WHO: American Kickboxing Academy
LOCATION(S): San Jose and Sunnyvale, California
FOUNDED: mid 1980’s
HEAD TRAINER: Javier Mendes
OTHER COACHES: “Crazy” Bob Cook, Dave Camarillo, Jerome Turcan, Travis Johnson, Mike Sotelo, Andy Fong, Derek Yuen, Josh Thomson, Gary Owens, Stacey D. Dupree, Daniel DeTagle
TOP FIGHTER: Jon Fitch. An argument could be made for Josh Thomson and Cung Le as they are AKA fighters currently holding major titles (Strikeforce Lightweight and Middleweight Champions, respectively), but Fitch is a consensus top-4 welterweight in the world. Despite being soundly defeated by current UFC welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre, he didn’t lose much standing in the rankings. He brings a well-rounded, wrestling based attack to the cage.
FIGHTER PRIMED FOR A BREAKOUT: Cain Velasquez. This might seem odd for a fighter semi-main eventing the next UFC pay-per-view, but by this time next year its possible we’ll be talking about Velasquez being the top heavyweight in the world. He’ll get a chance to cement his ranking against Cheick Kongo at UFC 99. Dave Camarillo, one of the head trainers at AKA, has called him, “the best mixed-martial-artist I’ve ever seen”. That’s high praise for a fighter who’s record currently stands at 5-0. Velasquez was an All-American wrestler at Arizona State, and is as natural of a learner as there is in MMA today. His ever-improving stand-up, viscous ground-and-pound, and well-credentialed wrestling base make him a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.
OTHER NOTABLE FIGHTERS: Paul Buentello, Rich Crunkilton, Billy Evangelista, Josh Koscheck, Cung Le, Trevor Prangley, Daniel Puder, Bobby Southworth, Mike Swick, Josh Thomson
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: American Kickboxing Academy in its current form started when Frank Shamrock began training with Javier Mendes. Shamrock’s ground knowledge combined with Mendes’ kickboxing pedigree made AKA one of the first fully-functioning MMA gyms in the country. Mendes also trained and cornered Shamrock during Shamrock’s dominant run in the UFC in the late 90’s.
CAMP PHILOSOPHY: As evidenced by the name, AKA was first founded as a kickboxing school, as owner and head trainer Javier Mendes is a multiple time ISKA world kickboxing champion. Frank Shamrock was the first to bring the jiu-jitsu aspect to the gym, and that has continued with top trainer and world-renowned grappler Dave Camarillo. With the additions of Josh Thomson (who is now also a trainer), Jon Fitch, and Cain Velasquez, its clear AKA has realized the need for top wrestlers to truly be a top MMA camp.
By Matt Pelkey, MMATorch Columnist