Only two fighters get in the cage to battle in a fight, and as a result, mixed-martial-arts is often referred to as an individual sport. But, any serious fan or martial artist knows the sport’s top fighters typically come from the best MMA gyms and fight teams.
In other words, there’s a reason the phrase “iron sharpens iron” gets mentioned so often during MMA broadcasts.
In order to become a great UFC fighter, you need to learn from knowledgeable and experienced coaches and train with world class MMA fighters. It’s not a coincidence legendary fighters like Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier and Khabib Nurmagomedov, among others, all train at some of the best MMA gyms on the planet. Many fighters have picked up their lives and travelled vast distances, even to a new country or continent, so they can train with a talented and famous fight team.
So, whether you’re an aspiring or professional fighter, or a casual martial artist looking for elite, MMA classes, here are five of the best MMA gyms in the world that should be on your bucket list for training.
Best MMA Gyms in the USA
American Kickboxing Academy: best MMA school in California?
Any discussion regarding the top MMA gyms will inevitably include mention of the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), which is located in San Jose, California. After all, AKA has produced several UFC champions and the pro-team has a reputation for intense, hard sparring and winning fights in multiple devisions. That said, the team is also known for having a family like bond. As a result, the bucket list trip for MMA training should unquestionably include AKA.
AKA offers classes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, no-gi jiu-jitsu, boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai for beginners, casual martial artists as well as professional fighters. The facility is 27,000 square feet and features boxing rings, a hybrid cage room, over 50 heavy bags and extensive strength and conditioning equipment.
- Current or former notable MMA fighters: Daniel Cormier, Jon Fitch, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Luke Rockhold, Josh Thomson, Cain Velasquez.
- Coaches: Javier Mendez, Ron Keslar and Derek Yuen among others.
In an interview with BJ Penn.com (1), Mendez had this to say, while discussing how massive and successful AKA has become:
“A lot of it is luck. A lot of it is by design and DeWayne Zinkin and ‘Crazy’ Bob Cook bringing me top level wrestlers,”Javier Mendez
American Top Team: best MMA gym in the world?
Another of the top MMA gyms in the United States and the world is American Top Team (ATT), which was founded by Dan Lambert. The team is so accomplished and famous that in addition to its home gym in Coconut Creek Florida, ATT has facilities in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Portland and Orlando, among many other cities.
Over the years, ATT in Florida has been the base camp for world champions in various organizations, including the UFC, and the team continues to draw fighters from all over the world. As a result, many observers have argued the ATT roster is the deepest of any gym on the planet.
ATT provides training in boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, Thai boxing, submission grappling as well as MMA classes, and like AKA, there are sessions open to the general public. The Coconut Creek gym is a massive, 40,000 square feet facility that features extensive matted flooring, hybrid cage rooms, a cage as well as strength and conditioning equipment.
- Current or former notable MMA fighters: Amanda Nunes, Kyoji Horiguchi, Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal, Tyron Woodley, Andre Arlovski, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Dustin Poirier, Yoel Romero, Glover Teixeira, Gleison Tibau, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, and Robbie Lawler, among many others.
- Coaches: Mike Brown, Steve Mocco, Din Thomas, and Conan Silveira among others.
When Lambert spoke with Fighter Interviews (2), the ATT founder said the following, while talking about the awe-inspiring success of the gym.
“Just because you’re an accomplished amateur wrestler or a great MMA fighter, it doesn’t mean you can run a team. There’re so many different issues that come up…American Top Team certainly have a leg up on that because we’ve been doing it for so long. It takes time to learn your craft.”Dan Lambert
Jackson – Wink MMA: another of the world’s best MMA camps
American Top Team attracts fighters from all over the world, but so does the renowned Jackson – Wink MMA gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Case in point, stars and legends like Georges St-Pierre and Alistair Overeem left their countries of Canada and the Netherlands respectively, to train at the famous facility. Like AKA and ATT, Jackson – Wink MMA has helped produce multiple world champions, and remains one of the sport’s powerhouse gyms.
Jackson – Wink MMA is a massive, state of the art facility with vast stretches of matted flooring, cages for training and sparring, heavy bags as well as a dorm for out of town fighters to live in. The gym offers classes in grappling, striking, wrestling, MMA training, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for amateur and pro-fighters, as well as the general public.
- Current or former notable MMA fighters: Jon Jones, Rashad Evans, Carlos Condit, Andrei Arlovski, Georges St-Pierre, Alistair Overeem, Holly Holm, Diego Sanchez, Donald Cerrone, and Cub Swanson, among many others.
- Coaches: Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn, Brandon Gibson, Izzy Martinez among others
While talking about the immense success of the Albuquerque gym, Winkeljohn told BJ Penn.com (3) this:
“When Greg and I first started it we didn’t think the sport would blow up. We had Diego Sanchez on the first Ultimate Fighter show and then it blew up… Now we have people coming here from around the world who are flying here for training because we have trained everyone in Albuquerque.”Mike Winkeljohn
Top MMA gyms outside the USA
Tristar: Canada’s most famous gym
Any bucket list that includes training camps around the world, should unquestionably include Montreal, Quebec’s Tristar gym. While the facility became best known through the accomplishments of the Canadian superstar St-Pierre, Tristar has created numerous elite fighters and has attracted world class competitors from all over the globe. During the gym’s tenure, Tristar head coach Firas Zahabi has established himself as one of the leading minds in the game.
The renowned facility is 13,500 square feet and features a boxing ring, an official, UFC sized Octagon, and a 20 foot boxing ring. Since the gym attracts fighters from all over the world, Tristar also has dorms for competitors to live in. The famous facility offers classes for the public as well as professionals in Thai boxing, Karate, boxing, kickboxing, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with both gi and no-gi.
- Current or former notable MMA fighters: Georges St-Pierre, Rory MacDonald, David Loiseau, Denis Kang, Joe Duffy, Olivier Aubin – Mercier, Kenny Florian, Aiemann Zahabi, John Makdessi and more.
- Coaches: Firas Zahabi, Lentz-Edouard Lundy, Conrad Pla and more.
In an interview with the Montreal Gazzette (4), former UFC contender and Bellator champ MacDonald talks about the role of Zahabi’s committment and dedication in the gym’s success
“He’s a hard worker…always in the gym showing the guys what to do. And when he’s out of the gym, he’s studying, he’s learning. He’s one of a kind. It’s very hard to find a guy that dedicated and that talented at every single aspect of mixed martial arts.”Rory MacDonald
Nova Uniao: Brazil’s greatest MMA team?
Any serious MMA fan or martial artist is well aware of the world renowned, Nova Uniao gym, which is located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The facility deserves to be on any training bucket list because of the world class fighters it’s produced, via the legendary coaching of Andre Pederneiras. But, also because of its proximity to the city’s awe-inspiring beaches.
Nova Uniao has forged a reputation for providing excellent training in MMA, kickboxing as well as takedown defense. In addition, since Pederneiras is a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under the legendary Carlson Gracie, and co-founder Wendell Alexander is also a decorated grappler, the team’s jiu-jitsu program is world-renowned. The Nova Uniao facility features a hexagon cage, extensive jiu-jitsu mats for rolling, as well as apartments for visiting, out-of-town fighters.
That’s one way to earn an amazing black belt.
- Current or former notable fighters: Jose Aldo, Renan Barao, Eduardo Dantas, Hacran Dias, Johnny Eduardo, Claudia Gadelha, Marlon Sandro, Kenny Florian Thales Leites, Jussier “Formiga” and others.
- Coaches: Andre Pederneiras, Wendell Alexander, Leonardo Santos
In an article the aforementioned Florian wrote for Fox Sports (5) about Nova Uniao, the former UFC contender had this to say about the highly regarded gym:
“They have produced countless champions, legends and winning coaches in BJJ. They are a close-knit team comprised of various schools all over Brazil and abroad. Andre Pederneiras and his co-founder Wendel Alexander have found great success serving as generals of what is now a global army of competitors.”Kenny Florian
If you are going to be training at any of these top gyms you’ll need to bring your best MMA gear including your gym bag with MMA gloves and mouth guard. If you don’t have access to a gym near you to train at you can always d an MMA workout routine at home.
The gyms listed above should be on any bucket training list, but if you’re looking to add to that list and expand your traveling itinerary, here are some other world class facilities to consider.
- Alliance MMA – San Diego, California
- Notable fighters: Dominick Cruz, Jeremy Stephens, Wilson Reis
- Allstars Training Center – Stockholm, Sweden
- Notable fighters: Alexander Gustafsson, David Teymor, Ilir Latifi
- AMC Pankration – Kirkland, Washington
- Notable fighters: Demetrious Johnson, Bibiano Fernandes, Tim Boetsch
- Elevation Fight Team – Denver, Colorado
- Notable fighters: Alistair Overeem, Curtis Blaydes, Neil Magny
- Hard Knocks 365 – Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- Notable fighters: Kamaru Usman, Michael Johnson, Volkan Oezdemir
- Kings MMA – Huntington Beach, California
- Notable fighters: Fabricio Werdum, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Lyoto Machida
- Longo – Weidman MMA, Garden City, New York
Notable fighters: Chris Weidman, Aljamain Sterling, Al Iaquinta
- MMA Factory Paris – Paris France
- Notable fighters: Francis Ngannou, Christian M’Pumbu, Ion Cutelaba
- Straight Blast Gym – Dublin, Ireland
- Notable fighters: Conor McGregor, Artem Lobov, Gunnar Nelson
- Team Alpha Male – Sacramento California
- Notable fighters: Urijah Faber, Cody Garbrandt, Andre Fili
- Team Nogueira – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Notable fighters: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Patricio Freire, Patricky Freire
- The MMA Lab – Phoenix, Arizona
- Notable fighters: Benson Henderson, Jared Cannonier, Johnny Case
- Tiger Muay Thai – Phuket, Thailand
- Notable fighters: Dan Hooker, Valentina Shevchenko, Zubaira Tukhugov
- Roufusport – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Notable fighters: Tyron Woodley, Anthony Pettis, Sergio Pettis
- Xtreme Couture – Las Vegas, Nevada
- Notable fighters: Uriah Hall, Kevin Lee, Brad Tavares
- Shelton, Cole, (2019, January 13). EXCLUSIVE | Coach Javier Mendez explains how AKA became one of the greatest gyms in MMA. Retrieved from https://www.bjpenn.com/mma-news/exclusive-interviews/exclusive-coach-javier-mendez-explains-how-aka-became-one-of-the-greatest-gyms-in-mma/
- Fighter Interviews, (2019, February 3). Dan Lambert. Retrieved from http://www.fighterinterviews.com/en/interviews/2019/02/dan-lambert
- Shelton, Cole, (2019, January 12), EXCLUSIVE | Mike Winkeljohn talks starting JacksonWink and becoming a top gym in MMA. Retrieved from https://www.bjpenn.com/mma-news/exclusive-interviews/exclusive-mike-winkeljohn-talks-starting-jacksonwink-and-becoming-a-top-gym-in-mma/
- Cowan, Stu, (2016, June 2), Montreal’s Tristar Gym becomes MMA training mecca. Retrieved from https://montrealgazette.com/sports/stu-cowan-montreals-tristar-gym-becomes-mma-training-mecca
- Florian, Kenny, (2014, February 3). The Success of Nova União’s Aldo and Barao. Retrieved from https://www.foxsports.com/vault/ufc/story/the-success-of-nova-uni-o-s-aldo-and-barao-020314
Hi, I’m Brandon, editor here at MMA-Today. Mixed Martial Arts has been my life long obsession as long as I can remember. I was introduced to Muay Thai at a young age, but ultimately fell in love with BJJ and grappling in my teenage years, and have never looked back. My goal with MMA today is to inspire people to train and enjoy mixed martial arts more every day.