Jackson-Wink’s Jesse “The Tornado” Tafoya Makes his Pro Debut at Jackson’s MMA Series on June 30
Ask most kids of a certain age if they think the Power Rangers are pretty awesome, and you’ll probably get a yes. New Mexico flyweight Jesse “The Tornado” Tafoya definitely thought so because he would pretend to be one when he was younger. But what’s different about Tafoya is that his love for Power Rangers started him on his path to become a professional mixed martial artist.
“I would watch Power Rangers and I would be on the playground and my teacher would talk to them (his parents) and be like “hey your son is throwing punches and kicks all day every day at school” so they decided to put me in martial arts after that.”
Tafoya started his path toward the cage with traditional martial arts such as karate, Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu. He still incorporates some traditional techniques like the footwork from karate and the kicks from Tae Kwon Do. Some of those traditional techniques work well for mixed martial arts because the sport is a hybrid of styles, but now, the 22-year-old flyweight focuses on techniques that apply to the fight game.
He started training mixed martial arts shortly after and he started with a gym in Rio Rancho that closed down, so Tafoya next went to Albuquerque and looked into a gym that Keith Jardine opened. Shortly thereafter, Mike Winklejohn bought the gym and turned it into Wink’s gym. When coach Winklejohn saw Tafoya’s hard work and potential, he soon gave Tafoya permission to train at the famed JacksonWink Academy.
“After training with him for awhile he saw my potential and dedication so he let me go to pro practice at the pro gym a couple days a week.”
Turning pro has always been the goal for The Tornado ever since he first walked into an MMA gym at 13 years old.
“I remember the first day I walked into an MMA gym watching practice and stuff and I decided I was going to be one of the best at it.”
The 22-year-old has been forced to be patient in his journey as he said he took 17 amateur fights (he said his record is 11-6, Tapology does not have all of his fights listed) to get ready for his upcoming pro debut. Though it wasn’t his plan to wait so long. Tafoya said he wanted to turn pro awhile ago but coach Wink told him to wait. And now that he is preparing for his pro debut, he is glad he listened.
“Wink told me chill, take some more amateur fights get your experience up. Now I feel I’m in a position where, I have more experience than the people I’ll fight and that plays a big advantage.”
Part of that experience is that he traveled for several of his fights. He took fights in Austin, Las Vegas and San Diego to mention a few. Part of it was that Tafoya had a hard time getting fights in New Mexico, so he reached out to promotions outside the state trying to fight their best fighters. But it’s also part of his dream, to train full-time and see the world.
“That’s part of the dream too, travelling due to martial arts all the time.”
Now that he is turning pro, it’s a little surreal.
“The moment I’ve been dreaming of a really long time, it’s finally going down, it’s awesome!”
It’s a dream he is fully dedicated to, Tafoya decided to forgo college because he knew this is wanted to do the rest of his life. When he made that decision, his parents told him he must treat his training like it’s his education.
“I knew really early on this is what I was going to do. College wasn’t so much a thought for me around that time. I knew once I was out of school I would have a lot more time to train. My parents kind of gave me the ultimatum like hey If you are going to do this instead of going to school, then you need to treat it like school, you need to go to your classes and study, which is not in class meaning practice and all that.”
His parents have been very supportive and helpful in his career, in fact, his mom gave him his nickname after one of his first amateur fights.
“My mom actually gave it to me after my first fight. She said I was like a little tornado out there.”
“Yea my mom gave it to me after my first fight and it really stuck.”
“My mom did good.”
Tafoya listened to his parents and has spent his days training full-time at one of the best academies in the MMA world and that has brought along excellent “study buddies” such as UFC fighters Joby Sanchez and John Dodson. Tafoya remembers on his first day at the famed academy, which included a few Russian UFC fighters and a sparring session with Dodson.
“I was like 17 at the time. The first time I walked into the gym, it was when a group of Russian fighters were at the gym, Adlan Amagov, Ruslan Khabilov and all of them. The first thought I had was a group of Russians sitting by the cage and I remember it looked like a straight up wolfpack and I was like, ohh these people are not playing up in here. That was my first experience walking into JacksonWink and then I sparred John Dodson later that day and he put it on me when I was 17. It was crazy, it was a very interesting experience.”
Though Dodson put it on him the first day, Tafoya was able to develop a good relationship with the UFC fighter, so much so that Dodson will corner him for his pro debut. Tafoya will make his pro debut at Jackson’s Fight Series on June 30 as the co-main event.
It’s a really good matchup for me. I feel like It’s a fight where I can display my skills in a really exciting and showcase like fashion.”
“I’d really like a first round knockout or TKO but if there is a submission I’ll definitely take it.”
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