EXCLUSIVE | Coach Javier Mendez explains how AKA became one of the greatest gyms in MMA

Khabib Nurmagomedov, Javier Mendez

When MMA fans think of the top gyms in the sport, some of the first to come to mind are JacksonWink, American Top Team, and of course, American Kickboxing Academy (AKA).

There is no question that AKA is one of the top gyms in the sport, with the likes of Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez, and Khabib Nurmagomedov all training under its roof.

Javier Mendez, the head coach at AKA, never imagined it would get so big. AKA is always churning out top contenders and champions, and the way they’re able to continue to do so is truly incredible.

“A lot of it is luck. A lot of it is by design and DeWayne Zinkin and ‘Crazy’ Bob Cook bringing me top level wrestlers,” Mendez said to BJPENN.com. “Some I have sought out myself but the vast majority come from Zinkin and ‘Crazy’ Bob.”

No matter where AKA fighters are recruited from, Mendez and the other coaches at AKA still have to train them and develop them into world class fighters. Of course, the top fighters at AKA benefit from training with each other, too. Daniel Cormier, Mendez say, is a particularly valuable influence at the gym.

“It is very important. It is also very important to have a real teammate like Daniel Cormier who is a real team captain,” he said. “He takes care of the guys. Do you know how many guys he has gotten into the UFC just by talking? I get the calls, and they go, ‘how is this guy Daniel said he was good’ and I go ‘oh he is really good,’ but they want to hear it from me. Like no, Daniel is correct. He helps everyone and that is why we are close because there is real care there. He cares about his teammates and does whatever he can to help them out.”

While AKA is regarded as one of the best gyms in the world, the team has dealt with some controversy in the past. The biggest knock on the gym has been the frequency of injuries sustained by its fighters. Javier Mendez feels this problem has been a little overblown, although it did force the team to make some positive changes in the end.

“It was just somebody doing a statistic on injuries and he never did it correctly,” Mendez explained. “He put down a lot who never trained at my gym or got hurt but weren’t training at my gym at the time. The fact that we had some main event guys get injured and Dana (White) talked about it.

“You know what, it was good though. We needed to get better,” he continued. “Our sport is still young and injuries will happen, we just need to continue to try and make it better. Injuries were happening not just in my gym but every gym. We need to be careful about what we do because this is a very demanding sport and there are so many things that can go wrong, and they do. We just need to make sure we take care of the athletes. That is what we have been doing. A reason why the rate of injuries dropped is because we are paying attention.”

In the end, AKA figured it all out, and reaffirmed its rep as one of the sport’s great gyms. For Javier Mendez, however, the work never stops.

“I guess it is a great honor, I just love what I am doing,” Mendez said of the team’s reputation. “I just try to get better. When I accomplish a goal, I don’t look back at the goal I look forward to the next goal.”

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 1/13/2019.