Mixed Martial Arts is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, growing sport over the past several years. It’s pretty evident too, with the way every other suburb seems to have a new MMA gym cropping up. The progress of MMA as a sport has been monumental. And we have organizations such as the UFC, Bellator, and ONE Championship to thank for it.
Much of MMA’s growth comes from the spectacular showdowns from world-class athletes. Undeniably, these fighters bring the sport to greater heights. However, we also have to pay homage to their humble roots: their respective MMA gyms. After all, the MMA gym is where these seedlings of fighters are sown and grow to become great.
It doesn’t matter how much talent a fighter is born with. If there isn’t a positive environment to nurture the talent, chances are it will go to waste. And the best environment for a fighter to grow in is one that has produced many gems in its lifetime.
Of course, we’re not saying that you can’t succeed if you train in smaller gyms. However, we can’t deny that there’s a reason why champions come from world-class gyms. Elite fighters grow by learning from other elite fighters. And with superior coaches leading them on behind the curtains, these fighters grow to become legends.
If you’re looking to compete or even just get your skills up to par, you have to look at the big names. In this article, we’ll go over some of the biggest MMA gyms in the industry, as well as the best MMA gym for you to get started on your journey.
1 Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu
The Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy is home to many big names in UFC history. Some title holders it produced are Nick Diaz, Jake Shields and Gilbert Mendez. It is also home to UFC superstar Nate Diaz.
Cesar Gracie has been at the top of the coaching game even before Jake Shields signed with the UFC in 2010. The Academy housed three of five champions in the Strikeforce promotion. This secured Cesar Gracie’s nomination as Coach of the Year at the Fighters Only 2010 World MMA Awards.
2 The Alliance
The Alliance is one of the top-performing MMA gyms and one of the best BJJ gyms in the world. It produced one of the greatest grapplers in UFC history, Dominick Cruz. And according to him, Alliance is the best place if you want to focus on your ground game.
There’s another entity called Alliance MMA. It’s a completely separate organization from The Alliance, so be careful not to get confused.
Roufusport MMA Academy (also known as simply Roufusport) is home to many skilled fighters. Notable athletes it has produced are UFC champions Anthony Pettis and Tyron Woodley. It’s notorious for its extreme training methods, and it has the highest rate of injuries in MMA.
Despite that, it remained one of the top-performing MMA gyms. While it may be a bit too hardcore for some, so we can’t say it’s not worth it for those who want it. Four-time Kickboxing champion Duke Roufus founded the gym and currently leads the team.
4 Sanford MMA
Sanford MMA has a team of 40 fighters or so, with 25 competing in the major MMA promotions: UFC, Bellator, and ONE. As a result, they’ve produced champions like current UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman and former 2 division champion Martin Nguyen. Sanford MMA is also home to surging UFC welterweight contender Gilbert Burns.
As far as gym branding goes, Sanford MMA is a bit unusual in the sense that it took on the name of its sponsor. It was originally Combat Club, but it was later renamed Hard Knocks 365. Finally, it rebranded to become Sanford MMA as it obtained a sponsorship deal with Sanford Health.
(We also have to mention that its training facility has a supporting clinic adjacent to it, which is very nice.)
5 Jackson Wink MMA
Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn lead this MMA gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was home to troubled UFC star Jon Jones, and it has produced some of the UFC’s most well-rounded fighters.
Some names that came out of Jackson Wink MMA are Andrei Arlovski, Donald Cerrone, Holly Holme, and Alistair Overeem. Many of the above fighters have since moved on from the gym. Still, it continues to develop skilled fighters competing at the highest level today.
6 American Kickboxing Academy
The American Kickboxing Academy is in San Jose, California. It is a powerhouse gym that has become quite the institution. AKA has produced champions like Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, Luke Rockhold, and Khabib Nurmagomedov. Unsurprisingly, it gained a reputation for being one of the finest MMA gyms in the world.
AKA received the Gym of the Year award from MMAjunkie.com in 2015 and CombatPress.com in 2018. These days, its senior members have a hand in developing the next crop of upcoming talent.
7 Tristar Gym
The Tristar Gym is home to one of the greatest MMA fighters to compete in the octagon, Georges St-Pierre. Located in Montreal, Quebec, it has established itself as one of the world’s top MMA gyms.
The genius coach Firas Zahabi built Quebec-born GSP to become a formidable fighter. Aside from GSP, the gym also produced champions such as Rory Macdonald and Miguel Torres. Other names on its roster are Kevin Lee, Johnny Walker, and Ryan Hall.
And a fun fact: former UFC Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker trained in Tristar in 2013-2014.
8 American Top Team
When it comes to top fighters, the American Top Team is probably the MMA gym that produced the most. Former home to UFC bad boy Colby Covington, it also has an extensive list of notable fighters and has produced many world champions. It also won the Best Gym category in the World MMA Awards from 2016 through 2019.
The American Top Team shares founders and similar names with the Brazilian Top Team. However, the founders intended for it to be a new camp entirely rather than a branch of the BTT.
9 Brazilian Top Team
The legendary Brazilian Top Team was the initiative of the former members of the Carlson Gracie Academy. The purpose was to create a world-class BJJ gym and excel in MMA at the same time. It has been successful in its purpose, and some of the best Brazilian MMA fighters in history came from it. As a result, the team produced names like Vitor Belfort and Nogueira brothrs. BrazilianTop Team will go down as a pioneer in MMA, creating one of the first ever specialized Mixed Martial Arts programs in the world.
10 Chute Boxe Academy
The Chute Boxe Academy first made a name in the International Vale Tudo Championship. It had an aggressive style that centred on their Muay Thai skills. Their aggression paid off, and they captured three out of four title belts in the IVT.
Even today, it has a reputation for producing aggressive, well-rounded fighters like Charles Oliveira, Cris Cyborg and MMA legends like Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva and Shogun Rua.
11 Nova Uniao
Nova Uniao is known as one of the premiere MMA gyms in South America. Located in Rio de Janeiro, it’s home to one of the longest-reigning UFC champions, Jose Aldo. The famed gym also produced one of the most feared UFC Bantamweight champions, Renan Barão. These 2 UFC stars dominated the lower weight classes in the early 2000s. This reign solidified the team as one of the most exciting teams in the UFC, attracting huge attention in Brazil every time their fighters enter the octagon.
12 SBG Ireland
While the SBG Gym hasn’t produced many champions, pretty decent names still came from it. Frankly, it’s not yet at the level where it can come up to par with the other names on this list. However, it’s still worth a mention since it did produce one of the UFC’s hottest names, Conor McGregor.
13 MMA Factory
The MMA Factory is the biggest MMA gym in France, and it has produced a few notable names. Quite impressive, considering that France’s MMA scene is pretty limited. Some champions that came from this gym are Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane.
MMA Factory’s coach Fernando Lopez has an eye for talent and a knack for coaching, and it shows. The gym began with only two students in 2013 and expanded to over 600 in a span of five years.
14 Evolve MMA
Evolve MMA is not a single gym. Instead, it’s a chain of MMA academies across Singapore. Business mogul Chatri Sityodtong founded Evolve and grew it until its name became synonymous with the sport. It has the largest roster of champions across multiple martial arts systems boasting names like Angela Lee and Christian Lee. As a result, it is widely recognized as Asia’s best martial arts school.
15 Tiger Muay Thai
Tiger Muay Thai began as a gym with a single ring. As students came in numbers, so did investors interested in growing the gym. And so, it expanded—massively. Today, it is one of the biggest—if not the biggest—MMA gym in the world. This gym is so well-known in the international martial arts community. It’s not unusual at all for fighters to travel all the way to Thailand for intensive training.
Tiger Muay Thai began as a Muay Thai gym, but later, it added MMA to its repertoire. It subsequently produced UFC champions, with some notable names in its roster being Petr Yan, Alexander Volkanovski, Ben Nguyen and Valentina Shevchenko.
16 Enbo Fight Club
Enbo Fight Club is an MMA gym that began with an admirable cause. Founder En Bo created a martial arts gym for orphaned kids so that they wouldn’t need to turn towards a life of crime. While it hasn’t produced champions yet, it has produced several UFC fighters. Some names in its roster are Song Yadong, Rong Zhu, and Liu Pingyuan.
17 City Kickboxing
City Kickboxing is an MMA gym based in New Zealand. Its founders Eugene Bareman and Doug Viney came seemingly out of nowhere to most MMA fans. Then they just suddenly started pumping out some of the best talents in the industry. Some big names from CKB are Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski—yes, the same one from Tiger Muay Thai.
What’s the best MMA gym for you to start your journey?
18 The Fight Centre
The best MMA gym for you to start, of course, is the one that offers MMA classes for beginners. After all, stablishing a strong fundamental understanding of concepts is essential to mastery. While we’re undeniably still a pretty young gym, we’re growing plenty of young talents. We offer free trial classes for anyone looking to start their journey. Click here to save a slot and see what we’re like for yourself.