It’s a new year, so Combat Press is taking a look back at the best of MMA in 2018. Throughout the next few weeks, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
Arguably, the most integral part of any sports team is the head coach. A good coach not only provides guidance and support, but they know how to motivate where others cannot. The best coaches will also bring a level of knowledge to the game with which others can’t quite compete. 2018 brought a handful of really talented MMA coaches to the surface.
Manolo Hernandez, head coach of the San Diego Combat Academy and Team Hurricane Awesome, saw his female fighters earn a ton of success. UFC bantamweight Liz Carmouche got back into the win column by ending Jennifer Maia’s six-fight winning streak in July. Invicta FC strawweight Pearl Gonzalez quickly climbed the promotion’s ranks with a three-fight winning streak after going 0-2 in the UFC the prior year. Most importantly, however, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane continued her undefeated reign of dominance by twice defending her Bellator flyweight title in 2018. Team records are one thing, but Hernandez deserves credit, because he has an almost cult-like following from his team. He’s animated and light-hearted, yet tough as nails and won’t let his team give up.
Another coach who deserves a big nod in 2018 is Factory X Muay Thai’s Marc Montoya. Montoya not only has a homegrown team of fighters like Ian Heinisch earning a UFC contract and Chris Camozzi finding success in GLORY Kickboxing, but he also has fighters who use his services from abroad. James Krause, a rapidly ascending coach himself, utilizes Montoya come fight time and went 2-0 in 2018. Nebraska’s Anthony Smith made a switch not only to Montoya’s gym for his fight camps, but, after his last loss as a middleweight, also made the jump to light heavyweight, where he went 3-0 in less than six months and is now set to fight Jon Jones for the title. In addition to the big names in his camp, Montoya has a huge stable of up-and-comers who found great success.
As great as Montoya and Hernandez are, the scoreboard doesn’t lie. For the third year in a row, American Top Team’s head coach and former WEC champion Mike Brown steals the title of Combat Press “Coach of the Year.”
Brown possesses all of the qualities of a great coach. He is a tactician who has intimate knowledge of what it’s like to be in a title fight. He motivates his fighters to want to win, which was very evident in 2018. He saw major gold in more facets of his team than most coaches get a chance at in their entire careers.
Brown’s coaching contributed to Amanda Nunes defending her UFC bantamweight title, as well as quickly disposing of the previously unbeaten Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino to become a two-division champ. Welterweights Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington, respectively, defended and earned UFC titles in the same year. Kyoji Horiguchi went 3-0 in Rizin to earn the organization’s inaugural bantamweight strap. Dustin Poirier may not have earned a title, but he added two performance-bonus accolades to his UFC resume, while also taking home the 2018 Combat Press “Fight of the Year” award for his April battle against Justin Gaethje. To cap off the year, ATT fighters Natan Schulte, Magomed Magomedkerimov and Philipe Lins all walked away from the 2018 Professional Fighters League tournament with division titles and checks for $1 million on New Year’s Eve.
Brown’s success in the last few years has been unrivaled by even the most famed coaches, including Greg Jackson and Javier Mendez. With a busy 2019 on the horizon, he could easily be poised to capture the title again, but he definitely earned his stay as the 2018 Combat Press “Coach of the Year.”
Other finalists: Marc Montoya, Manolo Hernandez
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2018 MMA Award winners.