I took third place at the Washington state high school wrestling tournament in 2000 and honestly I only deserved third place. It wasn't because the other two guys above me worked harder or were more talented than I was. It was because they were better prepared for that tournament. They came from schools with state placers in weight classes above and below them and unfortunately my practice partners were not at the same caliber--I was the best guy in our gym. I have noticed this is a folly plaguing several mma veterans as of late.
Matt Hughes has not looked like the dominant bruiser that he was when training with Militech Fighting Systems and their roster of top contenders and champions since he left to open his own gym which he now trains out of. Granted, he has Robbie Lawler to push him on his feet but Robbie Lawler is not enough to adequately prepare him for the likes of Thiago Alves and Georges St. Pierre. Matt Hughes is the best guy in his gym.
Chuck Liddell has looked flat and a step behind his opponents in the last couple of years. It's no surprise since most mma fans couldn't name another fighter who trains at Jon Hackleman's gym, "The Pit". Chuck Liddell is the best guy in his gym.
The latest victim to fall prey to this is BJ Penn. He looked completely outclassed against Georges St. Pierre. People can argue about the size difference all they want, but, the reality is when you compare the rosters of where they train it's no secret who had the better camp. BJ is not only the UFC's lightweight champion he is the Hawaiian champion--there's no one on that island that can push him as hard as Team Jackson pushed GSP. Although he can continue to dominate the lightweight division for now it is only a matter of time before someone with natural talent and top notch practice partners knocks him off that pedestal. BJ Penn is the best guy in his gym.
It's a sad thing to watch the sport evolve and pass some of your favorite fighters of yesteryear by. However, some of these guys have got to take notice that you can no longer get by on raw talent and abilities alone--you need to be around several guys who are equal or better than you are. It's not enough to have someone hold mits for you and teach you new combinations. It's not enough to have someone blow a whistle so you can pratice your sprawls. It's not enough to have a live body to drill technique on. You need sparring partners who can rough you up and make you improve. Otherwise you end up being good enough to win in the gym instead of being better than your opponent. In todays era of mixed martial arts in order to be the best you cannot be the best guy in your gym.