In the world of mixed martial arts gyms come and go. There are some gyms which at one time were considered premiere which are now non-existant. There was a time when Miletich Fighting Systems was the best place to train, now it is gone. It is a strange dynamic. Longevity is rare in a gym, which trains fighters. Often times as fighters emerge into stars they break off on their own and start their own gym. There are several factors that go into determining the success of a gym, albeit ranking them can be subjective. However, the quality of trainers, the quality of the faciility, the quality of training and sparring partners and eventually the actual success of the gym’s fighters all come into play. With that said, here are who we believe to be the top places to train mixed martial arts and to do so at an elite level. These guys have a proven track record.
1. Jackson’s Submission Fighting
When we talk about trainers and gyms it seems that there is no one better than Greg Jackson. Jackson and his team are master game planners. Jackson’s gym is a little bit difficult to pin down because they have partnered with gyms like Grudge in Colorado (we are grouping Grudge with Jackson) and Tristar in Montreal. However, Jackson’s influence on the sport is unmatched as far as trainers are concerned. Fighters of all levels and all weight classes have flocked to Greg Jackson for training. It is rare to see a UFC event without Greg Jackson in someone’s corner.
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Trainers: Greg Jackson (Head Trainer), Mike Winklejohn (Boxing), Trevor Whitman, Mike Van Arsdale, Jonathan Chaimberg (Strength & Conditioning)
Fighters: Jon Jones, Georges St. Pierre, Nate Marquardt, Shane Carwin, Brendan Schaub, Keith Jardine, Joey Villasenor, Melvin Guillard, Clay Guida, Brian Stann, Tom Watson, Diego Sanchez, Donald Cerrone, Leonard Garcia, Carlos Condit, Cub Swanson, Aaron Riley, Kyle Noke, Damacio Page, Joe Stevenson, Gina Carano, and Andrei Arlovski
2. Team Nogueira
Team Nogueira is not easy to pin down. However, the team is run by the famed Nogueira brothers. This team boasts many great fighters and I cannot imagine the high level of quality training partners. We have seen many of Team Nogueira members training at the famed Blackhouse gym.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Trainers: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Vincent Parra, Alexander Palma
Fighters: Anderson Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Lyoto Machida, Erick Silva, Ronaldo “Jacare” de Souza, Andre Galvao, Rafael “Faijao” Cavalcante, Fabio Maldonado, Patricio Freire, Patricky Freire. (Note: Junior Dos Santos just parted ways with the team)
3. Xtreme Couture
Xtreme Couture is a popular place for fighters to train. On any given day one may find some of the best of the best training there. Many of those fighters train other places as well, but Couture’s has now been established as one of the most talent rich gyms.
Location: Laz Vegas, NV
Trainers: Randy Couture, Ray Sefo, Ron Frazier, Gil Martinez, Neil Melanson, Jason Trevino, Jake Bonnaci
Fighters: Mike Pyle, John Alessio, Tyson Griffin, Gray Maynard, Forrest Griffin, Vitor Belfort, Jay Hieron, Evan Dunham, Vinny Magalhaes, Martin Kampmann, Amir Sadollah, Ryan Couture, Ray Sefo and Michael Chandler
4. American Kickboxing Academy
American Kickboxing Academy is impressive and keeps getting better. AKA has been around for a long time and is very well respected in the fight community. Don’t let their name mislead you, they have great grappling and wrestling training there as well.
Location: San Jose, CA
Trainers: Javier Mendes, Dave Camarillo, Bob Cook
Fighters: Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Mike Swick, Mike Kyle, Luke Rockhold, Daniel Cormier, Phil Baroni, Kyle Kingsbury, Herschel Walker, Justin Wilcox, Bobby Southworth, Trevor Prangley, King Mo Lawal and Josh Thomson
5. Nova Uniao
Nova Uniao is not a very well known team, however, it will be. Nova Uniao is based out of Brazil, but has since opened up affiliates all around the world. The team is known for having some of the best lighter weight Brazilian fighters in the world on their team.
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Trainers: Andre Pederneira, Gustavo Dantas, Robson Moura
Fighters: Jose Aldo, Diego Nunes, Amilcar Alves, Marlon Sandro, Wagnney Fabiano, Yan Cabral, Jussier da Silva, Eduardo Dantas, Hacran Dias, Willamy Freire, Marcos Galvao, Thales Leites, Ronys Torres, Ronny Markes, Vitor Ribeiro
6. Cesar Gracie
Cesar Gracie’s team has proven themselves in the cage. They have several legit fighters in their stable. All those fighters have a very solid jiu jitsu base under the tutelage of Cesar Gracie himself. While the team is not as large as some of the previously mentioned ones they stand here on the strength of 3 or 4 of their fighters. Many of their fighters are more known for their brash attitude than anything else.
Location: Plesant Hill, CA
Trainers: Cesar Gracie, Caio Terra, Richard Perez
Fighters: Nick Diaz, Jake Shields, Gilbert Melendez, Nate Diaz, Daniel Roberts, David Douglas, and David Terrell
7. American Top Team
Perhaps we have underrated this team. American Top Team is a breeding ground for elite fighters. There may not be another gym with more elite level fighters. They are not ranked higher because many of their guys have failed to reach the pinnacle. They recently just lost some of their best fighters as well such as Jorge Santiago and the Villefort brothers.
Location: Coconut Creek, Fl
Trainers: Ricardo Liborio, Howard Davis, Jr
Fighters: Antonio Silva, Mike Brown, Cole Miller, Thiago Alves, Thiago Silva, Rich Attonito, Mark Bocek, Alessio Sakara, Roan Carneiro, Yves Edwards, Mark Hunt, Hector Lombard, Jorge Masvidal, Brad Pickett, Jeff Monson, Ben Saunders, Din Thomas, Gleison Tibau, Alexis Vila, Brian Bowles, Tyron Woodley, Waylon Lowe, Ken Stone, Micah Miller
8. Tristar Gym
Tristar is based out of Montreal and is one of those gyms who have partnered with Greg Jackson. Many Jackson fighters also train at Tristar, but we have kept them separate for our purposes. Firas Zahabi has made a name for himself as a good trainer. Tristar has become Canada’s premiere MMA gym.
Location: Montreal, Canada
Trainers: Firas Zahabi, Oliver Reynaud, Samuel Vasquez
Fighters: Georges St. Pierre, Miguel Torres, Kenny Florian, Patrick Cote, Denis Kang, Rory MacDonald, John Makdessi, Nick Ring, Ivan Menjivar, and Yves Jabouin
This is another up an coming gym. Roufus trains many up and coming fighters and these guys have showed improvement under Duke’s teaching.
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Trainers: Duke Roufus
Fighters: Anthony Pettis, Pat Barry, Ben Askren, Alan Belcher, Joe Cason, Danny Downes, Erik Koch, Matt Mitrione, Eric Schafer
10. Team Alpha Male
Team Alpha Male has established itself as the best place for the lighterweight fighters to train. Founded and run by Urijah Faber, Alpha Male has a solid team which is known for hard work and success in the cage. I have a feeling that this team will grow and continue to emerge as one of the best.
Location: Sacramento, CA
Trainers: Urijah Faber, Master Tong
Fighters: Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes, Danny Castillo, Justin Buchholz, Bryan Caraway, Dustin Akbari, T.J. Dillashaw and Kyacey Uscola
11. AMA Fight Club
This is another emerging team. The success of Jim Miller has brought attention to this team. Mike Constantino is a great head trainer and his guys always come prepared to fight. People are starting to take notice of this and guys are starting to seek out the AMA fight team.
Location: Whippany, NJ
Trainers: Mike Constantino
Fighters: Jim Miller, Dan Miller, Charlie Brennerman, Mike Massenzio, Jamie Varner, Ricardo Romero, Rafaello Oliveira and Brian McLaughlin
12. Rough House
Rough House fighters are known to be tough guys. I am certain they have intense sparring sessions. They are known to be good strikers. Their achilles heel has been wrestling. If they improve their wrestling they will improve their stock as a gym.
Location: Nottingham, England
Trainers: Nathan Leverton, Jim Wallhead, Lee Livingstone
Fighters: Paul Daley, Dan Hardy, Ross Pearson, Nick Osipczak, Dean Amasinger, Jim Wallhead and Andre Winner
13. Golden Glory
If this was a ranking of best K-1 gyms, Golden Glory would be at the top. Guys like Errol Zimmerman train there. There is an obvious striking influence, but their guys have proven solid all around MMA fighters.
Location: Breda, Netherlands
Trainers: Bas Boon
Fighters: Alistair Overeem, Sergei Kharitonov, Siyar Bahadurzada, Jon Olav Einemo, Marloes Coenen, Semmy Schilt, Gegard Mousasi and Valentijin Overeem
14. Alliance MMA
Alliance has a great team as well. I understand that it is not officially associated with Lloyd Irvin, but I am considering them as one. Founded by Brandon Vera, Alliance has put together a solid team.
Location: Chula Vista, CA
Trainers: Lloyd Irvin, Lew Polley
Fighters: Dominick Cruz, Brandon Vera, Phil Davis, Kerry Vera, Mike Easton, Joey Beltran, Travis Browne, Alexander Gustafsson
Team Kaobon is one of the more underrated gyms. If you look at their stable of fighters you will see many UFC fighters. This is and a few other factors is why Team Kaobon is above the Wolfslair
Location: Liverpool, England
Trainers: Colin Heron, Shane Rigby, Marcelo Brigadeiro
Fighters: Paul Taylor, Mark Scanlon, Paul Sass, Mick Sinclair, Rob Sinclair, Mark Adams, Paul Kelly and Terry Etim
Others: Team Quest, Brazilian Top Team, Wand Fight Team, The Wolfslair and Constrictor Team