Best Gyms of 2011

Rob TatumContributor IJanuary 16, 2012

Best Gyms of 2011

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    Over the past 12 months, established gyms like Blackhouse and Jackson's MMA continued to produce championship-caliber talent in a variety of weight classes.

    During the same time frame, a number of other training centers did their best to level the playing field.

    Let's take a look back at the top gyms from the year that was.


    Rob Tatum is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA. You can also find Rob’s work at  For anything related to MMA, Follow @RobTatumMMA.

King's MMA

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    Headed by Brazilian legend and former Chute Boxe trainer Rafael Cordeiro, King's MMA has evolved into one of the best camps on the West Coast.

    Located in Huntington Beach, Calif., the gym largely focuses on Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

    During the past year, the gym has helped Brazilians Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Wanderlei Silva regain form, and put Mark Munoz and Jake Ellenberger into contention.

    Official site: King's MMA

AMC Pankration/Kickboxing

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    Kirkland, Wash. based AMC Pankration is the gym of famed trainer Matt Hume.

    Over the course of 2011, the gym helped bantamweight Demetrious Johnson challenge for the UFC title, middleweight Tim Boetsch reinvent himself at middleweight, and DREAM competitor Bibiano Fernandes claim gold in the promotion's bantamweight grand prix.

    Official Site: AMC Pankration

Blackzilians/Imperial Athletics

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    Boca Raton, Fla. gym Imperial Athletics has become known as the "Blackzilians." 

    A number of members of the famed American Top Team split from their previous gym and joined Imperial, putting the gym on the map.

    The gym is home to a number of Brazilian fighters, including Jorge Santiago, Danilo Villefort, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante.  Additionally, the gym has become home to UFC fighters Rashad Evans, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson and Michael Johnson.

    Hence the nickname "Blackzilians."

    Official Site: Imperial Athletics

Ultimate Fitness/Team Alpha Male

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    Ultimate Fitness, located in Sacramento, Calif., has quickly established itself as one of the best mixed martial arts camps on the West Coast.

    The gym is home to current bantamweight No. 1 contender and longtime WEC featherweight champion, "The California Kid" Urijah Faber. Faber pushed current 135-pound champ Dominick Cruz to a decision in July and earned another crack at him with an impressive submission win over former title holder Brian Bowles.

    "Team Alpha Male"also the base of top-ranked bantamweight (and soon-to-be flyweight) Joseph Benavidez and featherweight contender Chad Mendes.

    Official site: Ultimate Fitness (Team Alpha Male)

Xtreme Couture

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    Despite housing some of the biggest names in MMA like Randy Couture, Forrest Griffin and Vitor Belfort, it was the year of the lightweight at the Las Vegas gym.

    Gray Maynard twice challenged for UFC gold during the past year, but came up just short in both bouts.

    His training partner, Michael Chandler, secured Bellator gold in November, defeating top-ranked Eddie Alvarez and keeping his perfect record intact.

    Also calling the gym home are veterans Martin Kampmann and Jay Hieron.

    Official site: Xtreme Couture

Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy

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    Stationed in Pleasant Hill, Calif., the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy has become known for producing hard-nosed fighters that are anything by typical.

    Calling the gym home is former Strikeforce welterweight kingpin Nick Diaz.  The fighter made the transition back to the UFC in the past year and is now slated to compete for the interim welterweight title.

    Coupled with his brother, lightweight Nate Diaz, the two have not only talked the talk, but backed it up inside the Octagon.

    Also on the roster is dominant lightweight and Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez, who defended his belt twice in 2011.

    Official Site: Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy

Alliance Training Center

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    The Alliance Training Center is located in Chula Vista, Calif. and is home to UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. Cruz defended his belt twice over the past year.

    Undefeated light heavyweight contender Phil Davis also trains at the gym along with Alexander Gustafsson, Travis Browne and Ross Pearson.

    Official site: The Alliance Training Center

American Kickboxing Academy

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    AKA, located in San Jose, Calif., had a big 2011, even as some of its bigger names fell from grace.

    Cain Velasquez dropped his UFC heavyweight title to Junior Dos Santos and Jon Fitch saw his lengthy undefeated streak come to an end.

    However, under the tutelage of trainers Bob Cook, Javier Mendez, and Dave Camarillo, the gym's lesser known talent really stepped into the spotlight. Middleweight Luke Rockhold claimed the Strikeforce championship while heavyweight Daniel Cormier is in prime position to claim the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.

    Official site: AKA


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    Loaded with the top Brazilians in the sport, Blackhouse continued its domination over the sport in 2011.

    Middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva scored knockout wins over Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami to maintain his stranglehold over the 185-pound division.

    Jose Aldo defended his featherweight strap twice over the course of the year, claiming one-sided decisions over Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian.

    Official site: Black House MMA

Jackson/Winklejohn MMA

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    Albuquerque, N.M. is home to what is largely regarded as the premier MMA gym in the world.  Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn continue to produce champions and contenders unlike anyone else in the sport.

    2011 saw light heavyweight Jon Jones ascend to the top of the UFC's 205-pound division.  Additionally, welterweight Georges St-Pierre retained his title, but in his rear-view mirror is another product of the camp, Carlos Condit.

    Rounding out the year's success was winning both weight classes of season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter, as John Dodson and Diego Brandao became reality stars.

    If that isn’t enough, the gym continues alliances with Renzo Gracie Jiu Jitsu in New York City, Tristar Martial Arts Center in Montreal, and Grudge Training Center in Denver.

    Official site: Jackson's MMA