The house Frank Lester posted on Instagram represented the final straw in a long-simmering conflict with Jackson Wink MMA Academy and its biggest star.
Lester, a veteran of “The Ultimate Fighter 9” and now-former kickboxing coach for the famed gym, claims UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones broke a handshake deal for coaching services prior to UFC 239. As a result, he said, he was $2,200 short on closing costs to purchase the house after receiving a $7,000 check for 12 weeks’ work.
The house—along with a scathing takedown and veiled threat—was his version of a middle finger after several instances of alleged mistreatment.
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After 3 different houses, being screwed over by the best team in the world —->> (@jacksonwink_mma) & No.1 lb for lb fighter on the planet @jonnybones on over $13k on his last title fight, myself, my wife & our children Jordan, Braden, & baby on the way Arya, finally have a home big enough for all of us. I have no regrets, I did my job and everybody who has followed my journey knows I did my job, Jon Jones & Mike Winkeljohn just did me dirtier that I have ever even seen in this fight game. But good always prevails over evil and we have a home big enough for all of us. I will be opening TANK Mixed Martial Arts In the next 6 months and we are going to takeover the beautiful city of Albuquerque New Mexico! Karma is real. And Jon, it’s on site with me & you & you know that. You stole from my family. You got me fired from my job for no reason and for that I am grateful bc I will never work for a crook like Mike Winkelloser again. I’m 10X ‘s the coach you’ve ever been. You just bought out Greg’s name and unfortunately JACKSONS was out in the control of a dirtbag. But fuck you all very much! The [email protected] that comes to Ming when I hear your names are, cowardice & deceit. It’s on site JBJ. So keep that security close F><k boy we both know you ain’t no real one. [email protected] don’t steal from pregnant woman & their families. #WARcertified #TANKLIFE #OnSite #RUNit #JBJ
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More than eight years after he uprooted his life to join Jackson Wink in Albuquerque, N.M., Lester said he was cast out of the gym’s inner circle after confronting Jones over money.
“(Jones) did everything he could to s*it on me and my family,” Lester told MMA Fighting on Tuesday.
Jones, 32, has denied wrongdoing. In a response to the Lester’s post, he wrote that he never agreed to pay the coach $20,000—the amount in dispute—and claimed Lester was fired from the team for “drug issues.” He countered Lester’s threat to get physical “on site” by threatening to go to the police.
Jones, via his manager Abe Kawa, declined comment. But Kawa vehemently disputed the idea that Jones would underpay any staff—or agree to pay any new coach $20,000. He said Lester was simply hired to be a sparring partner for UFC 239 and cast the coach’s complaints as a ploy to get attention for a new gym.
“He’s never underpaid a coach before,” Kawa said. “Frank is the first one to say so, and Frank got fired, so that might be why.”
Lester forwarded several text messages to MMA Fighting that purport to show a group chat with Jones’ team—evidence he said backs his story. He said he stormed out of the team’s office after Jackson Wink head coach Mike Winkeljohn gave him an ultimatum to take Jones’ check and keep quiet.
“Out of nowhere, coach Wink goes, ‘Well, you can take the seven grand and shut the fuck up or you can leave,’ Lester said. “I said, ‘Well, I’m going to walk out the f*cking door because what you’re telling me is f*ck my wife, f*ck my two kids, and f*ck me.”
Winkeljohn did not respond to multiple requests for comment. On Tuesday, the team’s official Twitter account posted a picture featuring Jones, ex-UFC bantamweight champ Holly Holm, and other team members.
”So many great and wonderful people,” the post’s caption read. “That is all!”
Lester traces his fallout with Jones and Jackson Wink to UFC 235. Two weeks prior to a fight with Anthony Smith, Jones needed a sparring partner of a similar height and build as the challenger, and he offered Lester $3,000 plus expenses to join the team on short notice.
Jones dangled the prospect of a full-time coaching job with good performance, Lester said, and the two sparred regularly before the fight.
Jones dominated Smith over five rounds to defend the light heavyweight title at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. So dominant was his performance, online critics complained he didn’t finish things sooner.
Triumphant as the outcome was, the fight’s aftermath wasn’t drama-free. Lester said he got into a brief physical altercation with arena security over trying to get cageside to celebrate. Security officials complained to the UFC. The altercation would surface later amid his dispute with the champ.
The win nonetheless put him on better footing with Jones. Back in Albuquerque, Lester said he and other coaches were included in a meeting between the champ and WME. They collectively signed off on Thiago Santos as Jones’ next opponent after Jones immediately shot down Luke Rockhold.
After the meeting, Lester said Jones stopped him in the hallway.
“He’s like, ‘Hey man, I just want to say thank you so much for your work in this last camp,” Lester remembers. “‘I truly believe you were the missing link to what we needed.’”
It was at that point that Jones offered a job as a full-time coach and “secondary kickboxing coach” to Winkeljohn for UFC 239, Lester said.
“He’s like, ‘What do you think about that? And I said, I think that sounds great,’” Lester said. “And he said, ‘This time, I’m going to give you a full coach’s pay, and all my coaches make between 20 and 25 grand.”
Given his status as a new coach, Lester took that to mean he would get the low end of that range.
“He shook my hand, he looked me in the eye, and he said, ‘How does that sound?’” Lester said. “I said, ‘That sounds f*cking great, Jon Jones. I really appreciate that, champ.’ And he goes, ‘Well, hell yeah, let’s get it.’”
Lester said he and the team immediately got to work creating a 12-week training program for Jones. Its aim was to build the champ as the fight approached, gradually increasing the intensity of sessions until he peaked for the fight.
As a part of Jones’ team, Lester said he got an intimate look at the champ’s work ethic – and his quirks.
“He likes to get in his vibe, you know what I’m saying? So before every practice, Jon likes to get all the coaches together and you know, listen to some Bob Marley and smoke a little blunt,” Lester said. “(Jackson Wink co-founder and head coach) Greg (Jackson) and (Winkeljohn) aren’t a part of that. But he likes to get in his vibe.
“We all get his jeep and we drive around, we smoke a blunt, and we get back in the gym. We start stretching out. We always pray in, and we always pray out. Sometimes Jon does it, and sometimes it’s like, ‘Hey, Frank, you do it this time, or Eric, you do it this time.’ Either way, someone prays in and says, ‘Lord, thank you for our lives, and grant us a good training session and (give) the energy and the wisdom to give Jon the proper training he needs to win this next world title.’ And then we train. We train f*cking hard.”
Lester said Jones wasn’t always the best pupil. There were several times where the champ simply didn’t show up, he said, and the team simply waited around the gym for two hours. But Jones still demanded hard work from his team.
That meant watching fight tape and taking detailed notes on Santos, Lester said. The coach estimates he spent 50 hours breaking down the Brazilian’s tendencies, which he later recreated in sparring sessions. He put particular emphasis on a calf kick he said would later pay big dividends when Jones landed it and blew out Santos’ knee.
“I feel like I did my job as best as anybody could, and I was the perfect man for that job,” Lester said.
Because he had to stay sharp for sparring sessions with the pound-for-pound great, Lester said he pared down personal coaching sessions that usually earned him $180 daily. He went into debt in the weeks prior to UFC 239. He also delayed a yearly trip to see his 12-year-old daughter, with whom he shares custody with his ex, in Florida.
And there was one more hit that arrived on fight week. Lester said Winkeljohn called a meeting with him the morning after the team went to the UFC Performance Institute on July 3 to cut weight and train. Winkeljohn suddenly announced his services were no longer required, and he needed to move to a different hotel.
“(Winkeljohn) said, ‘Jon isn’t comfortable with you being here anymore,’” Lester said. “I said, ‘Why is he not comfortable?’ And he goes, ‘I don’t know Frank. I don’t know what happened.’”
Still puzzled, Lester said he nonetheless moved to the separate hotel, only to find the room hadn’t been paid for. He soon received a call from another coach explaining the real reason for the request.
“(Jones’ brother) Chandler (Jones) decided he wanted to come down to the fights and he wanted to be in the corner,” Lester said. “And I’m the newest corner. (The coach) told me, ‘Jon’s just f*cking cutting weight and being a dickhead, and he’s in his mood.’”
Jones’ manager Kawa called Lester’s room claim “complete bulls*it” and declined additional comment.
Again, Jones was dominant in the octagon. He routed Santos over five rounds, obliterating the Brazilian’s knee. Lester was visiting his daughter in Florida when he received the $7,000 check. He took a picture of it and sent it to the champ with the message: “Jon, is this a joke?”
Jones asked him to call, but didn’t answer his phone. They went back and forth over text.
Although MMAFighting cannot confirm the origin of the text conversation or the identities of its participants, according to the names attributed in the screenshots provided by Lester, the text messages appear to be from Jones and his teammates.
Later, Lester said that conversation popped up on the Team Jones group text. They had been screenshotted by the champ, who mentioned Lester’s court threat.
“All I said was, ‘Jon, do you really think this is fair? You know, you promised me one number, and then you give me seven grand for a 12-week camp,” Lester explained. “You gave me three grand for a f*cking two-week camp last time. So let’s just do the math on that.”
Ten days later, Lester flew back to Albuquerque. He received a text from Winkeljohn requesting a meeting at the team’s gym office. And then he was a man without a team.
Over the past 13 months, the departures of several high-profile fighters have brought Jackson-Wink and its culture into the spotlight.
“The Ultimate Fighter 1” winner Diego Sanchez left the team—the second time he made a public exit—claiming coaches were “basically going through the motions.” He also cited Jones and Holm as distractions prior to UFC 239. Just months earlier, he’d vehemently defended the gym amid an ugly split with perennial UFC contender Donald Cerrone, who called it a “puppy mill” and blasted Winkeljohn for letting financial incentives trump team loyalty.
Jones and Holm have continually defended the team against negative headlines. Winkeljohn countered Cerrone by calling him a narcissist who’d drained resources away from the team without contributing in return.
In the texts forwarded by Lester, Jones and Winkeljohn paint him as a drug addict who got in the way of training and made trouble behind the scenes. They shame him for his monetary request and imply he should be grateful to be a part of the team. Other team members appear to echo Jones.
Per online court records, Lester was charged in New Mexico with battery and possession of drug paraphernalia in 2014; he pled guilty/no contest after registering a plea agreement. And in 2015, he was charged with DWI, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of one ounce or less of marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids; he pled guilty and received probation.
Asked whether he had ever had a problem with drugs, Lester said, “There’s no fucking drug issue. Where are the drug issues at? I’m not the one getting caught doing cocaine all the time.” He countered that Jones and Winkeljohn’s drug claims are a “smokescreen” to cover up bigger problems with the famed gym.
For years, Lester said he was unquestioningly loyal to the team despite persistent issues over money. He said he accepted $500 for training UFC welterweight Siyar Bahadurzada in advance of UFC Atlantic City. After waiting four weeks to be paid, he said the Afghani fighter told him he’d sent $8,000 to the account linked to the gym, but Winkeljohn had claimed only $1,000 had been sent.
“This is the same thing ‘Cowboy’ has been talking about,” he said. “Why do you think everybody’s leaving? … I’ve been dealing with it because I love my job and I loved the kids (I coached) in the gym and I love what I do.”
The Jones situation took him over the edge. Shortly after he was able to get the money for a new down payment on a house, he sent the message that ricocheted around the MMA world. He said his threat to engage Jones “on site” wasn’t a reference to possible gun violence, but a call to fight.
“You know what Jon, I retract any statement about it’s ‘on site,’” Lester said, referencing his post. “You go live your life, bro, and I’m going to go live mine. I know I’m going to be OK, because my soul’s in check. I know I’m doing the right thing. I spend every night at home with my pregnant wife. Can you say the same thing?”
Lester is indeed starting a new gym, Tank MMA, which he expects to open in Albuquerque in March 2020. He said several coaches, whom he declines to name, have complained to him over payment issues with Jones.
Lester’s bio is still active on Jackson Wink’s website at the time of this writing.
“Frank Lester is a huge part of our Amateur MMA Program,” it reads. “He is responsible for developing up-and-coming fighters, and working with high level Pros to enhance their skills.
“His style of fighting, and knowledge of Muay Thai made him to be one of the most in-demand Coaches at the Jackson Wink MMA Academy.
“Frank is fully committed to making you the best fighter you can possibly be.”