Coach Mike Winkeljohn is one of the most sought after coaches in the world of Mixed Martial Arts today. He is a 5th Degree Black Belt in Kempo Karate, and multiple time ISKA, Kickboxing, and Muay Thai World Champion in various organizations. He is the Coach to some of the best athletes to ever grace the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, such as Jon Jones, Carlos Condit, Holly Holm, Andrei Arlovski, Donald Cerrone, and many other world level professional MMA athletes.
Coach Wink as they call him is a native of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He grew up in some of the harshest conditions the city has to offer. But, his love and his passion for Martial Arts gave him the way out and opened up some great opportunities where he became one of the most polarazing figures in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.
After teaming up with his friend Coach Greg Jackson they sucessfully run one of the best MMA camps in the world, Jackson Wink MMA Academy.
Here is a documented story from Coach Wink's biography
It was but a momentary lapse in reflex, something that one of the world’s premier striking coaches would catch 999 times out of 1,000 in a routine practice. Probability says the odds were heavily against Mike Winkeljohn losing his right eye during a mitt session on Sept. 23, 2009; less than a one-percent chance, really. However, anyone with deep roots in the fight game will tell you every underdog has its day.
When the man affectionately known as “Wink” felt the toenail of a longtime kickboxing student slice his eyeball in half, his mind began to race - not with thoughts of fear, denial or self-pity, however, but of an impending trip to corner one of his fighters in Puerto Rico the next day. A cut, which was Winkeljohn’s initial self-diagnosis, would surely add a measure of inconvenience to the work ahead. It quickly became apparent that his situation was far more serious than a run-of-the-mill scrape.
“I asked the person that kicked me if it was cut,” Winkeljohn recalled. “He goes, ‘No, coach, it’s your eyeball.’ I felt moisture, and it was all the fluid from inside my eye. It just shriveled up like a little grape; I was in shock, so I didn’t feel it. I saw [the look] on the doctor’s face after she examined me. I knew [it was bad].”
Growing up in Albuquerque, Winkeljohn always wanted to be the toughest guy in the neighborhood for what he would now tell you were the wrong reasons. Now, some seven months shy of his 50th birthday, family, friends, fighters and fellow coaches alike would concur that he is indeed that guy, though perhaps not in the exact mold that a teen-aged Winkeljohn might have envisioned.
Losing an eye can be a life-altering moment for a person in any line of work, much less for someone whose profession requires the right blend of instinct and coordination to keep a group of finely tuned professional athletes at its peak. Many of those closely associated with Winkeljohn would agree that the unfortunate incident of two and a half years ago changed the man they had previously known. In many aspects of his life, they would say, he got better.
One thing has not changed: Winkeljohn is still the baddest man on the block.
“I think he was uncertain [about coming back]; I wasn’t uncertain,” said Greg Jackson, Winkeljohn’s partner at Jackson Wink MMA Academy. “I just know how he is. I knew nothing was gonna stop him - you can shoot that guy 10 times in the chest, and he’d still come at you with a .45. I didn’t have any doubt that he would be working. There’s another reason he’s your hero. Nothing slows that guy down. Things that would have slowed other people down, he just shakes them off.”
It was hardly preordained that Winkeljohn would ascend to any kind of status in the combat sports world. The son of a nurse, Mary Anne, and an engineer-turned-real-estate-developer, Alan, the young Winkeljohn lacked focus in his early athletic endeavors, bouncing from baseball to basketball to track and field at Albuquerque’s Manzano High School. Nothing stuck, however, perhaps because Winkeljohn had been focused on helping out around the house after his parents divorced when he was 12. As the second oldest of four brothers, he felt a sense of responsibility relatively early in life.
As a young man, Winkeljohn won plenty more street fights than he lost, but it took only one humbling experience for him to seek out further instruction in his ever-evolving passion.
“I got beat up one day by a guy who was much smaller than me: a good wrestler who had some good boxing hands,” Winkeljohn recalled, dissecting the fight like the coach he has become. “It made me think, ‘Hey, I better change this.’ I did really good up until that point in time. I had my share of good moments - which I’m not proud of. I think I was doing a lot of things for the wrong reason.”
Winkeljohn’s learning curve would accelerate and his philosophy would begin to change the day he walked into Bill Packer’s gym. Packer was an instrumental figure in shaping martial arts in the United States, fusing the physical elements of American Kenpo Karate with the philosophy and tradition of its Asian roots. As one of the founding fathers of the American Kenpo Karate Academy, Packer used his training methods to guide AKKA kickboxers to numerous national and world titles.
Winkeljohn would become one of those champions, but on that first day he was mostly interested in becoming more proficient at beating up people. The advanced prowess of the fighters he saw training told him he had come to the right place, and while he would get much better at fighting, those skills would be showcased within the parameters of organized competition.
With just four amateur fights under his belt, Winkeljohn went on to amass a 25-7-2 record as a professional kickboxer, including memorable battles with Marek Piotrowski and Coban Lookchaoemaesaithong. In 17 years, he would capture two International Sport Karate Association Championships and one Muay Thai world title. Many of his achievements were aired in the relative obscurity of late-night ESPN broadcasts, then not at all once the network went dark on its kickboxing coverage. Winkeljohn does not care to revel in past glories - “they’re just titles,” he said - but he is quick to throw a playful jab toward his current charges, many of whom have benefitted from the escalating popularity of mixed martial arts.
Winkeljohn began coaching in the midst of his fighting career, with no inkling as to how far the journey would take him. He would not become truly successful until he retired from kickboxing, however. A more narrow focus allowed him to devote full energy to his students instead of himself.