Why Some MMA Gyms Only Produce 1 Great Fighter While Others Produce Many

Karen Tildasdottir

Karen enjoys working in a male dominated company

By Karen Tildasdottir

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There’s a strange phenomenon in MMA called the 1 Fighter Gym. They’re gyms that produce 1 phenomenal fighter, but the rest of their stable is about average. It makes no sense. If their coaching or training system worked wonders for one person, why can’t it replicate that success with multiple fighters?

 

Take Tri-Star Gym with head coach Firas Zahabi. Zahabi is the mastermind behind George St-Pierre’s immense success, training him to be the greatest welterweight fighter of all time. But no one else from Tri-Star has held a UFC title since then.

 

Most fighters who train with Zahabi speak very highly of his coaching ability, and his deep knowledge and passion for martial arts is obvious from watching his popular YouTube channel where he breaks down fights, techniques, and even gives great life advice.

 

Of course it’s unfair to use GSP’s amazing career as a benchmark for success, but nobody from Tri-Star has even challenged for an undisputed UFC title in the last 6 years.

 

I’m not picking on Zahabi here because he’s far from the only coach who hasn’t been able to replicate their star pupil’s success.

 

Marcus Marinelli, Stipe Miocic’s head coach at Strong Style MMA is clearly competent. We’ve seen tremendous growth from Miocic as a fighter under Marinelli. John Kavanagh, Conor McGregor’s coach also doesn’t have any other top UFC fighters despite clearly being a major proponent in the success of one of MMA’s biggest stars in McGregor.

 

Some argue that the fighters who found success under these coaches are so talented that they would have succeeded under any coach. But that can’t be the case. We’ve seen Marinelli give Miocic the perfect advice between rounds in his title fight against Daniel Cormier, asking him to go to the body. That observation and clear communication helped Miocic win a fight he was clearly losing, winning the heavyweight world championship, and putting him in the conversation for best heavyweight of all time; The fight strategies Zahabi crafted for GSP succeeded at an incredible rate and were a spectacle to admire; McGregor’s innovation in striking such as his powerful shoulder strikes were most likely developed and improved by Kavanagh.

 

So the claims that these coaches are anything short of phenomenal simply isn’t true.

 

Then why haven’t they achieved the same level of success as Jackson Wink, Trevor Wittman, American Top Team (ATT), City Kickboxing, or American Kickboxing Academy (AKA)?

 

I have a theory.

Stipe Miocic
Stipe Miocic when he won the UFC Heavyweight Belt for the first time

Perhaps these “One Fighter Coaches” are the victims of their own success. They developed an extremely successful training regimen and style so specialized for their star fighter, that it became difficult to implement for almost everyone else: A training method that makes a 265lbs Division I wrestler and a Golden Gloves champion like Stipe Miocic successful would never work for a 180lbs champion of nothing like me.

 

If we look at fighters who come out of these gyms, their fighting style is typically unique and difficult to emulate. GSP was known for his double leg takedown, jab, top control, and incredible cardio. If a fighter doesn’t have fast twitch muscles that go along with great cardio (which is extremely rare), GSP’s strategies can’t work; Conor McGregor’s entire game plan is based on him having knockout power in a straight left hand, with extreme flexibility in his legs. If his teammates aren’t lefties, don’t have that genetic “touch of death” power, don’t have long limbs, and don’t have born flexibility, following a McGregor training regimen may not get them far (Sorry Artem Lobov, we love you).

 

Contrast that with the more traditional all around approach taken by bigger gyms like Jackson Wink. Everyone from that gym is decent all around. They don’t usually focus on specific weapons or strategies that only athletes with certain body type can implement.

 

A gym that doesn’t fit into either of those categories is Team Alpha Male (TAM), where almost all of their successful athletes are short and stocky. Many of them fight like their head coach Urijah Faber, throwing looping right hands to mask take downs, scramble well, and have good guillotines. As a result, TAM has seen tremendous success in lower weight classes, but anyone above 5’7 probably wouldn’t have much success training under TAM’s program.

 

Maybe TAM is onto something and a “body-type” gyms is where MMA is headed. So if you’re a welterweight with fast twitch muscles and big lungs, Tri-Star is the best place to train. And if you’re a big athletic D1 wrestler, Stipe Miocic’s coach has the recipe for success ready to go for you.

 

I have to put a disclaimer at the end to make it clear that I mean no disrespect to any of the coaches or MMA gyms I mentioned in this article. All of them have trained world champions, and have highly successful careers doing what they love, which I admire and look up to. Their phenomenal coaching and strategies makes MMA much more fun to watch, and that’s directly brought joy into my life. If you’re one of those coaches, feel free to reach out and disagree with anything I wrote. Would love to take you out for a drink and pick your brain (or for dinner because I know Firas doesn’t drink).

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