The MMA Lab on the Rise & Building Champions

Duane Finley@duanefinleymmaContributor IAugust 11, 2012

Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Outside the sun is burning another shade of red into the rocky terrain, but inside the state-of-the-art 14,000 ft. facility known as "The Lab", fighters are grinding out their work. Titles and notoriety are nowhere to be found amongst this group as every man and woman look to sharpen their skills. This mentality is a unique attribute in the world of MMA super gyms, but John Crouch wouldn't have it any other way.

Crouch, along with Joe Ervin and UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson are the co-owners of the Glendale, AZ. based facility where the belief in hard work producing results is the core philosophy. It takes dedication to chisel out the best version of yourself, and Crouch and his team make it the primary focus of the daily grind. 

"It's all about working hard and putting out a consistent effort through time," Crouch told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "Doing your best at all times while staying positive is very important. It's such a hard sport. MMA is very demanding on you both physically and psychologically."

"A negative mindset can really hinder your progress. I try to stay extremely positive. We work our asses off and smile afterwards."

For years, fighters have traveled from gym to gym to get in the specific sessions they need. All of this was done in the quest for proper preparation. Just recently, "super gyms" have begun to pop up where a fighter can receive all aspects of training under one roof, and The MMA Lab is at the front of the line when it comes to this method. The MMA Lab has it all and an accomplished staff to assist in a fighter's progression.

"In our kickboxing program we have Adam Gillespy and Rick Roufus from K-1 fame and is a six-time world champion. We also have Shihan Nico who teaches our MMA team's striking. For strength and conditioning, we have Jarret Aki and he is the secret sauce behind it all. He is really the mayor of the place.

"Our facility has everything under one roof. You can get your strength and conditioning, sparring & Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu all in the same place. We have everything a fighter needs here."

Over the past few month's, The MMA Lab's fighters have made huge statements on some of the sport's biggest stages. Former WEC champion Jamie Varner, who was teetering on the brink of obscurity, stepped up on last minute notice to face Brazilian Edson Barboza at UFC 146. Varner shocked the world by not only defeating Barboza, but finishing him in the process.

Another standout performance came recently from flyweight John Moraga as he made his UFC debut against Ulysses Gomez at UFC on Fox 4. Moraga put on a blistering display of striking and speed as he scored a brutal knockout over Gomez in the first round. His success is just another sign things are going in the right direction at The MMA Lab.

While these victories have made noise in the MMA world, co-owner and gym mainstay Benson Henderson has drawn the most focus. The former WEC champion has gone from dominating the blue cage to reigning inside the Octagon. "Smooth" claimed the UFC lightweight title by defeating Frankie Edgar at UFC 144 and will be looking to make his first successful defense when the two fighters rematch on August 11. Despite his elevated status as a champion, Crouch said Henderson has adapted well to the commitments of holding the UFC belt.

"Benson is a gym rat," Crouch said. "He basically lives in the gym and is there everyday. People are shocked when they see him in a jiu-jitsu class or doing his weight training there. If you walk into the gym on any given day you will see Benson Henderson."

"The PR commitments and obligations have been a little difficult because Ben is a homebody. He prefers to be in the gym at all times, but he has handled these things very well and it has been something we've had to adapt to. Ben has done a great job and it hasn't been a problem."

While other areas of the country have received more attention for producing top-level fighters, Phoenix and it's surrounding areas have certainly done their fair share. As other regions have become somewhat stagnant, the Phoenix area has thrived and shows no signs of slowing down.

"I think MMA in the Phoenix area has been strong for a while," Crouch said. "When I moved down here four years ago from Denver, it was good then. It is getting bigger with Ryan Bader and those guys opening up their gym, but it's been growing for some time. If you look at the UFC roster and fighters who have been in the UFC that have come from the Arizona scene, there are a ton."

"I think what we are doing with The Lab is just a continuation of what people started before. I definitely see it continuing to grow. Arizona has a long history in MMA, Phoenix especially. Arizona in general has produced a lot of great fighters."

Success has come early at The MMA Lab, but Crouch is fully aware anything can happen on any given night. For his fighters, he doesn't promise or guarantee victory, instead he chooses to let the opposition know his team will always show up to give everything they have.

"We are going to keep working hard," Crouch said. "If you are fighting someone from our gym, I can promise you we are going to be ready. We are going to try our best and we are going to be prepared. If you face one of our guys, strap on your helmet because we are coming."