One of the most unique things about MMA is the training structure. Unlike boxing, where camps are designed around individual fighters, MMA training is often centered around a gym where several coaches work in conjunction with each other to train a stable of fighters of varying skills and weight classes. These gyms often take on a close-knit, team based environment which is very unusual for an individual combat sport like mixed martial arts. These gyms vary in size and specialties, and many fighters will train at several different gyms to improve individual skills.
Sometimes gyms, and their respective trainers and fighters will develop intense rivalries with one another. The UFC is currently showcasing this in their Ultimate Fighter reality series. This season, they are pitting two of the most successful MMA gyms against each other as fighters from American Top Team take on the Blackzilians. Both gyms are based in south Florida and have a deep dislike for each other.
With over 500 fighters currently signed to UFC contracts, the talent disparities are becoming smaller and smaller, forcing fighters to rely more on quality training and technique rather than falling back on natural athletic talent or toughness. This list will showcase twenty of the most successful gyms in MMA today.
20. CSW (Combat Submission Wrestling)
Founded in Fullerton, California, by MMA pioneer and BJJ, Judo, and Tae Kwon Do black belt, Erik Paulson, CSW is home to some of the toughest grapplers in MMA. CSW has had most of its success with heavyweight fighters. Notable names who have called this gym home include Cub Swanson, Babalu Sobral, and former UFC champions, Ken Shamrock, Sean Sherk, Josh Barnett, and Brock Lesnar. While the glory days of many of these fighters are behind us, Josh Barnett is still competing at a high level in the UFC as well as in submission grappling tournaments like Metamoris.
19. Team Oyama
The head coach of Team Oyama, Colin Oyama, has been a trainer of mixed martial artists for over 18 years. He initially made a name for himself coaching MMA legends like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Tito Ortiz, and Ricco Rodriquez. Currently Oyama now owns and operates as the head coach of his gym in Irvine, California. Numerous UFC fighters train out of Oyama such as flyweight standout Ian Mccall, and former women’s straw-weight champion, Carla Esparza. The late Shane Del Rosario also called team Oyama home throughout his career.
18. SBG Ireland (Straight Blast Gym)
The Straight Blast Gym in Dublin, Ireland has really made a splash recently within the MMA world. Ireland is quickly becoming one of the UFC’s most profitable markets and that is due, greatly in part to one, Conor McGregor, the most famous member of the Straight Blast Gym. In addition to the “Notorious’ Conor McGregor, head coach John Kavanagh has been able to cultivate some serious talent with such fighters as Gunnar Nelson, Paddy Holohan, Cathal Pendred, and Aisling Daly all currently signed to the UFC.
17. Blackhouse MMA
The first Brazilian gym on this list, Blackhouse is one of the most legendary names in mixed martial arts. Founded in 2006, in Brazil by several former Brazilian Top Team members, Blackhouse then moved to California and became one of the most sought after destinations by fighters all around the world. Fighters who have trained at Blackhouse include Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, the Noguiera brothers, Junior Dos Santos, Jacare Souza, and Glover Texeira. Many of these fighters are past their prime, but a new batch of prospects including Kelvin Gastelum and Uriah Hall may prove to be a bright spot for the gym’s future.
16. Glendale Fight Club
Continuing the trend of California based fight gyms, is the Glendale Fight Club, or GFC. Head coach Edmond Tarverdyan is a former world Muay Thai champion and has been coaching since he was 16. Tarverdyan is known for his technical boxing acumen and many fighters will visit GFC when they need to focus on their striking. The most famous fighter to come out of GFC is the dominant UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. Other fighters such as Francisco Rivera, Jake Ellenberger, Manny Gamburyan, and Travis Browne also frequent GFC during their training camps.
15. Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu
Based in northen California, the Cesar Gracie fight team is one of the most tightly knit and fiercely loyal group of fighters on the planet. The fighters who train here have gained the nickname “the scrap pack” and for good reason. Fighters such as Nick and Nate Diaz, Gilbert Melendez, and Jake Shields. For better or worse, this seemingly ragtag group of guys have stuck by each other throughout their careers. Many other fighters will come by their neck of the woods to train here and there, but the core of the scrap pack, well they are inseparable and they mention it in every one of their post fight interviews.
14. The Lab: Mixed Martial Arts Training Center
John Crouch is the head coach of the Lab MMA in Glendale Arizona, and he might be the most unassuming ass kicker in the world. In fact he is a music major and is the head instructor for a local high-school marching band. Aside from this however, John Crouch is the coach to some of the most dangerous unarmed men in the world, most notably former UFC lightweight champion “Smooth” Benson Henderson. Other current UFC fighters at The Lab include flyweight contender John Moraga, Jamie Varner, Jon Tuck, and Joe Riggs.
13. AMC Pankration
In Seattle, Washington lies AMC Pankration, one of the must underrated gyms in all of MMA. Matt Hume, the founder and head trainer at AMC Pankration is one of the most talented and respected grapplers and coaches in the world. In fact, Hume was invited to Abu Dhabi by the Sheik to instruct his personal combat team. Shortly after this, the world renowned Abu-Dhabi Submission Wrestling World Championships were created. In addition to being a tremendous grappler, Hume has proven himself to be a top trainer as well, honing the skills of UFC flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson. Other fighters who’ve trained with Hume include Josh Barnett, Chris Leben, and Matt Brown.
Located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is one of the most famed kickboxing centric gyms in the world, Roufusport. Founded by former world kickboxing champion Duke Roufus, Roufusport is the current home to some of the most exciting fighters in the UFC. Most famously, former UFC lightweight champion, Anthony Pettis and his younger brother Sergio. Other fighters who train here include Tyron Woodley, Alan Belcher, Ben Rothwell, Matt Mitrione, CM Punk, and Ben Askren who also functions as the head wrestling coach at the gym.
11. Alliance MMA
Founded by Eric Del Fierro and former UFC heavyweight Brandon Vera in Chula Vista California in 2007, Alliance MMA has been one of the most consistently successful teams in mixed martial arts. All their fighters demonstrate fantastic footwork and movement in the cage, which has become someting of a trademark for Alliance. Former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz has trained with Alliance his whole career. Other fighters who have joined Alliance’s ranks include Alexander Gustafsson, Phil Davis, Jeremy Stephens, Ross Pearson, Michael Chandler, and Myles Jury.
10. Team Takedown
Perhaps the most unique team on this list is Team Takedown. Instead of the usual setup wherein coaches and gyms take a cut of their fighter’s winnings, Team Takedown pays their fighters a salary, and collects all winnings and sponsorship income instead. This way they maintain that a fighter does not have to worry about anything except training. Head coach Marc Laimon, has been able to find success taking college wrestlers and turning them into fighters with guys like Johny Hendricks, Jared Rosholt, and Chas Skelly.
The Tristar gym in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, is another one of those legendary names in mixed martial arts history. The head coach Firas Zahabi is one of the greatest single minds in the sport. Not just a striking or grappling coach, Zahabi teaches every aspect of MMA and is constantly experimenting with different techniques and training methods. Tristar has been home to over 20 different UFC fighters, with some of the most successful names being: Rory MacDonald, Jon Jones, Kenny Florian, and Georges St-Pierre.
In addition to being the most entertaining pair of cornermen in the business, Matt Serra and Ray Longo have also cultivated some of the top talent within the UFC. The Long Island, NY natives are not only colorful characters, but Serra, a former UFC Champion is one of the top Jiu Jitsu instructors on the East coast, and Ray Longo is an extremely accomplished striking coach. Together, they have been able to help their fighters like Gian Villante, Eddie Gordon, Al Iaquinta, and the current UFC middleweight champion, Chris Weidman gain success on the largest stage.
7. Team Alpha Male
Started by Urijah Faber in 2004, Team Alpha Male has been one of the top destinations for lighter weight fighters. Based in Sacramento, California, Team Alpha Male has grown both in size and success. Not just a gym, but a fighter residence as well, the TAM fighters are a tight knit group of guys who include Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes, Cody Garbrandt, Danny Castillo, and UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillahsaw. This camp is one of the most skillful, but its lack of weight class variety can be something of a detriment.
In south Florida, there are two of the top MMA gyms in the world, and they are just blocks away from each other. The first of these two, is the Blackzilians training center which was established very recently, in 2011, when a group of fighters and their manager, Glen Robinson split from American Top Team and decided to branch out and open their own gym. Since then, they have hired famed striking coach Henri Hooft, and have found significant success with fighters such as Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Michael Johnson, and recent UFC title challenger Anthony Rumble Johnson. The Blackzilians are currently one of the teams on the UFC’s reality show, The Ultimate Fighter.
5. ATT (American Top Team)
The other team featured on this season of The Ultimate Fighter, as previously mentioned, is the American Top Team or ATT. ATT was established in 2002 and has seen MMA develop from its early days to the sport we know today. Fighters from ATT have competed in and won belts in every major MMA promotion including, UFC, Bellator, PRIDE, DREAM, and Strikeforce. Led by coaches Ricardo Liborio, and Mike Brown, ATT continues to pump out elite talent. Some of ATT’s most famous fighters are Thiago Alves, Yves Edwards, King Mo Lawal, Hector Lombard, Yoel Romero, and UFC welterweight champion, Robbie Lawler.
4. Kings MMA
Kings MMA, in Huntington Beach California, has had quite the spell of recent success. Head coach and trainer, Master Rafael Cordeiro was a former Muay Thai and Kickboxing fighter out of the famed Chute Boxe gym. After retiring as a fighter, he continued to coach in Brazil. Some notable students included Anderson Silva, Shogun Rua, and Wanderlei Silva. In 2010, Cordeiro moved to L.A. and started Kings MMA. Within the past year his gym has made leaps and bounds and is now home to both the lightweight and heavyweight champions, Rafael Dos Anjos and Fabricio Werdum.
3. AKA (American Kickboxing Academy)
Based in San Jose, California, the American Kickboxing Academy remains one of the most productive gyms in combat sports. With a well-rounded coaching staff, MMA fighters can grapple and strike with world-class instructors and peers, something most gyms cannot boast. Javier Mendez and Bob Cook are two of the most respected MMA minds, and the jiu jitsu coach, Leandro Vieira is a legitimate master. AKA is another gym with two current UFC champions in Daniel Cormier and Cain Velazquez and if Luke Rockhold and Khabib Nurmagomedov keep winning, that number could go up to four.
2. Nova Uniao
Located in Rio de Janiero is Nova Uniao, currently the most prominent gym in the Brazilian mixed martial arts landscape. Initally focused as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy, many of its grapplers have gone on to successful careers in MMA. In addition, head coach Andre Pederneiras has provided his assistance to a number of UFC champions, past and present, legitimizing Nova Uniao’s claim to being the top gym in Brazil. MMA legend, BJ Penn started his career training at Nova Uniao. Even today, elite fighters like Renan Barao, and the UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo call Nova Uniao home, and continue the winning tradition.
1. Jackson-Winklejohn MMA
To most folks, Albuquerque, New Mexico, isn’t a destination that’s very high on their list of places to go see. To MMA fighters however, it might as well be Mecca. Nestled in the New Mexico desert lies Jackson-Winklejohn MMA, the closest thing to a mixed martial artist factory there is. They do everything at Jackson-Winklejohn right. High level striking and grappling, advanced understanding of fitness and nutrition, proper game-planning for fights, all of these things have made Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn names synonymous with success in MMA. Fighters like Carlos Condit, Georges St. Pierre, Donald Cerrone, and Jon Jones are proof that Jackson-Winklejohn MMA is a step above the rest.
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