Tempe, Az. – When asked where the elite combatants originate from in today’s world of mixed martial arts, fighters and fans alike generally cast their eyes towards the Southwest, and the state of New Mexico home of Greg Jackson’s famous mixed martial arts gym. But in recent years it has become increasingly difficult for Jackson to lay claim to all the accolades the southwest has garnered, thanks mostly to training duo of brothers Todd and Trevor Lally and the fighters produced at Arizona Combat Sports in Tempe.
While Jackson has enjoyed most of the media and publicity, the Lally’s have quietly produced some of the best and most well known fighters in the world of professional mixed martial arts. WEC Lightweight Champion Jamie Varner, current TUF contestant Ryan Bader, TUF 3 semi-finalist Jesse Forbes and TUF 7’s C.B. Dollaway and Matthew Riddle are all results of a prolific training environment created by formerly professional kickboxing brothers and their partner, world champion Brazilian jiu-jitsu Coach Gustavo Dantes.
With all the success ACS has enjoyed over the past several years it still manages to be one of the best kept secret in the MMA training world, when asked why he thought the gym was still in relative obscurity, brother Todd Lally had plenty of thoughts on the subject.
“My brother and I are not headliners and none of our guys are either, at least not yet,” said Lally. “Maybe it’s because we don’t have that huge star at our gym. I couldn’t tell you what it is but it doesn’t matter to us. Recognition is not what drives us, it’s not why we do this.”
While some would discount statements like this as false modesty, rest assured, the trainers at ACS use their training environment to instill the idea that only through hard work, determination and more importantly results can anyone expect to gain the respect of their peer’s, hardly an idea that breeds big ego’s or fighters with a chip on their shoulder.
The creation of a family-like environment inside and out of the gym is something the coaches attribute much of their success to, building their fighters as a team rather than focusing on building them as individuals is a philosophy whose results are hard to ignore. Nowhere was this more evident then ringside Saturday when Ray Steinbeiss of ACS took on former UFC veteran Steve Berger in the main event of EVO MMA’s inaugural promotion, the first legally sanctioned MMA event in Arizona.
Though accompanied to the ring by the two Lally’s, anyone watching would have thought Steinbeiss had more like 6 men in his corner. The entire team could be heard shouting instructions and calling out possible submission openings to their teammate from the front row, each as engrossed in the battle as if it were they themselves in the ring.
While the environment perpetuated by the coaches is a big reason for the success of the fighters on the team, a good share of the praise has got to be attributed to their ability to judge talent while still in its raw form. Bader, Dollaway, and Cain Velasquez were all members of the same ASU wrestling team and all were All-Americans, but according to some of the more recognizable talent scouts who make a living judging fighters and their potential, Velasquez was the only one thought to have a real shot at a future in MMA. ACS, disagreed and noticed the unrefined ability in Bader and Dollaway. They approached the two, offering the opportunity to train with them in the hopes of becoming professional mixed martial artists. While Velasquez is a rising star and currently 4 – 0 in his professional career, the transformation from raw talent to refined fighter with championship potential has garnered Dollaway and Bader much more publicity throughout their foray into the world of mixed martial arts.
The coach’s belief that no two fighters journey’s to becoming a complete fighter is the same has led them away from trying to refine them in similar fashion.
“No two fighters are the same so we don’t try and develop them the same,” Lally said. “We really try to concentrate on instilling solid fundamentals, you cant build on a weak foundation so that’s a big focus in our training regimen, they’re all great athletes already so their ability to respond to training is there, what we do is find what they have a natural talent for and build a complete fighter by adding to those talents the tools they need to become a champion”
When asked how it would feel to finally receive that validation from the others in the sport they’ve enjoyed so much success in, the answer would come in the same manner in which the brothers train their fighters.
“Everyone wants recognition from their peers,” he responded. “But we don’t need to hyped up or anything like that, we’ll prove (our ability) through our guys”
Why the training philosophy embraced at Arizona Combat Sports has yet to catch the attention or the accolades it deserves from the rest of the MMA world is still unknown, but one thing that has made itself abundantly clear, the results they produce won’t allow them to stay out of the spotlight much longer.