BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Don’t expect Michelle Waterson to take a public side in the spat between Donald Cerrone and Mike Winkeljohn.
Tensions between Winkeljohn, the co-founder of the famed JacksonWink MMA gym in downtown Albuquerque, N.M., and Cerrone, one of the gym’s longest-standing and most respected fighters, surprisingly went mainstream in August after Cerrone criticized the coach during an appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience.
The way Michelle Waterson sees it, JacksonWink is a family environment, and the tiff between Cerrone and Winkeljohn is the sort of thing that can happen between members of even the tightest-knit families.
“All I can say is that’s family, you know?” Waterson said Monday at a media day promoting her upcoming UFC 229 main-card bout against Felice Herrig. “Families get into fights sometimes and unfortunately this fight got aired out a little bit to the public.”
Waterson has a personal connection to both men involved in the dispute. Waterson, a Colorado native, was initially introduced to Winkeljohn by fellow Coloradan Cerrone. She’s been with the gym since, winning the Invicta atomweight belt along the way and finding stardom as a strawweight in the UFC.
“I love and respect both Donald and Coach Wink immensely,” Waterson said. “I wouldn’t have been at Jackson’s without Donald, he’s the one who introduced me to Coach Jackson and Coach Wink and I wouldn’t be here if not for Coach Wink. I’ve been with him for almost over a decade, he’s a father figure to me. Both of them are very headstrong, and they are very like-minded, and I’m sure that they will figure out their issues.”
The spat, which has Cerrone away from Albuquerque and training at his ranch outside the city for his upcoming bout with Mike Perry, who is currently training at JacksonWink, has led some to question whether things have changed at JacksonWink, which has featured as who’s who in MMA over the years, from Rashad Evans, to Georges St-Pierre, to Jon Jones, to Carlos Condit, to Holly Holm.
With the benefit of years’ worth of experience, Waterson does in fact believe there has been change at the gym. But she believes it has been for the better.
“Evolution is inevitable, change is inevitable, if there is no change, you don’t grow,” Waterson said. “So yes, I do think it has changed. But I don’t think it has changed for the worse, I think it has changed for the good. We have new blood and we have great camaraderie and it’s still a family to me. I go there when I’m feeling down and when I need to get away from all the outside noise, the gym is my home. It’s my sanctuary.”