When MMA fans think of super-gyms, names like Jackson’s MMA, Tristar and American Top Team are likely among the first to spring to mind. One that very few fans seem to be acknowledging, however, is the emergence of the Blackzilians in Florida.

The team that initially began as a collection of fighters that could’ve been labeled “The Island of Misfit Fighters” has seemingly gained a solid footing and has been producing excellent results in the cage. This was recently highlighted by Anthony “Rumble” Johnson’s return to the UFC at UFC 172.

Johnson was on a six-fight winning streak prior to returning to the Octagon. During the streak, Johnson had four devastating knockout victories and controlled former UFC heavyweight champ Andrei Arlovski for the majority of their contest. Johnson also was finally able to get his weight-cutting issues under control. In fact, he has looked like a top-tier fighter since deciding to move up to light heavyweight.

Johnson was facing a top-five light heavyweight in Phil Davis at UFC 172, and despite the impressive performances outside the UFC, Rumble was the underdog. On paper, Davis had the clear advantage when it came to grappling. He had all the amateur wrestling credentials of an elite fighter, and submission skills to boot. None of that mattered, though, as Rumble reminded us that fights aren’t won on paper. He beat Davis in every facet of MMA. He stuffed Davis’s takedowns with relative ease, battered the former Penn State wrestling champ on the feet and put on a one-sided beatdown that launched Johnson into immediate title contention.

Although Johnson deserves all the credit in the world for how he’s turned his career around, what is surprising is how little praise the Blackzilian camp seems to be receiving. The camp was largely ridiculed by MMA fans upon its inception. This was due to a number of factors, some of which were relevant, and some not.

Without a doubt, the main reason fans initially weren’t fond of the Blackzilians is that the results simply weren’t there. The team made a lot of noise by combining a number of talented fighters under one roof, but that didn’t translate to success in the cage. There was also the switching of coaches, fighters leaving the camp and, more recently, the Alistair Overeem saga. It also doesn’t help that some of MMA’s more polarizing figures have trained under the Blackzilian banner.

It seems the team has moved on from the bad times. Now, the camp has a laundry list of guys either competing at the highest level in their division, or on the way up. The team features some of the more decorated coaching staffs assembled in MMA. Former Olympic gold medalist Kenny Monday heads up the wrestling, Pedro Diaz runs the boxing, Jorge Santiago coaches the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Henri Hooft is the overall striking coach. Without even looking at the roster of fighters competing out of the Blackzilian camp, that’d have to be a top destination for any up-and-coming fighter looking to find a home.

Yet, the gym and its coaches don’t seem to get the same credit as others have in the sport. We need only look at 2013 and “The Bang Effect” as evidence of a coach receiving an incredible amount of praise. Duane Ludwig definitely deserved credit for what he did at Team Alpha Male, but you don’t see Hooft or any other Blackzilian coaches near the top of anyone’s “Coach of the Year” ballot.

That’s a real shame, considering the improvement that a number of fighters have made while training out of Boca Raton. Rumble is on the cusp of a title shot, which seemed near impossible earlier in his career. Eddie Alvarez is the Bellator lightweight champ. Vitor Belfort (TRT or not) has looked like a human wrecking machine. And perhaps the most improved fighter of all, Michael Johnson, has turned a fledgling UFC career into a top contender spot in historically one of the toughest divisions in the UFC.

I was among those that were critical of the Blackzilians when they first formed, but it is only fair to sit back and admire what the team has been able to accomplish in only a few short years.

This year is poised to be a big one for the gym. If the fighters coming out of the Blackzilian camp continue to put on impressive performances, fans will have to realize the camp has moved on from its troubled beginnings. The Blackzilians sport a stacked roster and coaches to match the best that other MMA gyms have to offer. Perhaps it’s time that we, as fans, start at least putting them in the same sentence as the American Top Teams and Jackson’s MMAs of the world.

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.

  • white guy

    im starting a gym called whitezillians.wonder if the naacp would be ok with that