(Obviously the body of a man with a severe testosterone deficiency. Pic: Team Quest)
This is a tricky thing, trying to rank the best fight camps in mixed martial arts. With so many top level fighters constantly on the move and the teams themselves ceaselessly forging, then breaking alliances with the speed and bitterness of your average Tito-Jenna Twitter spat, it’s hard to keep it all straight in your head. Take welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre, for instance. Obviously a feather in the cap for any MMA gym, but how do we consider GSP – the prototypical camp-jumper — for the purposes of our precious little lists? Is he a Team Jackson guy? A TriStar guy? A (*snort*) Freddie Roach guy? Hard to know. Still, in the face of this uncertainty we soldier on. Why? Because of our commitment to you, P-Nation. And our commitment to making you mad with our off-base picks …
1. Jackson’s MMA: Greg Jackson’s sterling reputation as a strategist and motivator is well-earned. That’s evident in the champions he trains (Georges St. Pierre, Jon Jones), the long list of UFC contenders he’s nurtured (Diego Sanchez, Rashad Evans, Clay Guida, Carlos Condit, Melvin Guillard, to name a few), and all the other stars who continue to make pilgrimages to his camp to see if the hype is for real. Jackson’s focus on the mental aspects of fighting has translated to top-level success for his fighters, year after year.
2. Black House: Recent losses by Rafael Cavalcante and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (as well as Lyoto Machida‘s recent skid) have taken a bit of the shine off this home-away-from-home for Ed Soares’s stable of Brazilians. But we’re still talking about a crew that features two unbeatable UFC champions (Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo) as well as a future heavyweight champ in Junior Dos Santos.
3. Team Cesar Gracie: The Skrap Pack currently holds two of Strikeforce’s title belts (Nick Diaz at welterweight, Gilbert Melendez at lightweight) and will be gunning for a UFC strap at the end of the month (former Strikeforce champ Jake Shields). While the tight-knit gang has no qualms about gang-stomping a rival on national television, Nick Diaz recently said that fighting a teammate is a disgusting thought. Take that, Team Jackson.
4. Team Alpha Male: The definition of “small but mighty.” Alpha Male’s collection of dynamic 155-and-under contenders includes the likes of Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes, Danny Castillo, and Miesha Tate — all of them forces in their respective divisions, and all riding impressive win streaks.
5. Golden Glory: With two exciting Strikeforce champions (Alistair Overeem, Marloes Coenen) and a pantheon of K-1 stars including four-time World Grand Prix champion Semmy Schilt, they’re the most compelling international team in my opinion. All they need is a few more visible MMA contenders in the UFC and Strikeforce, and they’ll start to get their due respect in this country.
1. Jackson’s MMA: It’s almost unfair to other gyms to look at Team Jackson as a camp considering it’s really a conglomerate that includes Jackson’s MMA, Team Zahabi and Team Grudge, but it’s hard to argue that the Greg Jackson-helmed MMA Dream Team isn’t the best in the game. Besides UFC champs Georges St. Pierre and Jon Jones, the team has contributed to the success of countless contenders and former title holders like Diego Sanchez, Carlos Condit, Rashad Evans and Clay Guida, making it the go-to destination for fighters looking to rebuild their sagging careers.
2. Black House: Even if Team Black House was just Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo, it would still be in the top ten, if not the top five list of MMA gyms. Add Junior Dos Santos, Lyoto Machida and Rafael Cavalcante to the mix and you have a team that rivals Jackson’s. Personally, we’d like to see both teams square off in a one night Kumite, but finding an athletic commission to sanction the tournament has proven to be a challenge.
3. Golden Glory: One of the most underrated teams in the game, Golden Glory is like the Gary Oldman of MMA. They always put in solid performances, yet still don’t get the respect they deserve. With one DREAM and two Strikeforce belts in the trophy case of their Netherlands-based gym besides countless K-1 and kickboxing titles, various members Team Golden Glory have told me that the goal for 2011 is for the camp to become more well known in North America. With fighters like Alistair Overeem, Marloes Coenen, Siyar Bahadurada, Gokhan Saki, Jon Olav Einemo and Sergei Kharitonov fighting under the GG banner, it’s likely that their goal could come to fruition, especially with the Zuffa marketing machine behind them.
4.Team Cesar Gracie: If Jake Shields can manage to pull off an upset over GSP at UFC 129, Team Cesar Gracie’s position on this list would improve by at least one level. With two Strikeforce champions in Nick Diaz and Gilbert Melendez and a scrappy moneyweight fighter in Nate Diaz, the camp has a ton of talent in the training room on any given day — all of whom have the potential to beat almost anyone in their respective divisions.
5. American Kickboxing Academy: Even if you aren’t a fan of AKA’s takedown-heavy style of fighting, you have to its members credit for constantly being ranked in the top ten rankings. Cain Velasquez is a beast who just made quick work of a much bigger opponent to win the UFC heavyweight strap. Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch have rarely slipped out of the welterweight top five. Add to the mix a handful of prospects like Mike Swick, Daniel Cormier, Josh Thomson and Mike Kyle and it’s tough to justify putting another camp in AKA’s place on this list.
1. Black House: Since a lot of the key members seem to do the bulk of their training elsewhere, Black House feels more like a lifestyle than an actual fight gym. But since that lifestyle assumedly includes copious amounts of weed, video games and being the baddest motherfuckers on the planet, I gotta give them the top spot. With two of MMA’s most untouchable champs on the roster and a supporting cast like JDS, the Nogs, Feijao and Machida, it’s hard to fuck with Ed Soares’ Home for Wayward Boys.
2. Greg Jackson MMA: I agree that if we included everyone from this “conglomerate” Jackson’s would be a clear cut No.1, but that seems a little unfair to me. Camps like Grudge and TriStar ought to stand on their own in an exhibition like this one, don’t you think? Still, even when limited to the guys he has in the gym more or less every day – Jones, Guillard, Sanchez, Condit, Guida, Stevenson, Donald Cerrone, et. al. – it’s still very, very impressive.
3. Team Cesar Gracie: I was all set to rank the Skrappers like No. 5 on my list, but when I really considered how impressive it is that up until recently they controlled nearly every active title in Strikeforce and have an upcoming chance at UFC gold, I just couldn’t do it. I have no idea how Cesar Gracie stays on top of these misfits – except, I assume with a ball bat and megaphone like that dude from “Lean on Me” – but whatever he’s doing, shit works.
4. AKA: Top to bottom, AKA may have the most impressive roster in the sport, but (with the obvious exception of Velasquez) their inability to grab the brass ring is a major limiting factor. Any time one of their dudes climbs in the cage though, you know exactly what you’re going to get and (if your name’s not GSP) it’s usually a long, tough night.
5. Xtreme Couture: No love for The Old Man, huh? Well, I’ll see your lists of unpronounceable Golden Glory fighters and raise you: Randy Couture, Forrest Griffin, Gray Maynard, Martin Kampmann, Gina Carano, Vitor Belfort, Evan Dunham, Jay Heiron, Mike Pyle, Tyson Griffin and Amir Saddollah. I think you see my point.