"Talent is always conscious of its own abundance, and does not object to sharing." - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
In todays MMA, there are literally hundreds of gyms a fighter can choose from as he or she begins their careers. As they move up the ladder, there is always the option to join a larger gym, with better coaches, training partners and equipment. Some camps are much more legendary than others, and fighters will flock to these camps in order to provide the best training possible. In this post I am going to touch on the 10 best camps in the history of our beloved sport and attempt to rank them in some sort of order (tho maybe not all of you will agree).
Anyhow, lets get started with gym number 10
10. American Top Team
UFC/Strikeforce/Pride/Bellator/WEC champions produced: Mike Thomas Brown (WEC featherweight champion), Jorge Santiago (Strikeforce MW GP champion) Hector Lombard (Bellator MW champion), Brian Bowles (WEC bantamweight champion)
Brief History: Formed in the early 2000's by former members of Brazilian Top Team, ATT opened their gym in Coconut Creek, Florida and has since produced some of the finest fighters in the sport. Known for producing some excellent strikers, they come in at number 10 due to the small amount of champions in the big shows that they have been able to produce thusfar.
9. Xtreme Couture
UFC/Strikeforce/Pride/Bellator/WEC champions produced: Randy Couture (UFC HW Champion), Forrest Griffin (UFC LHW Champion), Michael Chandler (Bellator LW Champion)
Brief History: After leaving the wildly successful Team Quest that he helped co-found with fellow MMA fighters Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland, Randy "The Natural" Couture opened Xtreme Couture in 2006. Widely regarded as one of the best game planners in the history of the sport, Couture has become the head trainer at the Las Vegas based gym and has managed to produce a handful of high level champions since the camps inception. A number of high level fighters have flocked to the gym in the last few years to train with the team, including former Couture opponent Vitor Belfort, as well as Strikeforce and Dream HW Champion Alistair Overeem.
8. Lions Den
UFC/Strikeforce/Pride/Bellator/WEC champions produced: Ken Shamrock (UFC Superfight Champion), Maurice Smith (UFC HW Champion), Oleg Taktarov (UFC 6 Tournament Champion), Jerry Bohlander (UFC 12 Tournament Champion), Guy Mezger (UFC 13 Tournament Champion)
Brief History: During the 90's, the Lions Den was considered the finest gym in all of MMA. Opened by Ken Shamrock after his loss to Royce Gracie at UFC 1 due to the need to align himself with better training partners, the Lions Den quickly became THE place to train for high level mixed martial artists. As an example, Oleg Taktarov moved in and essentially lived at the gym after losing the UFC 5 tournament and they made him a champion at UFC 6. Maurice Smith came into the fold saying he would help the camp with their striking if they taught him the intricacies of the ground game and ended up being the man to defeat the seemingly unbeatable Mark Coleman. Having all of these high level martial artists under one roof made for a successful run for a lot of the fighters. The gym has fallen on hard times as of late, but it's history in the MMA landscape is safe, as it was the first example of a true high level training camp.
7. Team Blackhouse/Team Nogueira
Notable fighters: Anderson Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Lyoto Machida, Rafael Cavalcante, Ronaldo "Jacre" Souza, Pedro Rizzo, Roger Gracie, Erick Silva, Junior Dos Santos, Jose Aldo
UFC/Strikeforce/Pride/Bellator/WEC champions produced: Anderson Silva (UFC MW champion), Jacre Souza (Strikeforce MW Champion), Lyoto Machida (UFC LHW champion), Jose Aldo (WEC FW champion), Antonio Rodrigo Nogeuira (UFC Interim champion)
Brief History: Formed in 2006 by members of Brazilian Top Team, Blackhouse has quickly become one of the best camps in the history of the sport. Boasting a who's who of Brazilian talent, including GOAT Anderson Silva, they are arguably the best fight team in todays sport. They have struggled at times due to issues with management (which saw the departure of current champions Junior Dos Santos and Jose Aldo) they still remain an elite squad.
6. American Kickboxing Academy
UFC/Strikeforce/Pride/Bellator/WEC champions produced: Frank Shamrock (UFC LHW champion), Cain Velasquez (UFC HW champion) Cung Le (Strikeforce MW champion), Daniel Cormier (Strikeforce HW GP champion), Luke Rockhold (Strikeforce MW champion), Josh Thomson (Strikeforce LW champion), Bobby Southworth (Strikeforce LHW champion)
Brief history: Originally a kickboxing only camp until the mid nineties when Frank Shamrock joined up with kickboxing guru Javier Mendez to open the gym, AKA has become one of the premier camps on the west coast. Multiple highly skilled fighters have passed through the camp and some of the best young talent currently resides there. Between Cormier, Velasquez, and Rockhold, AKA has a bright future in those three fighters alone.
5. Team Quest
UFC/Strikeforce/Pride/Bellator/WEC champions produced: Randy Couture (UFC HW and LHW champion), Dan Henderson (Strikeforce LHW champion, Pride MW and WW champion, UFC 17 Tournament champion) Evan Tanner (UFC MW champion), Chael Sonnen (unofficial WEC MW champion), Joe Warren (Bellator FW champion)
Brief History: Created by US World Greco Wrestling team Dan Henderson, Randy Couture and Matt Lindland in 1999, Team Quest quickly became one of the premier training camps in all of MMA. From their inception they helped Randy Couture become a two division champion, as well as Dan Henderson. Stretched out down the West Coast, the team still remains a very well respected and talented group of individuals at the highest levels of the sport.
4. Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts
Notable fighters: George St.-Pierre, Jon Jones, Rashad Evans, Nate Marquardt, Shane Carwin, Clay Guida, Keith Jardine, Carlos Condit, Donald Cerrone, Leonard Garcia, Diego Sanchez, Tim Kennedy, Brian Stann
UFC/Strikeforce/Pride/Bellator/WEC champions produced: Jon Jones (UFC LHW champion), George St. Pierre (UFC WW champion), Rashad Evans (UFC LHW champion), Shane Carwin (UFC Interim HW champion), Carlos Condit (UFC Interim WW champion, WEC WW champion), Brian Stann (WEC LHW champion)
Brief History: Opened in 1992 training Jackson's own martial art Gaidojutsu, they became a full time MMA gym in 2000. One of the best gym throughout the 2000's, Jackson's MMA has produced a number of UFC champions since 2006. Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Jackson's has seen a number of fighters flock to their gym in order to try and become a world champion. This has not always worked out favorably, as twice they have had high profile fighters leave the gym under poor terms due to taking in another fighter in their weight division (Diego Sanchez left when GSP joined the camp, and then of course the whole Rashad Evans/Jon Jones ordeal).
3. Miletich Fighting Systems
UFC/Strikeforce/Pride/Bellator/WEC champions produced: Pat Miletich (UFC WW champion), Matt Hughes (UFC WW champion), Tim Sylvia (UFC HW champion), Jens Pulver (UFC LW champion), Rich Franklin (UFC MW champion)
Brief History: Establish in 1997 by former UFC Welterweight champion Pat Miletich, at one time in the mid 2000's MFS was considered one of if not the best training camp in all of MMA. They could boast that they had 3 out of the 5 UFC champions under their roof at one time (Hughes, Sylvia and Franklin) with Jens Pulver having also won (and subsequently striped of after he left the UFC) the Lightweight title. No other camp in MMA history can claim to have that many champions under one roof while they are all at the peak of their powers. MFS hasn't had a world champion in their stable for quite some time, but 7 or 8 years ago, there were fewer places as widely regarded as Miletich's camp in Iowa.
2. Brazilian Top Team
Notable fighters: Vitor Belfort, Paulo Filho, Ikushisa Minowa, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Antonio Silva, Hermes Franca, Mario Sperry, Murilo Bustamante, Rousimar Palhares, Ricardo Arona
UFC/Strikeforce/Pride/Bellator/WEC champions produced: Big Nog (Pride HW champion) Vitor Belfort (UFC LHW champion), Paulo Filho (WEC MW champion), Murilo Bustamante (UFC MW champion)
Brief History: Established in 2000 by former Carlson Gracie students Murilo Bustamante, Mario Sperry, Ricardo Liborio and Luis Roberto Duarte, BTT was considered one of the premier camps throughout the early and mid 2000s. Hell, two of the camps on this list are offshoots of BTT (ATT and Blackhouse), so that should tell you something. During the heyday of Pride Fighting Championship, BTT played an integral role due to the number of high level fighters coming from the camp, as well as their long running feud with fellow Brazilian gym Chute Boxe. Since the fall of Pride, fighters leaving to form ATT and Blackhouse, Brazilian Top Team is now a shadow of it's former glory, but still holds the distinction of being one of the finest camps in the annals of MMA history.
1. Chute Boxe
UFC/Strikeforce/Pride/Bellator/WEC champions produced: Wanderlei Silva (Pride MW champion, Pride MW GP champion 2003), Shogun Rua (Pride MW GP champion 2005), Cristiane Cyborg (Strikforce 145lbs Womens champion)
Brief History: Chute Boxe has been around since 1978, when they opened as a Muay Thai gym exclusively. In 1991, they expanded to include BJJ as part of their training and immediately began to see their fighters having success in the Vale Tudo fights in Brazil in the mid to late 90's. Known for their uber aggressive style and all out training methods (often having fighters spar with no head gear on and going all out) they dominated Pride throughout the majority of the time the promotion was still going. Today, much like former rivals Brazilian Top Team, Chute Boxe is a shadow of its once prominent dominance. When Pride closed its doors, it was pretty much the end of Chute Boxe being a world class training team, with the Rua brothers and Wanderlei Silva leaving in 2007. The only champion who remains in the team is Cristiane Cyborg, who has since been striped of her title after testing positive for a performance enhancing substance.
Honorable Mentions: Cesar Gracie Ju-Jitsu, Alliance MMA, The Gracie Family, Tristar Gym, Hammer House