing drugs to the point of near fatality.

At the age of 27, DJ eventually realized that she had a very serious problem when a cocaine-induced nose bleed interrupted her on-stage singing performance, thus waking her up to the fact that it was finally time to either make a drastic change to her health (and in her life) or face the deadly consequences.

Fast forward
Coach DJ is a 6-foot tall, 130-pound, non-stereotypical, 50-plus year old, African-American wife, mother, motivational speaker, personal trainer, sports nutritionist, and long distance motorcycle rider.

Coach DJ had also made history in Honolulu, Hawaii on September 13, 2006, by becoming the first person in the world to ride the same motorcycle solo through all 50 States.

Don’t believe it? Watch this incredibly cool video.

Coach DJ Jones is a certified strength and conditioning coach for MMA Cage Fighters of the WEC & UFC at Jackson’s-Winklejohn’s MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She also happens to be the only female trainer on site.

Owned by Coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, Jackson’s-Winklejohn’s MMA was named “Gym of the Year” at the World MMA Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada, in December 2009.

How great would it be to work at one of the largest and most prestigious MMA schools of all time?

Well…let’s find out.

JR: Howdy Coach!

Coach DJ: Hi James.

JR: Thank you very much for agreeing to share your story with me.

Coach DJ: My pleasure James. I really love your articles by the way.

JR: Thank you kindly.

I imagine that working at the top recognized MMA training facility in the world is pretty darn cool and amazing. How long have you been a coach at Jackson’s-Winklejohn’s MMA?

Coach DJ: I first met those guys back in October 2008. After dismounting my motorcycle “Big Bertha,” I walked through the door of the world famous gym, wearing my usual attire—leather chaps, knives, and a big black cowboy hat.

The evening class was in full force and the coach in charge at the time was Mike Winkeljohn. He asked how I was doing and I said, “I’m here to kick Jerome’s ass.”

His reply was classic Wink-style. He stepped back, cool as a cucumber and said, “I’m scared of you.” Then when Jerome walked off the mat, Wink told him, “she’s here to kick your ass…good luck.”

JR: That sounds pretty bad-ass, as far as first impressions are concerned. So who was this Jerome fella?

Coach DJ: I met Jerome Martinez while playing background in Terminator Salvation and the TV Pilot Night and Day.

Jerome told me that he was a cage fighter and he was at a turning point in his life, trying to decide whether he should continue fighting or not. All he needed was someone to believe in him and to help him train. I chimed in and said, “I can do that.”

To cut to the chase, the fight training was on. After successfully working with Martinez, I was asked by more and more young fighters in the camp to train them and to help them to make weight.

JR: Cool. So what exactly is your background in fitness?

Coach DJ: I worked for years in New York and New Jersey as a fitness trainer. I had worked with tri-athletes, body builders, marathon runners, baseball players, you name it!

It’s funny, but when I arrived at Greg Jackson’s gym, a lot of the training techniques that I had been teaching were already comparable to Jackson’s system. Right away, we meshed really well.

JR: What can you tell me about nutrition?

Coach DJ: Proper nutrition is extremely important to an MMA fighter. Making weight can be very difficult if not done correctly. You don’t want the fighters feeling drained of energy.

I teach them how to eat to lose weight, but maintain their strength. What a fighter eats today is his energy for tomorrow, so it’s important that he eats the right combinations of foods.

Something else to consider is that fighters should never deviate too much from their normal eating routines before a fight. Just relax and enjoy it.

JR: Great advice. Without revealing too many of your secrets, what can you tell me about the physical training?

Coach DJ: I recommend that the fighters train hard, sometimes twice a day for up to five days each week. Of course, that’s all according to injuries and how they are feeling.

Main conditioning should come from actual fighting. A fighter should work on his weaknesses every day.

JR: How often do you work with a fighter and what specific role do you play in their conditioning?

Coach DJ: I might work with a fighter 1-3 days per week, depending. My job is to take them to failure. Once they finish their workout, that’s when I get my hands on them and I take whatever they have left and then push them past where they would normally go.

I take what’s left and I take it all. It’s all according to what the fighter needs. Plus, I always make sure that I give them my undivided attention.

JR: That sounds pretty intense. Do the fighters experience many injuries from the high demands of the training?

Coach DJ: Something else that we focus on beyond muscular strength is the strength and conditioning of all connected tissue. This helps tremendously in preventing injuries.

My job isn’t just to make a fighter stronger, but it’s also to help them extend their careers and their quality of life, both inside and outside of the cage.

JR: What do you enjoy most about being an MMA coach?

Coach DJ: I love working with the young fighters. I’ve been through a lot in my life, none of which I am ashamed of or I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. I feel that I possess the knowledge and experience to truly help them as they prepare for the future.

You may find this surprising, but many of the fighters tend to suffer from low self-esteem and in a lot of cases, the gym ends up being the only place that they really feel comfortable.

As you know, the mentor role is very important, particularly in young athletes.

JR: Absolutely.

Coach DJ: I just want to be able to help in any way possible. I used to be quite wild, but now I try to live my life by example. I want these guys to be able to learn from my mistakes.

I mean, this is who I am. I don’t apologize for anything that I’ve done. Instead, I use it to help other people.

I want these guys, not just to be better fighters, but to be better people. I want them to be able to always achieve their personal best at anything that they set their minds to.

They will be able to step out, or better yet, launch themselves into the world as healthy, happy productive members of society.

JR: You clearly take your responsibilities as a coach and mentor very seriously. I have always felt that the mark of a great coach, and person, is in how much they genuinely care about helping those around them. Great job!

Coach DJ: I never do anything in moderation. Helping people is no different.

JR: So which athletes have you worked with so far?

Coach DJ: I have been honored to work with Leonard Garcia and Frank Gomez of the WEC, Tom “Kong” Watson and Joseph Christopher of the MFC, and James McSweeney and Clay Guida of the UFC.

Also, you may not have heard these names yet, but you will. I am also honored to be able to work with such talented, young fighters as: Hunter Tucker, Ryan Webb, Tommy Truex, Artenas Chico Young, Aaron Barringer, Vadiano La Luz, Jose Viera, Paul Ray, Anthony Hamilton, Luke Corona, Jared Lopez, Robby Plotkin, Anthony Hopper, and Heather Clark.

Plus, a couple of really great coaches: Coach Chris Luttrell and Coach Nick Gomez.

JR: Speaking of coaches, what’s it like working with Greg Jackson?

Coach DJ: Greg is a thinker for sure. He is always trying to develop new ways to help his fighters. He does a really great job in helping his fighters to get real results by eliminating the fads and guess work.

I would just like to say that I am really thankful for the opportunity that has been given to me and I really appreciate being a part of Greg and Mike’s team.

JR: What is your ultimate goal when working with a fighter?

Coach DJ: My focus is to make every fighter I work with better. I dissect what they need and eliminate the things that don’t work.

JR: Sounds very “Jeet Kune Do.” of you. Bruce Lee would be proud.

Coach DJ: [Laughs] No doubt.

After I kick their asses, some of the fighters that I worked with had told me that I spoiled them with the work and attention that I gave to them, but they love it. I also have a son that is 34-years old, so I’m not only “Coach” but also, I’m “Momma.”

Hey, these are special people, famous or not, they should be treated like royalty and with respect. Particularly the future generation of fighters.

JR: Have you ever fought inside of the Octagon?

Coach DJ: [Laughs] No, I am not an MMA cage fighter…but I am a fighter. A person does not do what I do out there on my motorcycle and in my life and not be a fighter.

If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be walking after my near fatal motorcycle accident in 1998, when the doctor told me that I would never walk again. So along with my 52-years of life experience, I have been working with and training the general population, high-risk patients, amateur and professional athletes for 25 years.

I am a certified Martial Arts Strength & Conditioning Coach, Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist. I have also trained under my husband who is an expert in hand-to-hand combat, a weapons specialist, and pistol instructor.

JR: Well I know I wouldn’t want to mess with you! Any final comments?

Coach DJ: In closing I’d just like to say that I don’t really have a family. They are either dead or they don’t understand me. So the family I do have is the family that I have chosen.

I’d like to thank the wonderful, special and frickin’ awesome Jackson-Winkeljohn fighters, coaches and the entire family for allowing me to walk my crazy ass into their home and welcome me, love me, and accept me for me!

I have thanked Greg Jackson on many occasions for allowing me to be there. And with his words you can understand how and why I know that I am truly blessed and home.

One day during practice, I approached Greg and said, “I have a bug up my ass and you are the only one that can kill it.”

Immediately he gave me his full attention and asked “what’s the matter?”

After hearing what I had to say, he replied “I need you here. I need you to work with these young fighters. You are the future my dear.”

Just unbelievable support.

On another occasion, I attempted to show him an exercise protocol that I had put together for Leonard Garcia. He said, “that’s between you and the fighter, do what you do girl, I trust you.”

I couldn’t imagine working anywhere more special.

JR: By the sounds of it, neither can I.

Coach DJ: Oh and if it’s okay, I would just like to mention that on May 23, I will be involved with Ride for Kids which helps to raise money for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

This is the fifth year and each year I take a young cancer survivor by the name of Danielle Bagay on the back of my motorcycle.

I’m the only one that she trusts to take her and she is a very special girl indeed.

JR: Now there’s a true fighter if ever there was one.

Coach DJ: Ya, she’s awesome!

JR: Thank s for the interview Coach and thanks for all that you do. Keep up the great work and all the best to you and your family at Jackson’s-Winklejohn’s MMA.

Quickly, any last advice for aspiring fighters?

Coach DJ: Sure. Live right now…in the present…don’t waste a single moment!

JR: Awesome! Thanks again.

Coach DJ: Any time James. Thank you as well.


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Coach DJ and Big Bertha

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Coach DJ and Clay Guida (MMA Fighter)

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Coach DJ lookin’ buff!

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Coach DJ and Uriah Faber (MMA Fighter)

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Coach DJ and Danielle

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Nasty foot injury!

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Coach DJ in Idaho. I dare them to try and keep her out!!! I love the shotgun blasts in the sign. Very welcoming. :)

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New Mexico Woman Mag Cover January 2004, the first woman to be on the cover on a motorcycle

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Jon “Bones” Jones, Coach DJ, and “The Machine Gun” minutes before Jon boards Clay Guida’s RV heading to Colorado for UFC Fight Night 21

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Carried Out Fight Gear Rocks!!!

James Ryan
James Ryan


  1. Kim

    James this was a great article! She's such an awesome woman!

  2. wow James, very impressive, i have shared it with my friends, way to write

  3. Wow – great interview, James, and Coach DJ sounds like my kinda' gal!

    If a fighter has her in his/her corner, I don't see how they could lose!

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