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The Evolution of the Mixed Martial Arts Gym

There is an old saying that goes “Behind every good man there is a good woman”. Well I say “Behind every good mixed martial artist is a good group of trainers”. I hope that you noticed how trainer is now trainers as today’s top MMA camps have a plethora of great coaches.

The days of a fighter being trained in one discipline is long gone. All of the top camps today employ several different coaches who are experts in their own discipline. Today you can go to an MMA gym and learn boxing, Muay Thai, kickboxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu. It is completely necessary for today’s fighters to be strong in all of these disciplines as mixed martial artists today are more well rounded than ever.

American Top Team, which has its central location in Coconut Creek, Florida, have locations all throughout Florida as well as across the United States, and they have even branched out overseas to England and Australia. They are growing at a phenomenal rate and that is just a testament to the quality of trainers that they employ.

ATT’s top MMA fighters train out of their central location. Led by head MMA trainers Ricardo Liborio and Conan Silveira, this group of fighters include UFC #1 welterweight contender Thiago Alves, WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown, Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante, Denis Kang, Thiago Silva, Jorge Santiago, Antonio Silva, Din Thomas, Yves Edwards, Jeff Monson, Cole Miller, Wilson Gouveia and Bobby Lashley just to name a few.

They train in a state of the art 20,000 square foot facility that allows them to improve each and every area of MMA.

They employ former 1976 Olympic Boxing Gold Medalist Howard Davis Jr. as the team’s boxing instructor while the wrestling coach is Darrel Gholar. Gholar was a three time Greco Roman National champion, won the 2000 Vale Tudo middleweight championship and was an alternate on the 1988 Olympic team.

Coordinating a host of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts is head coach Marcos Da Matta who is a third degree black belt under Carlson Gracie. He is a BJJ world champion, a multiple NAGA superfight winner and has been invited to the ADCC’s.

Leading the instruction for Muay Thai is Chutiphat Runsgawang who has won multiple titles in the sport dating back to 1988. All told, he has over 120 Muay Thai fights.

The head conditioning coach is Stefane Dias who is credited with the great conditioning that all of the ATT fighters are always in.

If you look at the pedigrees of the trainers and those of the fighters of whom they train it is no wonder why American Top Team will be a leader in MMA for years to come.

Greg Jackson who is based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a man who needs no introduction in MMA circles as he has earned his reputation for solid game plans and for having his fighters at their peak physical condition come fight time. Boasting such stars as UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, middleweight contender and seven time King of Pancrase champion Nate Marquardt, Keith Jardine, Donald Cerrone, Leonard Garcia and Joey Villasenor, it’s easy to see why top fighters all around the world make the trek to New Mexico when they need help for a fight. The most recent addition is former UFC #1 lightweight contender Joe Stevenson who is training with Jackson in preparation for his upcoming bout with Nate Diaz. Also training with the camp is UFC heavyweight contender, the undefeated Shane Carwin.

Jackson is highly regarded by promoters, fighters and managers alike for his hands-on approach and solid game planning skills. Jackson trained fighters are constantly in the mix for titles no matter the weight class or the organization they fight in. Although Cerrone and Garcia were both unsuccessful in their WEC championship bouts the fact that either fighter earned the right is an amazing story.

Garcia had legal issues and was arrested in a drug sting operation in which he was found innocent. He never lost focus and earned his title shot by brutally destroying Jens Pulver.

Cerrone has overcome numerous injuries throughout his life and has been molded into a dangerous mixed martial artist by the hands of the man they call “Yoda”.

Jackson established Jackson Submission Fighting in 1992 and he has produced ten world champions thus far. Jackson is also well known for developing Gaidojutsu which combines basic judo locks with wrestling and striking.

His work will be on display as Evans defends his title against Lyoto Machida on May 23 and GSP defends his title against Thiago Alves at UFC 100 in July.

Jackson’s best work may have been the transformation of Rashad Evans from a great wrestler to a great well rounded mixed martial artist. Evans possessed very minimal MMA skills when he was on The Ultimate Fighter, now he is a world champion.

Last but not least is Xtreme Couture which was founded by former UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight champion Randy Couture. They are based out of Las Vegas, Nevada and have began to set up locations all across the United States.

Led by Couture, this group of fighters consists of former UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin, Tyson Griffin, Gray Maynard, Gina Carano, Jay Hieron, Vitor Belfort, Martin Kampmann and Stephan Bonnar. The list really goes on and on as fighters flock to Las Vegas for the chance to train with the six time UFC champion Couture and his host of trainers.

Randy’s best work may have been with Forrest Griffin as he took a guy who loved to stand and bang and turned him into a world champion who began to utilize all of his other skills including his brain to become a mixed martial artist.

Junie Browning who was on last year’s edition of The Ultimate Fighter is a prime example of a fighter who has talent but needs that extra push and prodding to be successful. If anyone can get the talent out of Browning it is certainly Couture.

While Couture is the head trainer the man behind the scenes who is credited with a lot of the success is Shawn Tompkins who is well known for his Muay Thai striking and clinch work. At 30 years old Tompkins is slowly building a solid reputation as a guy MMA fighters want to train with if they want to succeed.

Many of the fighters who train at Xtreme Couture also teach as well. Some examples are Tyson Griffin whose strengths are wrestling and ground pound, Jay Hieron who is a former IFL welterweight champion is proficient at Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling. Martin Kampmann, Gray Maynard, Mike Pyle and John Alessio also fill important roles at the gym.

The gym in which they train consists of two floors covering over 11,000 square feet in which fighters can be trained in all areas of MMA. Couture has put his fighters in position to succeed and maintains a hands on approach even when he is training for a fight himself.

If you want a great example of the respect that Couture has in MMA; Shortly after losing to Brock Lesnar in November he was approached by the new UFC heavyweight champion about helping him prepare for his next bout which will be against Frank Mir. Wanderlei Silva has also trained at the gym but it seems as though he has decided to move on due to a disagreement with Tompkins. You would be hard pressed to find an event that does not have at least one Couture fighter on the card.

Well there you have it, a brief inside look at some of the top MMA camps around today. There are plenty of other gyms that deserved consideration such as American Kickboxing Academy which boasts top UFC welterweights Mike Swick, Jon Fitch and Josh Koshcheck along with rising heavyweight Cain Velasquez.

Don’t forget about Arizona Combat Sports which just added former WEC welterweight champion Carlos Condit to its stable of fighters that includes Ryan Bader, C.B. Dolloway and Jamie Varner to name a few.

The instructors at these camps for the most part do not get a lot of credit and it is important that the fans know who they are.

  • madiq says:

    I’m pretty sure that Greg Jackson’s nickname is “Yoda,” not “Yoga.”

  • wardog says:

    No Renzio? Bryan you left out the New York boys? For shame lol. Anyway decent list. Arizona is the up and coming gym out there as well as Team Alpha Male. And Jackson’s name should be “Yogurt” because Yoda was too cool for that fool!

  • GROIN says:


  • TheLevi75 says:

    i agree with GROIN,why no mention of Sityodtong and Marc Dellagrotte. also why so little info on AKA?who is the head instructer there,Crazy Bob Cook?

  • I really thought about Mark Dellagrotte and I was pissed at myself after I submitted the article for not including him, his work with Florian is amazing. AKA is a great camp as is Renzo Gracie, I concentrated on the three that I did because of the amount of high level mixed martial artists that they have produced. I write these pieces with the readers in mind, knowing they will tell me who I forgot or maybe give me more info on the ones I did choose. I love a good back and forth conversation, this forum is here for you guys to chime in and express your thoughts. I truly value your opinions and feedback, like my spelling of Jackson’s nickname. In the rush to get this posted I called him yoga and thankfully someone corrected me!!!!


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