On April 4th, 2014 the Legacy FC 30 event was held inside the Route 66 Casino. Much of the promotion during the lead-up to the event was focused on the main event between Holly Holm and Juliana Werner despite the most significant bout of the evening being held two fights prior to the headlining fight. A Flyweight match-up between two Albuquerque trained fighters would be the marquee bout for the hardcore MMA fans in the area and when the dust settled on Legacy FC 30, that fight left the most significant impact on the New Mexico MMA scene.

*Author’s Note – (This opinion piece is not indicative of the opinion of the Southwest Fight News Staff. This in one author’s (mine) opinion and dissection of the encompassing content. I do not speak on behalf of my colleagues and any reaction, specifically negative should not be reflected upon a group for an opinion of one. – Phillip L.)

There are several, maybe even dozens of MMA clichés that have been used so much that they have become common statements that are believed by fight fans to be more like laws than opinions. Examples of those are that fighters need to be part of big gyms to succeed, they need world-class training partners to get to the UFC level, and the list goes on in that direction. Those cliché statements can often be found to be true, for the New Mexico fight fans it can be easy to pinpoint to these statements being that our area boasts one of MMA’s most talked about gyms and is host to several of the sport’s most recognized coaches.

This past Friday night, several miles outside of New Mexico, an extremely talented 20-year old fighter won a fight over another talented fighter. He did so not unlike any of his previous victories, the fight was exciting just as his previous fights were, and he stamped his signature, maybe even trademark maneuver on an opponent just as he had seven times prior but the fight result may have changed the landscape of our local MMA scene.

There is nothing special about the Jackson-Winkeljohn gym or the FIT NHB gym when gazing upon the buildings from outside the gym doors. Two warehouse-type buildings, nothing that would really catch your eye should you be passing by; in fact, the Jackson-Winkeljohn gym is so remote on a side street in Albuquerque that it would be very odd to stumble across it accidentally. The two premier Albuquerque gyms are little more than your typical, run-of-the-mill structures that a commoner would never identify to be locations of elite level MMA gyms.

There is a story between these two gyms. The two coaches have ties to one another stemming back several years when FIT NHB Coach Tom Vaughn and Greg Jackson were actually training beneath the same roof and for hardcore fans in the area, it is well-known that the two head coaches no longer operate in coordination of one another. The storylines dig deeper between the gyms, it was well-documented that former Interim UFC Champion and former WEC Champion Carlos Condit made the move from FIT NHB to the Jackson-Winkeljohn gyms years ago. The Condit move caused a rift between invested individuals that remain strong to the present time.

The rivalry between FIT NHB and the Jackson-Winkeljohn gym is often just an undertone; not many people like to discuss it and the topic has become essentially taboo. Some are afraid to speak of it in fear of aligning themselves to one side which might bring scorn from the other side and many refrain from opinion to remain in the good graces of people in positions of “power”.

But the rivalry exists.

The rivalry isn’t exemplified through combat however, the rivalry actually has a very non-combative structure to it. There is a line, an imaginary line where the two never cross to the other side. You don’t find much inter-mingling between the two groups, Jackson-Winkeljohn fighters don’t fight for the King of the Cage promotion of which FIT NHB finds their fighters a constant home and you don’t see FIT NHB fighters included in the Jackson’s MMA Series events where the host gym dominates the fight card. There really isn’t any neutral promotions in the area either, as Fresquez Productions events have been filled with Jackson-Winkeljohn fighters. When you see FIT NHB fighters on a card, there isn’t likely to be a Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter also on the listing.

Smaller and up-and-coming gyms also share the imaginary line in the rivalry; the Rio Rancho Judgement MMA gym has close ties to FIT NHB and the Lutrell’s MMA gym shares the same ties to the Jackson-Winkeljohn gym. The same sentiment from before about how when you see one, you don’t see the other applies here as well.

Interestingly, in a sport focused on combat and two people locked inside a cage in a proverbial “who’s bigger and badder” contest, the two rival gyms have never sent their competitors into action against each other. That all changed this past Friday night when FIT NHB sent their best prospect Ray Borg to the Legacy FC cage to meet up with the best prospect from the Jackson-Winkeljohn gym, Nick Urso.

The reasoning for the lack of direct competition between the two gyms can be expressed in numerous opinions but the most likely of course is the politics and pressure that comes with dueling with a rival. With a win, one gym owns bragging rights over the other and with a loss, one gym loses steam in the rivalry even though once again it will be expressed as an undertone.

The Jackson-Winkeljohn gym is the state’s most celebrated gym possessing world-wide recognition and being included in discussions as MMA royalty. Head Coach Greg Jackson is easily MMA’s most popular coach and Mike Winkeljohn is one of the sport’s most polarizing striking savants. There is no argument to that assessment and the labels are well deserved. On the flip side, FIT NHB is regarded as the step-child to the Jackson-Winkeljohn gym; produces good fighters but never receives the same attention as their rivals from down the road. Despite the coaching staff holding their own respectable accreditation, they are often a second-thought to the Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn led coaching staff.

But why? Where does that thought-process come from?

The Jackson-Winkeljohn gym is considered MMA’s first “Super-Gym”. Much like the Blackzillian fight camp and even the Nova Unaio gym down in Brazil, a “Super-Gym” is a place where the best-of-the-best accumulate to make for a place where notable names are plenty. Ask any casual follower of New Mexico MMA to name 10 fighters from the Jackson-Winkeljohn roster and you may find yourself with 20-answers before you know it. Ask the same question about FIT NHB’s MMA roster and one may struggle to round out the ten. That isn’t a knock on FIT NHB, that is a resounding observation on how the Jackson-Winkeljohn gym attracts fighters.

When Nick Urso prepared for Ray Borg, the talk was about how Urso training with UFC contender John Dodson, former WEC/UFC fighter and Legacy top contender Damacio Page, and the other highly praised fighters at the gym would prepare him for this fight and the opportunity to be in the UFC better than opponent Ray Borg’s preparation at FIT NHB. While Borg trained with respectable teammates, in the eye’s of many, none stacked up to the elite caliber of Urso’s teammates.

Now incorporate the coaching staff of each fighter and many wrote Borg off as a huge underdog. If you don’t believe that these factors didn’t make a difference, one needs to simply visit a site like Tapology where fans of MMA can vote on fight outcomes. The percentage for Urso stood in the 90-percentile from the time the fight was announced until the bell sounded for the start of the fight. Having Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn, the rest of that coaching staff and world-class training partners swayed fans to believe that with all that on Urso’s side, the minimal comparison that Borg could produce would lead to a sure loss.

The outcome of Friday night’s fight changed clichés surrounding a “Super-Gym” mentality and in my opinion changed the landscape of New Mexico’s MMA scene.

Ray Borg dominated Nick Urso from start to finish. Urso had his flashed of offense but never placed Borg into any sort of trouble while Borg attacked for nine-minutes and one-second whether it was from his back, from top position or standing. If a fan didn’t know any better, it looked as if Ray Borg was the considerable favorite in the bout and Urso was the out-matched underdog. While extremely talented, Nick Urso had run into New Mexico’s premier unsigned prospect and unfortunately was dealt a loss in what could be considered a “winner makes it big” fight. On a nationally televised fight card, Borg was the most impressive winner of the night and if not for the immense fandom Holly Holm brings to every outing, Ray Borg’s name would be synonymous with the “Fight of the Night” label.

While Urso enjoyed and reaped the benefits of training with UFC fighters, with elite caliber coaches, and in state-of-the-art training facilities, Ray Borg ran the FIT KIDZ youth program, training alongside lesser-known teammates and trained under a coaching staff that often goes undervalued. If that isn’t a code-breaker I don’t know what is!

The constant migration of fighters to the Jackson-Winkeljohn gym makes the gym more prominent in notoriety and notable memberships but doesn’t guarantee fighters the success needed to make it to the big show. While most of the gym’s stable of talented fighters will still make it, including Nick Urso who undoubtedly will bounce back and make a UFC run, the need for that type of gym was diminished in under ten minutes when Ray Borg secured a fight ending rear-naked choke at 4:01 in the second round of his career defining fight.

Ray Borg of Tucumcari, New Mexico, a town of just over five-thousand people won the biggest fight in New Mexico’s storied MMA history. He placed himself atop the list of fighters to make the jump to the UFC and he did so through the hard work dedicated in a gym not many outside of New Mexico even know about. He did so inside a gym that people even in New Mexico hardy recognize to be a place of top-level combat training.

And he did so in the perfect possible way.

Ray Borg fought four times as an amateur and now six times professionally and his career progression has been nothing short of brilliant. The career handling of Borg as an individual and from his fight team should be celebrated as the best way to bring along a talented fighter. The coaches over at FIT NHB, Tom and Arlene Vaughn and Jon Judy watched as a small-town kid emerged from beneath their wings to become the well-polished, mature individual that entertains hundreds and even thousands of people every year. While the coaching staff didn’t receive the attention that their Jackson-Winkeljohn counterparts did, they played a tremendous role in sculpting a fighter through the ranks.

Through the grooming of the gym and self-discipline imposed on himself, Borg won several amateur bouts and without a loss in four outings, he made the jump to the professional level. He entered into MMA as a pro with experience but hardly with any competition as each amateur bout ended before the two-minute mark.

In Borg’s professional debut he was matched with Gene Perez, a veteran of two sports and a tough-out for any fighter. Borg won quickly and then went on to win his next two King of the Cage bouts in the same fashion. Borg was now 3-0, had beaten everyone handily and the argument could have been made then that he was being built up with overmatched opponents. Quickly dispelling that logic, Borg moved up 10-pounds to fight an individual who typically actually fought twenty-pounds higher than Borg and was one of New Mexico’s most prominent and successful local fighters. Angelo Sanchez was and remains New Mexico MMA royalty and would surely be inducted to a New Mexico MMA Hall of Fame if one existed. Borg thoroughly and dominantly defeated Sanchez in a three-round fight and would not only see his first judge’s decision but get the raised eyebrows of fight fans who were now acknowledging his talents.

Traveling out to Oklahoma, Borg would then win a promotional title against a fellow prospect from another region. He had fought to his record level in his initial bouts with a win over a more experienced fighter, won a marquee bout against a proven local veteran and now beat a fellow prospect from another area for a title. The career progression was transitionally sound and perfect for his career. Borg had made it look easy in his nine fights and was now considered a full-blown breakout star in New Mexico’s MMA scene.

With his win over Urso, Borg now holds a win over a fighter from a world-acclaimed gym who was considered one fight away from a UFC roster slot. In each professional fight, Borg climbed the ladder and each time became that much more impressive. The homegrown talents of Borg redefines conventional knowledge and cliché, he didn’t fight lesser-talent to pad a record and he didn’t need the grooming of a world-famous gym to show him the doors to the next level.

Undoubtedly on the UFC radar, Ray Borg took the biggest fight of his career and turned into the biggest local victory in New Mexico’s MMA history. If, and when Borg enters the realm of the sport’s brightest stage, he will have done so starting from the bottom and blossoming in a way we may have never seen before. Inside the walls of FIT NHB, a star trains and the method of which he earned that shine will change how our local scene is viewed in a historical context. It may not be felt today, or even in the following weeks but when we look back years from now, Ray Borg’s win this past Friday night and his career progression these last 10-fights will have shaped New Mexico MMA into a different mold and  changed the fight landscape for years to come.

Ray Borg welcomed in the youth movement in MMA into New Mexico, the hybrid-styled, new generation of fighting. Without a “Super-Gym” and UFC training partners, Borg ushered in the new wave of success to be found fighting in New Mexico’s regional MMA scene.

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