Ranking the 10 Best Camps in MMA Right Now
MMA is about individuals, but most UFC champions are forged in strong camps that bring in many great fighters. In some cases, as with Jose Aldo and Renan Barao, steel sharpens steel, and two titleholders are born from the same team.
In a very different atmosphere from boxing, MMA hardly sees any elite fighters building training camps around one man or woman.
UFC champions Chris Weidman, Johny Hendricks and Ronda Rousey aren't surrounded by incredibly deep teams like those that will follow, but Serra-Longo Fight Team, Team Takedown and Hayastan MMA still provide those respective titleholders with quality training partners who also compete at high levels.
Fight teams are always gaining and losing fighters, but here are the 10 best camps in MMA as things currently stand.
Led by active middleweight contender Mark Munoz, Reign MMA is one of the most rapidly developing camps in MMA right now.
Already home to Munoz and Jake Ellenberger, Reign MMA also recently welcomed Chael Sonnen to its team. No. 1 heavyweight contender Fabricio Werdum has also trained at the camp, which is located in Southern California.
Munoz appears to be a natural coach. Considering he has taken the gym this far while competing, Munoz could turn Reign MMA into one of the top gyms in the sport should he continue instructing following his MMA career.
With Benson Henderson losing the lightweight championship, MMA Lab's stock has fallen. Still, the Arizona-based gym is among the strongest in MMA.
Coach John Crouch has led Henderson and John Moraga to recent title bouts. He's also aided in the development of rising bantamweight Alex Caceres and the resurrection of Jamie Varner's career.
As long as they have Henderson, MMA Lab will be a championship-caliber gym, and sometimes that's all that's needed to keep the talent coming.
Not many months ago, Tristar Gym in Montreal, Canada, might have been among the top five gyms in MMA. However, Georges St-Pierre's exit from competition has revealed the team might not be quite as strong as it once appeared.
Currently, Rory MacDonald and Francis Carmont are the camp's only ranked UFC fighters. Rick Hawn, Ivan Menjivar, Yves Jabouin, Mark Bocek, John Makdessi, Alex Garcia, Mike Ricci and others add solid depth, but the gym is short on title threats.
The former welterweight champion has left Tristar Gym in decent shape, but his return could bring the Firas Zahabi-coached team back toward the top.
It isn't what it once was, but Team Quest is still plugging away under Dan Henderson.
Along with Randy Couture and Matt Lindland, Henderson founded the California-based team 15 years ago. Although the team's depth has diminished since then, Hendo and Tarec Saffiedine are keeping UFC title hopes alive for now.
While he recently joined Reign MMA, Sonnen also continues to work with Henderson and Team Quest regularly.
Cesar Gracie Fight Team
Whether you want to file them under Cesar Gracie Fight Team or Skrap Pack, a nasty group of fighters has congregated in Northern California.
Even without Nick Diaz being active, some of the best in the world work at Cesar Gracie's gym. Nate Diaz and Jake Shields are regulars, while lightweight title challenger Gilbert Melendez and women's bantamweight title challenger Alexis Davis stop by on occasion.
If the former Strikeforce champion returns to competition, Cesar Gracie Fight Team could be a top-10 MMA camp again.
10. Team Alpha Male
UFC Champions: None
Top 15 UFC Contenders: Chad Mendes, Urijah Faber, TJ Dillashaw, Bryan Caraway, Joseph Benavidez
Any up-and-coming fighter under 155 pounds and looking to join a top-notch camp should seriously consider Team Alpha Male for his training.
From flyweight to featherweight, Urijah Faber's team is stacked with championship-caliber competitors. Chad Mendes, The California Kid and Joseph Benavidez have all fought for titles recently, while TJ Dillashaw will get a crack at bantamweight titleholder Renan Barao at UFC 173.
Adding Duane Ludwig as head coach appears to have improved Team Alpha Male's striking overall. However, Ludwig will be leaving the team soon, so it will be interesting to see whether that stand-up growth among fighters at Faber's gym in Sacramento slows.
UFC Champions: Anthony Pettis
Top 15 UFC Contenders: Erik Koch, Dustin Ortiz
Duke Roufus's Milwaukee gym has been a noteworthy one for a while now.
Anthony Pettis put the camp on the map when he defeated Benson Henderson to become WEC champion. However, Pettis' second win over Henderson, which made him UFC champion in August 2013, placed Roufusport among the best gyms in MMA.
In addition to the 155-pound champion, Roufusport houses former Bellator MMA titleholder Ben Askren as well as UFC contenders Erik Koch and Dustin Ortiz.
With Pettis being only 27 years old and his brother rising through the UFC ranks, Roufusport has the potential to become a powerhouse over the coming years.
8. AMC Pankration
UFC Champions: Demetrious Johnson
Top 15 UFC Contenders: Matt Brown, Tim Boetsch
Located in Kirkland, Washington, AMC Pankration might be the most underrated gym in MMA right now.
He runs a smallish team, but coach Matt Hume is developing some of the best fighters around right now. Topping that list of competitors is Demetrious Johnson, who is turning into one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in MMA while defending his 125-pound championship.
Also benefiting greatly from Hume's instructions have been Matt Brown and Tim Boetsch. Both men looked to be destined for gatekeeping as a ceiling, though Brown and Boetsch are now among the best in their respective divisions.
7. Team Nogueira
UFC Champions: None
Top 15 UFC Contenders: Junior dos Santos, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Rafael Cavalcante, Anderson Silva, Erick Silva
There is a caste of Brazilians who train across multiple gyms, but most are affiliated with Team Nogueira in some capacity.
While they also work out at more personal gyms, former UFC champions Junior dos Santos and Anderson Silva regularly train with the Nogueira brothers. UFC contenders Rafael Cavalcante and Erick Silva are also among the many excellent fighters who fall under the Team Nogueira banner.
Lyoto Machida and Ronaldo Souza won't be labeled Team Nogueira members, but they also frequently join this group. So, whether it's called Team Nogueira, X Gym or Blackhouse, this assortment of Brazilians is one of the scariest conglomerations in MMA.
6. Alliance MMA
UFC Champions: None
Top 15 UFC Contenders: Alexander Gustafsson, Phil Davis, Myles Jury, Jeremy Stephens, Dominick Cruz, Mike Easton
Eric Del Fierro has quite the team under his direction in San Diego.
In Alexander Gustafsson and Dominick Cruz, Alliance MMA has two fighters who could hold UFC titles very soon. Gustafsson nearly earned one in a close decision with Jon Jones at UFC 165, and Cruz had his championship stripped due to injuries but could return to action in the coming months.
With Phil Davis, Myles Jury, Jeremy Stephens and Mike Easton also on the team, Alliance MMA is well-represented in most weight classes and has some solid depth. This is a camp that should remain among the best in MMA for years.
UFC Champions: None
Top 15 UFC Contenders: Anthony Johnson, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Ryan LaFlare, Michael Johnson
Not long ago, the Blackzilian team looked to be in turmoil. It was a disappointment in 2013, but things have really turned around for the Florida-based camp in the past several months.
Anthony Johnson recently picked up a huge win over Phil Davis in his UFC return. Now at 205 pounds, weight is no longer an issue for Rumble, who could make a serious run at the light heavyweight championship.
Veterans Eddie Alvarez, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort have also gained a second wind. Alvarez has reclaimed his crown in the Bellator MMA lightweight division. Although Evans is currently recovering from a knee injury, he and The Phenom are within striking distance of titles in the light heavyweight and middleweight divisions.
The camp is also starting to develop future stars, with Michael Johnson and Ryan LaFlare entering title contention with their current winning streaks.
4. Nova Uniao
UFC Champions: Jose Aldo, Renan Barao
Top 15 UFC Contenders: Thales Leites, Jussier Formiga
As the only gym with multiple UFC titleholders, Nova Uniao could be considered the best gym in MMA. However, it is short on fighters in the heavier weight classes.
Andre Pederneiras has groomed Jose Aldo and Renan Barao into two of the very best in the world. Bellator MMA champion Eduardo Dantas is beginning to gain recognition as one of the top bantamweights in MMA as well.
In addition to their titleholders, Nova Uniao is also home to UFC contenders Thales Leites and Jussier Formiga. MMA legend BJ Penn is also working with the camp in preparation for his upcoming Octagon return against Frankie Edgar.
3. American Kickboxing Academy
UFC Champions: Cain Velasquez
Top 15 UFC Contenders: Daniel Cormier, Luke Rockhold, Josh Thomson, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Gray Maynard, Germaine de Randamie
As American Kickboxing Academy's welterweight stars Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch aged, it looked like the gym could begin declining.
Instead, the camp took over the heavyweight division. Cain Velasquez claimed the championship, while Daniel Cormier became one of the weight class' top contenders before deciding to make a new home at 205 pounds.
Luke Rockhold is also representing the team well in the middleweight class, while coach Javier Mendez has a plethora of lightweight beasts at his disposal. Gray Maynard and Khabib Nurmagomedov have joined Josh Thomson to give AKA one of the deepest 155-pound stables.
2. American Top Team
UFC Champions: None
Top 15 UFC Contenders: Antonio Silva, Mark Hunt, Yoel Romero, Robbie Lawler, Hector Lombard, Tyron Woodley, Nik Lentz, Dustin Poirier, John Lineker, Brad Pickett
American Top Team may not be home to a current UFC champion, but the camp possesses plenty of legitimate contenders. With the exception of one gym, it might be the deepest in MMA.
If a fighter is looking for top-notch training partners, American Top Team is a great place to go. From the heaviest divisions to the lightest divisions, the Florida camp has elite talent across the board.
Antonio Silva, Glover Teixeira and Robbie Lawler all trained at American Top Team prior to their recent title fights. In Yoel Romero, Hector Lombard, Tyron Woodley and others, American Top Team should have even more UFC title challengers coming down the pipe soon.
1. Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA
UFC Champions: Jon Jones
Top 15 UFC Contenders: Travis Browne, Frank Mir, Tim Kennedy, Carlos Condit, Donald Cerrone, Rustam Khabilov, Clay Guida, Cub Swanson, Erik Perez, John Dodson, Sarah Kaufman
It is for good reason Greg Jackson is the most recognizable coach in MMA. He and Mike Winkeljohn have put together a team that is head and shoulders above the others.
Jon Jones gives Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, while the gym also happens to host a greater volume of high-level fighters than any other gym in the world. American Top Team might have a UFC contender in almost any division, but Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA has multiple contenders in most weight classes.
The best gym in MMA is in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and that doesn't appear to be changing any time soon.