The time when strikers could depend on purely striking has long past in mixed martial arts, if that time ever even existed.
Now, fighters are scrambling to improve their grappling as much as possible because the sport is continually transitioning into one where a fighter must use wrestling or defend against it to put themselves in a position of strength.
While some European gyms such as Golden Glory, Team Rough House and Wolfslair MMA Academy have become recognized for producing some of the best strikers in the sport, other gyms have become noted for making significant improvements in the ground games of their fighters.
Here are the ten camps that have the trainers and training partners most likely to help a fighter with improving their grappling:
#1 JACKSON’S MMA
It’s hard to say what Jackson’s MMA isn’t the best at when it comes to MMA training.
Mike Winkeljohn provides excellent striking advice to the gym’s fighters, while Greg Jackson is probably the best game-planner in the sport.
Jackson’s MMA currently trains two of the most talented fighters the sport has ever seen in UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre and UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones.
Many other excellent grapplers have also trained with Jackson such as Rashad Evans, Clay Guida, Melvin Guillard, Carlos Condit and Nate Marquardt.
The camp may not be the best when it comes to making technical improvements in the grappling games of its fighters, but Jackson is an expert at recognizing the grappling strengths of his fighters and using them to help his students defeat their opponents.
#2 BLACK HOUSE MMA
When it comes to Brazilian jiu-jitsu, there is no place better to train at than Black House MMA.
The gym is home to the legendary brothers of Antonio Rodrigo and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Additionally, Anderson Silva, Ronaldo Souza, Diego Nunes, Junior Dos Santos, Lyoto Machida, and Pedro Rizzo have all trained at the gym regularly.
Other fighters such as Jose Aldo, Mark Munoz and Thales Leites have also joined the gym sporadically to train for their fights.
The gym will always be considered one of the best for improving a fighter’s jiu jitsu, but if it is able to continually attract wrestlers like Munoz, then it could become the best all-around grappling gym in MMA.
#3 CESAR GRACIE’S JIU-JITSU ACADEMY
Cesar Gracie’s Jiu-Jitsu Academy is far more than a gym that is riding on the Gracie name.
Home to multiple Strikeforce champions, the gym is one of the best in terms of developing a fighter’s grappling.
Gracie has turned the controversial brothers of Nick and Nate Diaz into two extremely technical grapplers.
Additionally, Gracie has taken two more outstanding fighters under is wing in Jake Shields and Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez.
With the success of Shields and the increased publicity for Strikeforce under Zuffa management, Cesar Gracie’s Jiu Jitsu Academy is finally beginning to receive the respect that it deserves.
Along with that respect comes elite fighters such as Chael Sonnen wanting to help train with Shields in his preparation for a title fight against UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre.
#4 NOVA UNIAO
Andre Pederneiras has trained one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters that MMA has ever seen in B.J. Penn.
Penn got his start at Nova Uniao and now several more fighters are helping the gym rise to the top of the MMA world once again.
Nova Uniao is currently home to two of the most talented featherweights in the world in UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo and Marlon Sandro.
While Aldo has become more well-known for his striking, his ground game is equally deadly.
Several other jiu-jitsu specialists train under Nova Uniao. Thales Leites, Vitor Ribeiro, Wagnney Fabiano, Ronnys Torres and Marcos Galvao have all spent time training at the gym.
In his last fight, Galvao nearly defeated Bellator Featherweight Champion Joe Warren.
#5 XTREME COUTURE
In only five years of existence, Randy Couture has turned Xtreme Couture into one of the best MMA gyms on earth.
Because of his background in wrestling, many wrestlers have come to the gym in hopes of finding the same success that Couture has.
However, Xtreme Couture’s talent does not stop at wrestlers as many strikers such as Vitor Belfort and Martin Kampmann have already realized the improved grappling that the gym can provide them.
Although Kampmann lost his last two fights, he showed excellent takedown defense against Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez, which he undoubtedly picked up at Xtreme Couture.
Along with Couture, Gray Maynard, Evan Dunham, Tyson Griffin and Forrest Griffin bring a wealth of grappling knowledge to the gym.
Although the gym lacks a current UFC champion, it is loaded with contenders that can help any fighter become more well-rounded on the ground.
#6 AMERICAN KICKBOXING ACADEMY
Contrary to its name, American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California has morphed into one of the world’s best wrestling camps.
After Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch found success in rounding out their games at the gym, several other wrestlers came calling for a way to improve their striking.
While striking is still the primary focus as American Kickboxing Academy, it is hard to argue that a fighter wouldn’t be able to improve their grappling drastically by training with Koscheck, Fitch, Cain Velasquez or Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier.
American Kickboxing Academy also employs one of the best grappling coaches in MMA in Dave Camarillo. Camarillo developed guerilla jiu-jitsu into one of the most effective forms of grappling in the sport.
#7 AMERICAN TOP TEAM
While Kings MMA is still growing and adding talent, American Top Team has developed one of the deepest rosters of grappling talent in MMA under Ricardo Liborio.
Former WEC Champions Brian Bowles and Mike Brown give the gym strength and experience. The gym is also developing several rising lightweights in Cole Miller, Mark Bocek and Jorge Masvidal.
Finally, Bellator Middleweight Champion Hector Lombard, Thiago Alves and Thiago Silva add even more elite talent to the gym.
Outside of heavyweight, American Top Team has some of the best grapplers in the world at each and every weight division.
American Top Team has even tried to turn Kimbo Slice into a grappling phenomenon. That didn’t exactly pan out, but at least they tried.
#8 KINGS MMA
Run by Rafael Cordeiro, Kings MMA in Huntington Beach, California has been gaining steam as of late.
With the recent addition of Mauricio Rua, the gym is quickly becoming one of the most talent-filled gyms in the world.
In addition to Rua, two of the better Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners in MMA train there regularly in Fabricio Werdum and Renato Sobral.
UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva has also spent time working out at Kings MMA with Werdum.
Kings MMA has also begun to attract wrestlers as well.
Tito Ortiz and Mark Munoz have both started training at Kings MMA and have made the gym one of the most well-rounded when it comes to finding training partners for grappling.
#9 TEAM QUEST
Since its establishment in 1999, Team Quest has expanded to several locations in Oregon and California.
However, the team’s gyms in Portland, Oregon and Murrieta, California are among the best in the world when it comes to developing wrestlers into mixed martial artists.
Chael Sonnen, one of the best pure wrestlers in MMA, and rising UFC welterweight Mike Pierce are trained by MMA veteran Matt Lindland at Team Quest’s Portland gym.
Recently, Yushin Okami was also attracted to the gym to train for his fight against Nate Marquardt for a spot as the top middleweight contender.
Team Quest’s Murrieta gym is equally packed with talent. Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Dan Henderson, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou and Krzysztof Soszynski all train there regularly. Joe Warren, a possible Olympic-level wrestler has also trained at the gym extensively.
Team Quest is known for attracting some of the best wrestlers in the United States. There’s no better way to improve a fighter’s grappling than to spar with the most talented training partners possible.
#10 ULTIMATE FITNESS (TEAM ALPHA MALE)
Often referred to as Team Alpha Male, Urijah Faber and his group of sparring partners train at Ultimate Fitness in Sacramento, California.
The gym is well-known for its scrappy lighter weight fighters such as Faber, Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes and Danny Castillo.
While Ultimate Fitness might not be the best place for heavyweight fighters to come and work on their grappling due to the lack of serviceable training partners, it is unquestionably one of the first places that up-and-coming bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight fighters should look to train.
In addition to rolling with these elite grapplers, fighters that choose to work out at Ultimate Fitness will train under Fabio Prado and two-time Division I Wrestling All-American Matt Sanchez.
Benavidez and Mendes began training with Faber toward the beginning of their MMA careers and have each grown to become top five fighters in the world in their respective divisions.
Both fighters rely heavily on their wrestling, but the entire team is known for their ability to quickly take their opponents’ backs and sink in rear-naked chokes.
By Sean Smith