Greg Jackson and the 10 Best Trainers in MMA
Mixed martial arts is the fastest evolving sport in the world right now. In a sport where what works and what doesn't changes by the month, a fighter's trainer and coaching are vital aspects to making him successful. Unlike boxing, it is very hard for an entire gym to build around one fighter because there are so many styles and aspects of MMA that make it almost impossible.
Having quality coaching is often the difference between talented fighters becoming high-level fighters and local promotion washouts. So here is a list of some of the finest coaches in MMA.
Any coaches on this list, and many off this list that I considered, are excellent MMA minds. It would be a honor to train under any of them. Understand that these rankings don't reflect a disrespect towards any of these coaches.
Best Trainer Who Is Still Fighting
The Nogueria Brothers (Blackhouse/Team Nogueria)
Very accomplished in both Jiu Jitsu and boxing in their home nation of Brazil, the Nogueria brothers are both active fighters who are also very involved coaches. Highly regarded Jiu Jitsu black belts, these former Brazilian Top Team stars left to form their own team focused on using their base in boxing and jiu jitsu.
Their students have included UFC No. 1 Heavyweight Contender Junior Dos Santos, Light Heavyweight Champion Rafel Cavalcante, Middleweight Champion Paulo Filho, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida and UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva.
Honorable Mention: Randy Couture (Xtreme Couture)
Best Pure Grappling Coach
Renzo Gracie (Renzo Gracie Academy)
A member of the legendary Gracie family and a decorated MMA fighter in his own right, few men on the planet understand the full spectrum of grappling in MMA than Renzo Gracie.
Renzo's MMA career was based more around better understanding his jiu jitsu, and his academy is primarily a jiu jitsu school, but he is very open to sharing his knowledge with MMA fighters.
Renzo is the primary jiu jitsu coach of Georges St-Pierre and has also worked with Matt Serra, Ricardo Almeida and Frankie Edgar. As Renzo's fighting career has come to an end, his academy has become a more popular location for MMA fighters looking for shore up their grappling game in order to compete on the biggest stages the sport can offer.
Honorable Mentions: Eddie Bravo (Legends Gym), Mike Van Arsdale (Grudge Training Center)
Best Pure Striking Coach
Freddie Roach (Wild Card Boxing)
Freddie Roach in the MMA world may be considered only a "hands coach" or "boxing coach" and not able to give fighters a well-rounded striking game, and that is true. But he is by far the best boxing trainer and has shown a great ability to arm MMA fighters with excellent boxing.
Roach has worked with Anderson Silva, B.J. Penn, K.J. Noons and Georges St-Pierre, and since then their boxing has become the talk of the MMA world. Roach is considered the gold standard when it comes to fighters polishing their striking game, but they need functional knowledge of striking before working with him.
Honorable Mention: Chutiphat Runsgawang (American Top Team), Peter Welch (Peter Welch's Gym)
10. Jeff "Duke" Roufus
A very accomplished kickboxing champion, "Duke" has a thriving MMA gym in Wisconsin. Accomplished in both kickboxing and Muay Thai, Roufus is one the best striking-oriented MMA trainers.
Roufus has been creating a center for high level Midwestern fighters, and has created a gym for non-Iowa wrestlers to flock to in an MMA-starved part of the nation. Fighters like WEC World Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis, Alan Belcher, Pat Barry, Erik Koch, Ben Rothwell and Matt Mitrione all have trained with the "Duke".
Roufusport is one of the fastest growing gyms and is quickly developing a stable of talented fighters.
9. Mark Dellagrotte
Mark Dellagrotte has grown up kickboxing and is considered on of the best born American Muay Thai coaches. Dellagrotte did Tae Kwon Do and Karate as a child growing up and then traveled around Thailand learning the art of Muay Thai.
Dellagrotte's Team Sityodtong has become one of the very best camps for fighters to integrate Thailand-style Muay Thai into their MMA game. Marcus Davis, Partick Cote and Stephan Bonnar have all spent time all under Dellagrote.
Dellagrote's focus has shifted back towards Muay Thai, but he is a high-level MMA trainer.
8. Ron Frazier
Ron Frazier is Xtreme Couture's head pro trainer and primary advocate for Xtreme Couture fighters when it comes to matchmaking with promotions. Ron comes from a boxing background. He is primarily responsible for fight camps and creating game plans for a fighters' upcoming opponent and constructing training around that game plan.
Ron has a long running relationship with Randy Couture and has worked with all the long tenured fighters at the Las Vegas based gym, including former UFC Champion Forrest Griffin, Jay Heiron, Gray Maynard, Tyson Griffin, Evan Dunham and Martin Kampmann among other UFC veterans. Ron is also a corner man for the vast majority Xtreme Couture fighters.
7. Robert Follis
Robert Follis is one of the original founders of Team Quest, and among the founders, he was the true mixed martial artist at the time of its founding. Randy Couture, Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland all brought amazing wrestling knowledge to the team, but it was Follis' background in kickboxing, grappling, Jeet Kune Do and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that made Team Quest a true MMA gym.
Follis focused on how best to integrate these skills and implement them in MMA fights, creating a well-rounded skill set. Follis also acted as Team Quest's early BJJ coach, but trainees of the gym have since railed against training in BJJ, such as Matt Lindland and Chael Sonnen specifically.
Follis is a highly respected tactical mind in MMA and is still a driving force behind Team Quest's continued success.
6. Firas Zahabi
This Montreal-based gym is the home of Georges St-Pierre and his primary striking coach Firas Zahabi. In the last two years, Zahabi has stepped out from the shadow of Greg Jackson and become a destination for elite fighters.
Zahabi has a lot to offer MMA fighters. He comes from a Muay Thai background and has been very vocal in adding boxing hand techniques to Muay Thai kickboxing, which tends to focus on kicks, knees and elbows over throwing padded hand strikes.
Zahabi has worked with several fighters on how to better integrate Western boxing with Muay Thai, most notably Georges St-Pierre, Kenny Florian and recently Miguel Torres, to great success.
While some may claim that Zahabi is just a striking coach, he does possess the grappling knowledge to arm fighters with a functional knowledge going into a fight. But Zahbai's strongest suit is helping fighters apply high level striking in an MMA context.
John Makdessi's absolute domination at UFC 124 with techniques thought to be useless in MMA because of the threat of grappling and takedowns, and Zahabi's coaching and cornering, played a big part in this.
5. Javier Mendez and Dave Camarillo
American Kickboxing Academy
Javier Mendez is the founder of the American Kickboxing Academy and Dave Camarillo is the head grappling coach at AKA, and together they form one of the best coaching duos in MMA.
Mendez is an accomplished kickboxer who started his gym in San Jose in the 1980s as purely a kickboxing venture, but it eventually crossed over into MMA.
Dave Camarillo was the son of a judo coach and grew up in the martial art, but as he went to college, he began training with Cesar Gracie in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Together Mendez and Camarillo have turned NCAA wrestlers into well-rounded MMA fighters. Luke Rockhold, Josh Thomson, Trevor Prangley, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and of course UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez are all former wrestlers that call AKA home.
AKA continues to grow and their ability to help round out elite college wrestlers will ensure they have one of the most consistent pipelines of talent in the sport.
4. Andre Pederneiras
Andre Pedemeiras started his martial arts career as a student under the legendary Carlson Gracie, considered one of, if not THE, greatest Vale Tudo fighter ever.
Pedemeiras helped establish Nova Uniao as a Jiu Jitsu school and helped produced legendary Jiu Jitsu champions like Robson Moura and the first non-Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter to win a UFC title, B.J. Penn. But it was Pedemeiras who helped reorganize Nova Uniao into an MMA school.
Since then he has trained two of the most elite featherweight fighters in the world, Jose Aldo and Marlon Sandro. Nova Uniao has now begun sending lighter weight fighters to top U.S. and Japanese promotions regularly in the last three years, and is quickly becoming one of Brazil's premier MMA schools.
3. Cesar Gracie
Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu
A member of the legendary Gracie family, Cesar is in the third generation of jiu jitsu practicing Gracies, earning his black belt under his uncles Robson and Carlos Gracie Jr.
Cesar, like so many Gracies, decided to open his own school in California, and it is in Pleasant Hill were he teaches his own take on old-school, self-defense focused Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Nick and Nate Diaz both came to Cesar to just learn how to defend themselves from bullies when they were in school, and now are some of Cesar's most visible students.
Cesar has had a long standing relationship with Strikeforce. His lone MMA fight was against Ken Shamrock in the main event of the first Strikeforce MMA card. And as a result, many of Cesar's fighters have been funneled to the San Jose-based promotion and have found great success there. Several of Strikeforce's champions call Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu home:
Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz, Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez, former Strikeforce Welterweight and Middleweight Champion and current UFC No. 1 Welterweight contender Jake Shields, TUF Season 5 Nate Diaz and UFC fighters Daniel Roberts, Gil Castillo and David Terrell.
2. Ricardo Liborio
American Top Team
The man behind the MMA stable in Coconut Creek, Ricardo Liborio is another student of the legendary Vale Tudo fighter Carlson Gracie and a member of the original Brazilian Top Team. In 2003 he left BTT to form his own camp with a few fellow BTT members.
The very first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World champion, Liborio is a grappling guru who has tested his mettle in the vale tudo and mixed martial arts and has mentored an amazing number of fighters. He has surrounded himself with elite striking coaches, including Howard Davis Jr. and Chutiphat Runsgawang, but Liborio is the glue that holds it all together.
Liborio has worked with Bellator's Middleweight champion Hector Lombard, UFC contenders Thiago Silva, Cole Miller, Mark Bocek and Thiago Alves and also Strikeforce heavyweight Antonio Silva just to mention a very few.
And if you think the old lion doesn't still have it, feel free to ask him for a roll after one his MMA seminars.
1. Greg Jackson
Greg Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts
It isn't all that surprising that Greg Jackson is first. The list and quality of fighters who call this man coach is astounding. Jackson doesn't have an extensive martial arts background, though he does have his own grappling blend of wrestling and judo. It is really his ability to analyze and break down fighters that makes him an amazing trainer.
Jackson has the ability to both identify a fighter's strengths and weaknesses and then construct a training regiment to maximize those strengths and shore up the weaknesses. Jackson has been the man behind several elite UFC fighters: Rashad Evans, Carlos Condit, Shane Carwin, Nate Marquardt and of course Georges St-Pierre. Jackson is also the head trainer for several rising stars, including Jon Jones and Brendan Schaub.
Sometimes called "Yoda" by his fighters, Jackson's jedi master-like abilities are perhaps best shown in his work with MMA journeymen. He has helped several fighters move past being "mid-card fighters" to becoming legitimate contenders in their weight classes.
Lightweights Clay Gudia, Melvin Gulliard and Donald Cerrone represent some of Jackson's finest coaching work.
There have been some criticisms that Jackson trains his fighters to grind out boring decisions. These arguments are largely reactions to a short stint of prominent Jackson fighters winning dull decisions, but a look at the history of Jackson fighting will show that he has consistently trained some of the most exciting fighters in sport.