A universal truth of success is when it is achieved at a high level, peers and competitors will turn their attention to those reaping the rewards and attempt to recreate the formula. While the attempts are a sort of flattery, perhaps a greater compliment is given when those at the highest echelon decide the best thing they can do is just learn from the source, which is the position Fight Ready MMA has found themselves in the last couple of years.
The Scottsdale, Arizona-based gym houses a bevy of UFC talent, but none more notable than former two-division champion and Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo. Fight Ready gained traction in the MMA world as Cejudo continued to rack up championship hardware, but perhaps Triple C's greatest contribution came after he retired at UFC 248.
"(Cejudo) went on a spree of bringing in talent," Fight Ready MMA head coach Santino Defranco said. "We didn't even ask him to do it. We were just doing our thing, growing our guys from the ground up and whoever was here, and then Henry just started bringing people in. That notoriety has helped, and we brought the attention to detail that we bring to the fight team every day into those camps for the title camps."
It's not every day one gym holds court to title-winning and title-challenging fighters from around the world, and it seemed especially notable that Zhang Weili and Deiveson Figueiredo came to Arizona to help with rematches. Figueiredo went on to recapture his flyweight belt at UFC 270, and Zhang produced a much stronger effort against Rose Namajunas in their rematch although she ultimately fell in a split decision loss. The results influenced Jiri Prochazka to make the trek from the Czech Republic to Scottsdale in preparation for his light heavyweight title shot, and future hall of famer Jon Jones spent some weeks on the mat to prepare himself for his eventual heavyweight debut.
So, it begs the question: What do they all have cooking down in Scottsdale?
"The biggest thing is our reputation," Fight Ready striking coach Eddie Cha said. "We've been successful at producing champions out here. To me, everything is about momentum. Once the ball starts to roll, it goes the other way, as well. If it doesn't go well, it goes bad, but when it goes well, we're doing pretty good right now."
Defranco, Cha and head wrestling coach Angel Cejudo all pride themselves on a detail-oriented approach to the fight game.
From intensive film breakdowns to what they call "play sparring" – essentially, repeated simulation of opponent-specific scenarios – Fight Ready MMA distinguishes themselves on methodical and intelligent work.
"I'm actually shocked when other fighters come in, how much they don't know in certain areas on a technical basis," Defranco said. "We got a lot of people who are phenomenal fighters that are coming in, and we're going, ‘How in the heck did you get this far?' A lot of it is off of toughness and natural ability, and now we're adding a lot of technical things in, which I don't think, maybe, not a lot of other gyms have seen. I think we're very unique in a lot of things we do, but specifically the fighters haven't seen these techniques, so we're able to really add some minor technical changes to these fighters' camps and training regimens, and that's making huge differences in the camps."
Through trial and error, the Fight Ready crew seems to have found a recipe that works for them. They still host team-wide practices for their stable of fighters, which include Mark O. Madsen, Tracy Cortez and Kelvin Gastelum, but when it's time for a main event or championship fight, things get a bit more intense. When someone comes in to prep for a title fight, they construct a custom-made camp for that fighter against that opponent, something they've taken to calling a "supercamp," which is an all-hands-on-deck, holistic approach to an upcoming bout.
"They are concerned with all the areas that fighters need," featherweight contender Chan Sung Jung said. "Of course, striking, wrestling, jiu jitsu are the basics. And they care about the mental aspect, including caring and health. The most important part is I can trust them. They use methods to build champions. I can become the champ if I do the same."
Ask any fighter in the building, and you'll find them echoing the sentiments from "The Korean Zombie." The team's reputation is one built on winning fights and, crucially, winning belts.
On top of the technical aspects of training, Fight Ready also pays particular attention to the ways in which their fighters' bodies are responding throughout the grind of camp. Defranco joked that mixed martial arts is still in the "Stone Age" of training and touts their inclusion of scientific data as another factor for their success. Depending on the results they receive from health tracking data, they know how to adjust the day-to-day regimen accordingly. If the fighter is rested, it's time to push to the limit. If they wake up a little rundown, then it's time to focus on film-study and simulated scenarios.
"The structure, the attention, the detail, the communication is unlike any other," Gastelum said. "The way I like to compare it is you go to the store and you buy a suit, and it's a nice suit. It feels good to wear a suit, but you go and you get a tailored, custom suit, a fitted suit, it's a whole different vibe. That's kind of how it feels like training here. You get custom, fitted, tailored training to you, and you get all the attention. You get all these amenities that come with training here. It's next-level."
Of course, that kind of attentiveness requires a high-level of organization and time management. Although it could be tempting to focus all their efforts on the big names on the mat, they are adamant about making sure they take care of the people who are showing up to the gym each and every day, like Cejudo when he was making his way up the ranks.
Naturally, that's easier said than done, but there's a give and take of knowledge when these guests come to work.
Story first published at UFC.com.