If you’re looking to get into a new sport, you’d be hard pressed to find a better way to train than in Mixed Martial Arts. The sport’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years, and it’s not hard to see why. MMA fosters mental and physical discipline and tough competition. Call it the original CrossFit (or maybe just what CrossFit should be).
Some MMA fighters might be looking to go from cage to national stage, but even if you’re just looking for a challenging new hobby or an effective way to stay fit, you’ll find both in Mixed Martial Arts.
MMA might seem like a solo sport, like boxing. In reality, most MMA gyms offer a unique, team-based program designed to train athletes of all skill levels. In most elite gyms and camps, coaches work together to train fighters, building UFC champs in a collaborative environment.
For many fighters and coaches, MMA is one of the “purest” sports around, revolving around the sheer strength, hard work, and dedication of its fighters. Plus, with its grueling programs and no-nonsense approach to getting into (actual) fighting shape, it’s one of the best ways to get fit and stay that way.
Who knows—join a gym and you might find yourself fighting for a champion title, too. Here’s a list of the top 5 MMA gyms in the country:
Team Oyama — Irvine, CA
Head coach Colin Oyama has been training top MMA fighters for nearly 20 years, and he’s not slowing down yet. The gym is one of the largest MMA training centers in Orange County, and it’s built quite a reputation not only for its UFC champions but for its experienced and friendly instructors—just be prepared for one of the toughest workouts of your life. Their cardio kickboxing classes are known to be especially difficult, but you’ll find most of their classes follow the wisdom of “no pain, no gain.”
Xtreme Couture — Las Vegas, NV
Founded by UFC champ Randy Couture, this gym has produced champions and contenders such as Forest Griffin and Gray Maynard—basically, it shouldn’t surprise you that extreme is part of the name. Many have said Xtreme Couture has one of the best fight teams around, and they’ve got the trainers and, of course, the top-class fighters to prove it. Xtreme Couture has professional athletic trainers skilled in physical therapy and injury prevention to aid you in keeping fighting form. The gym also boasts locations in Florida and Ontario, Canada.
American Top Team–Coconut Beach, FL
One of the teams featured on reality show The Ultimate Fighter, American Top Team (ATT). Plenty of ATT-trained fighters have gone on to compete in each of UFC’s top promotions, but even those just seeking a new way to exercise have seen results. ATT particularly specializes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and self-defense training, but also features after school/youth programs prepping kids of all ages for a variety of sports, from high school wrestlers to young children. If you’re looking to join their team, though, be warned—you’ll find some of the toughest (and the best) coaches in MMA here.
American Kickboxing Academy – San Jose, CA
American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) has trained the likes of Cain Velaquez, and plenty more UFC contenders. AKA at one point trained top welterweight class fighters, but as time went on, the gym went on to train heavyweight contenders and champs. Don’t let the titles and teams intimidate you, though—AKA has built its reputation not only on excellent fighters and top-tier coaches, but on its willingness to work with beginning athletes. If MMA is something you’d like try, consider stopping by AKA for a session or two. The gym has pricing and schedules for those just dropping in to see what it’s like.
Jackson Wink MMA — Albuquerque, NM
If there’s something like a MMA paradise, then Jackson-Wink is as close as it gets. Established in 1992, the gym has trained champions and newcomers alike, including UFC champions George St. Pierre, Jon Jones and Rashad Evans. It’s known through MMA circles as one of the best gyms around, with a formidable team of fighters. The gym has more and more UFC hopefuls flocking to it every year, from across the country.
Luckily, the team is always looking for new fighters and top talent to join—but coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn will warn you themselves that joining the gym means putting in the hours. The gym even includes the Jackson Wink MMA Academy, where you can live and train with other fighters looking to become the best in the business. Another major bonus of sticking around town? Seeing the best of Albuquerque.