As the sport of mixed martial arts continues to grow around the world, the offering of world-class training is at your fingertips wherever you are. That being said, we are seeing a familiar pattern in gyms that have formed into powerhouses over the past decade and continued to build on that. We do have a couple of fresh, new, and exciting gyms that have emerged as the home for the elite, and we take a look at those down below. These training centres have become places where fighters are willing to sacrifice what they know and move to dedicate their lives to their trade. Across the globe, we have MMA gyms that home multiple champions and a training team full of professional martial artists.
Many fighters have a home gym that they base their training out of entirely. Yet we still do see many fighters going to multiple gyms, training with multiple coaches in order to find their best formula. It can make it a little difficult to know exactly who is training where when, but for the sake of this list, we focus on current known training homes for fighters.
1- American Top Team- Coconut Creek, Florida
You will begin to see a pattern of these top gyms being in warm places where the sun constantly shines and where there are plenty of training partners. Dan Lambert and co have built a long list of champions, top contenders, and many more top tier fighters along their rise to the upper echelon of MMA gyms. Established in 2001 by Lambert and Ricardo Liborio, it has only been in recent years that the gym in Coconut Creek, Florida, has emerged as the top MMA gym in the world. With head trainer Mike Brown at the helm, the team has seen a dynasty of success, winning Gym of the Year at the World MMA Awards in 2016, 2017, and 2018 and himself Coach of the Year in 2018 as well. The gym is home to double champ Amanda Nunes along with six other top 5 ranked UFC fighters in Colby Covington, Dustin Poirier, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Jorge Masvidal, Junior Dos Santos, and Yoel Romero. The caliber of training and the number of fighters has led to some heated gym sessions and fighters calling each other out in the media; however, the respect that Dan Lambert and Mike Brown command from their team steers them clear of any gym altering issues as we take a look at later on.
Other Notable Fighters: Santiago Ponzinibbio, Douglas Lima, Dhiego Lima, Kayla Harrison, Glover Texeira, Pedro Munhoz
2- American Kickboxing Academy- San Jose, California, and Phuket, Thailand
The warm weather of San Jose, California, helps, but its founder and head coach Javier Mendez that has fighters swarming to get a taste of life at AKA. Storming onto the scene with Cain Velasquez through his title reign, American Kickboxing Academy became a hotbed for big names in MMA. Growing so much and wanting to expand, AKA expanded in 2014 with the AKA Thailand project in Phuket that has been spearheaded by former UFC welterweight and middleweight Mike Swick. Fighters such as Tyron Woodley have used the Thai gym as complete isolation to focus themselves through a fight camp or to change the setting of their training and re-group. UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and legend Daniel Cormier have become the pillars of a team of killers since Velasquez has focused on his WWE career, and lead a team of 20+ professional fighters in various promotions.
Other Notable Fighters: Leon Edwards, Islam Makachev, Jon Fitch, Luke Rockhold, Deron Winn, Germaine De Randamie, Liam McGeary
3- Jackson-Wink- Albuquerque, New Mexico
When you are the home to the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, you find yourself as a place where fighters want to be. That is exactly what has happened over the past decade that Jon Jones has defended the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. Prior to joining forces with striking specialist Mike Winkeljohn, Greg Jackson had his own gym “Greg Jackson Fighting Systems,” and in 2009, the MMA gym was named Gym of the Year with Jackson winning Coach of the Year three straight years in 2009,10,11. After forces had joined the gym again got recognized as the Gym of the Year in 2015, this was in large part to one of the most shocking upsets of all time when Holly Holm defeated Ronda Rousey for the Women’s Bantamweight title. The gym has maintained its rankings near the top in large part to their pupil in Jon Jones, and with him getting older, we wait to see who is next out of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Other Notable Fighters: Michelle Waterson, Ray Borg, Carlos Condit, Cub Swanson, John Dodson, Claudia Gadelha, Andrei Arlovski
4- City Kickboxing- Auckland, New Zealand
The hottest gym in town, based out of Auckland, New Zealand City Kickboxing has taken the MMA world by storm the past two years as we saw them emerge as the Gym of the Year in 2019, with head coach and owner Eugene Bareman winning Coach of the Year as well. Established in 2007 by Bareman and former boxing Olympian Doug Viney it’s been a recent surge of dominance that has the Kiwi’s the talk of the town. Being across the world from the majority of big fight promotions, you wouldn’t expect City Kickboxing to be the home of two UFC champions, but that’s exactly what they have built. Both Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and Featherweight champ Alexander Hernandez have long trained under Bareman and take pride in representing their small local gym, while they lead the charge of young talent in New Zealand.
Other Notable Fighters: Dan Hooker, Kai Kara-France, Shane Young, Brad Riddell
5- Roufusport Martial Arts Academy- Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Simply put, Head coach and co-owner Duke Roufus is regarded as one of the best minds in MMA. Teaming up with his prodigy Anthony Pettis in the opening of Roufusport, Roufus has been the lead hand in creating a home to former champions and a list of top fighters, including the younger Pettis brother Sergio. Duke Roufus, being a former kickboxing world champion, has taken the collaboration of head jiu-jitsu coach Daniel Wanderley and wrestling coach Raufeon Stots to help take Roufusport to the level it is at. During his title reign at Welterweight, Tyron Woodley called the Milwaukee gym home and, along with Ben Askren made the gym a top training centre for fighters.
Other Notable Fighters: Paul Felder, Maycee Barber, Gerald Meerschaert, Belal Muhammad, Jared Gordon, Brendan Allen
6- Hard Knocks 365- Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Often times, the result of one’s demise can be someone else’s success. That is exactly what happened in 2018 when then founder of the Blackzilians MMA Team Glenn Robinson passed away from a heart attack. With the Blackzilians falling apart Southern Florida was in need of a premier training team, and the mix of striking specialist Henri Hooft, world-renowned sports trainer Tony Villani, three-time Division 1 Men’s Wrestling Champion Greg Jones and Hooft’s right-hand man Kami Barzini have created exactly that at Hard Knocks 365. Home to the UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman, HK365 has rapidly been getting the notoriety and climbing the ladder as a destination for fighters seeking the best training through his title reign. Head coach Henri Hooft is able to develop the striking of predominately ground game fighters and create mismatches for all divisions.
Other Notable Fighters: Volkan Oezdemir, Michael Johnson, Vincent Luque, Gilbert Burns, Matt Mitrione, Chas Skelly, Stefan Struve
7- Team Alpha Male- Sacramento, California
What was at one point the cream of the crop we have seen internal disputes amongst the fighters, coaches, and owners take their toll on the team. When former 2x Coach of the Year Duane Ludwig left on poor terms with owner Urijah Faber the pupil of the gym, TJ Dillashaw followed suite. This lead to an ongoing beef between Dillashaw and newly crown Bantamweight Champion and former Alpha Male teammate Cody Garbrandt that saw Dillashaw take and defend the belt against the younger Garbrandt, which also had an impact on the gym’s success. Following Ludwig’s departure, Justin Buchholz took over as Head Coach, and within a few years, he too left the gym sighting “a different system” as being the reason for him leaving. What we’re left with is the pillars in owner and head coach Urijah Faber and longtime coach Chris Holdsworth being the foundation for a still very prominent team of professionals and contenders.
Other Notable Fighters: Joseph Benavidez, Josh Emmett, Yadong Song, Andre Fili, Sarah McMann
8- The Alliance MMA Gym- Chula Vista, California
Founded in 2007 by former UFC Heavyweight and current ONE Championship Heavyweight Champion, Alliance MMA has since been taken over by Head Coach Eric Del Fierro. California has become a hotbed of martial arts in the USA, and we have seen a constant ascendancy of fighters from Chula Vista stemming from the early first UFC Middleweight champion Frank Shamrock to the success of fighters like 2x Bellator Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler. In 2010 the gym was at its peak as Dominick Cruz took his WEC Championship and won the UFC Bantamweight in a win over Demitrious Johnson. After a string of injuries took Cruz out of the octagon, he became more of a coach than a training partner and helped develop many fighters during that time. The recent emergence of UFC Light Heavyweight challenger Jan Blachowicz has the MMA gym seeking its 3rd attempt at the LHW title with the first two coming from the retired Alexander Gustafsson.
Other Notable Fighters: Jeremy Stephens, Angela Hill, Phil Davis, Cat Zingano, Bec Rawlings
9- Tristar MMA- Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Long considered as the best mind in martial arts, Firas Zahabi is spoken of in the highest of regards, however, the retirement of Georges St. Pierre has impacted the view of Tristar as we haven’t seen that “next best thing.” In 2008 Zahabi purchased the gym becoming both the owner and the head trainer, he and St. Pierre then went on a seven-year dominance of the welterweight division and established themselves as the premier team in martial arts. Throughout the years, we have seen the cold weather of Montreal impact the time that fighters are willing to spend training at Tristar, with many of the game’s biggest names coming to spend small periods of time training under Zahabi while calling other MMA gyms home. The combination of GSP and his protégé Rory Macdonald has kept Tristar in the elite class and has also drawn many fighters in to train in Quebec.
Other Notable Fighters: Kevin Lee, Johnny Walker, Arnold Allen, John Makdessi, Joanne Calderwood, Ryan Hall
10- Kings MMA- Huntington Beach, California
A 2x recipient of World MMA Awards Coach of the Year, Rafael Cordeiro is among the elite of martial arts coaches. Based in Huntington Beach, California Kings MMA has the feel of a Brazilian gym as it homes many top tier Brazilian fighters. Amongst the fighters training at Kings, five former Brazilian UFC Champions have reached the championship pedigree at the Cordeiro coached gym their training facility. Most recently, Kings has seen the surprising rise of UFC Middleweight Kelvin Gastelum once the last pick on the Ultimate Fighter to a top contender in the 185lb division. Gastelum, being the closest fighter to a championship, it appears the best days of Kings MMA may be behind them, but as long as Rafael Cordiero is coaching, they will be considered an elite MMA gym.
Other Notable Fighters: Fabricio Werdum, Mauricio Rua, Lyoto Machida, Wanderlei Silva, Beneil Dariush, Marvin Vettori
Straight Blast Gym, Ireland- Coach John Kavanagh, Conor McGregor, James Gallagher, Gunnar Nelson
Nova Uniao, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil- Jose Aldo, Renan Barao, BJ Penn
Longo & Weidman, Long Island, New York- Coach Ray Longo, Chris Weidman, Al Iaquinta, Aljamain Sterling