EXCLUSIVE | Coach Javier Mendez explains how he’s reduced AKA fighter injuries by “50 percent”

Khabib Nurmagomedov, Javier Mendez

As the home of current and former champions like Daniel Cormier, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Cain Velasquez and Luke Rockhold, American Kickboxing Academy is one of the very best MMA gyms in the world. It might even be the best in the world outright. If there has ever been a reason to knock the gym, however, it’s that, for a time, their fighters just couldn’t seem to stay healthy.

On multiple occasions in the past, AKA’s top stars have been forced out of massive fights with injuries — oftentimes at the very last minute. This trend, unsurprisingly, did not go over well with fight fans, who understandably wanted to see AKA’s top dogs in action.

While injuries have previously been a huge problem for American Kickboxing Academy, however, you’ve probably noticed that, more recently, the team’s fighters are showing up with a lot more regularity.

Speaking on BJPENN.COM Radio this week, American Kickboxing Academy head coach Javier Mendez explained how he’s been able to reduce the frequency of fight-derailing injuries at the gym.

“It is the nature of the sport,” Javier Mendez said of training injuries at American Kickboxing Academy. “You know, there’s a lot of injuries involved in the sport. It’s not something that we have mastered yet, but I’ll tell you what, it is something that we’ve gotten better at.”

“This is still a relatively new sport and we’re still learning,” he continued. “I was still trying to figure out how do we save us from getting injured all the damn time? Why are we getting injured? It’s nuts. Well little simple things, Jason, from having the guys talk to me when they don’t want to spar. They have issues with their girlfriend or their family, you know, they didn’t get enough sleep, or they have a little injury. I want them to point it out to me. I want them to tell me what’s going on. So this way I’ll say, ‘okay, you’re just boxing today or okay, you’re not sparring today.’ Let me tell you something. Our injury rate has dropped almost over 50 percent.”

Javier Mendez continued, explaining that sometimes fighters will choose to fight injured even if he attempts to stop them from doing so.

“Let me give you another example,” he said. “[Blagoy Ivanov], he came to me, I took him on to start training, being his head coach for the Junior dos Santos fight, right?”

“So I said, this what you need to do,” he continued. “I need you running five, six days a week. [He said] ‘What? Why?’ [I said] ‘Yes. I need you to do it hard six days a week.’ He goes, ‘Okay coach.’ So next thing you know, two weeks into this whole thing, the poor guy rips his meniscus running on the street. He ripped his meniscus in two spots. How he’s going into the fight with Junior dos Santos with a torn meniscus in two spots. Now guess what? All you can really do is box.”

“So I had told them to cancel the fight, call the UFC, cancel the fight. So he had already scheduled surgery, he was canceling the fight, but over the weekend, he just felt like, no, I’m gonna fight. And that’s what fighters do. They fight injured. He’s not the only example. There’s tons of examples that go out there.”

“He decided to take the fight, and he went through the fight. It didn’t go his way and even if he had been 100 percent healthy feel, who knows how the fight would have gone? Because Junior dos Santos is a great fighter, you know? So I’m just saying in regards to injuries that they don’t always happen in the gym either.”

Javier Mendez added that, oftentimes, fighters need money so badly that they will attempt to fight even if they’re injured.

“I’ll give you another [example],” he said. “[Gabriel Benitez], he was scheduled to fight Andre Fili, and he was injured. He was injured, he couldn’t do nothing, and I just pleaded with him to cancel the fight. Please cancel the fight. But he needed the money. He needed the money. He could not cancel the fight. So he had no sparring, zero sparring. He was injured going into the fight, his confidence was down to the dumps, and now you fight Andre Fili for God’s sake. Come on. I mean, I knew that kid was really special.

“So I just said, ‘Please cancel the fight.’ No. He took the fight anyways. What happens? Boom. Taken care of. So those are the things, the unknown things that the fans don’t know and they don’t understand and they don’t care to hear either. All they care about is come fight time, you either win or you don’t. And that’s what I tell my guys. I go, ‘Fans don’t give a shit whether you’re injured or not injured with your fight. They just see the winner.’

What do you think of these comments from American Kickboxing Academy head coach Javier Mendez?

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 9/3/2018.