Daniel Cormier (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Combat Press 2018 MMA Awards: Gym of the Year – American Kickboxing Academy

Matthew Petela Staff Writer

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.

Gym of the Year – American Kickboxing Academy

In any sport, the locker room/clubhouse dynamic can propel a team to great heights or serve as the reason for underperformance on gameday. In an individual sport like MMA, team chemistry is even more complicated. It is not unheard of for teammates to be forced into fighting one another as they climb the ranks toward a championship. The strange dichotomy of cohesion and competition makes it all the more impressive when a fight camp is able to put together a year filled with many more wins than losses as they build potential stars and keep the elite fighters at the top of their game.

In the brief history of MMA, high-profile teams have come and gone, from Ken Shamrock’s Lion’s Den to the Blackzilians, making room among the mainstays of great camps for new teams to grab their share of the spotlight. This year was no different, with historically great camps and lesser-known fight teams sharing in the sport’s success in both regional and global promotions.

Colorado’s Factory X had a notably impressive year, with the team’s fighters combining for a 69-25 record. With fighters contracted across both regional and global promotions, head coach Marc Montoya has a stable of fighters who made waves in 2018. Most notably, it was recently announced that Anthony “Lionheart” Smith will be challenging Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title at UFC 235. Smith’s move up to 205 pounds has done wonders for his career and status as one of the world’s best fighters, and it was Montoya’s advice that led the Nebraska native to leave the middleweight division behind due to the brutal weight cut. Factory X has also seen success in the Legacy Fighting Alliance, with undefeated prospect Youssef Zalal headlining the promotion’s first event of 2019 against Jose Mariscal. Other standout fighters such as James Krause and Megan Anderson are not full-time team members, but they spend a portion of their training camps in Colorado with Montoya at Factory X. Expect continued success out of this camp as they prepare to turn prospects into contenders in 2019.


New Zealand-based City Kickboxing burst onto the scene in 2018. The camp is home to Combat Press 2018 “Breakout Fighter of the Year” Israel Adesanya. The gym made waves with its star pupil at the top of the middleweight contender list as he prepares to take on former champion and all-time great Anderson Silva at UFC 234. City Kickboxing’s success did not end with Adesanya. The gym is also home to Kai Kara-France, Dan Hooker and Alexander Volkanovski. Kara-France is currently on a six-fight winning streak, including a victory in his UFC debut at UFC Fight Night 142 in Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. Hooker put together four UFC victories until dropping his UFC on Fox 31 contest against Edson Barboza. “The Hangman” showed a level of toughness and ability to withstand punishment in the fight that will be talked about for some time. At the UFC’s final event in 2018, rugby-player-turned-MMA-standout Volkanovski defeated perennial contender Chad Mendes by second-round TKO in a back-and-forth battle that cemented the Australian’s position as one of the best featherweights on the planet. Led by these four rising stars in the UFC, City Kickboxing made a name as one of the best gyms in the world in 2018, and their stock is still on the rise.

While many camps will look back on 2018 as a tremendously successful year, one gym stands alone at the top as the Combat Press 2018 “Gym of the Year.” American Kickboxing Academy had a year for the ages that ended with two of the top three pound-for-pound fighters in the UFC. Daniel Cormier became only the fifth fighter to win UFC titles in two weight classes and only the second to hold the belts simultaneously when he captured the heavyweight championship by knocking out Stipe Miocic at UFC 226 in July. Cormier then went on to defend his heavyweight belt at UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden, where he submitted Derrick Lewis in the second round. The November victory at MSG gave Cormier a 3-0 record in 2018, as he opened the year with a bounce-back victory over Volkan Oezdemir in January after being knocked out by Jon Jones at UFC 214 in a bout that would be changed to a no-contest when Jones tested positive for turinabol. Cormier is joined atop the pound-for-pound rankings by his teammate and undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Nurmagomedov claimed the belt in April by defeating Al Iaquinta after a whirlwind week in Brooklyn, N.Y., in which the Dagestani faced several opponent changes brought on by injury and weight-cutting issues. “The Eagle” successfully defended his belt in the Combat Press 2018 “Event of the Year” at UFC 229 by submitting Conor McGregor in the fourth round of the Irish superstar’s long-awaited return to MMA action. Marred only by the post-fight melee that Nurmagomedov incited by jumping the cage and attacking McGregor’s team, UFC 229 cemented his position as the best 155-pound fighter in the world and one of the best to ever step in the Octagon in the lightweight division. AKA founder and head trainer Javier Mendez put together a run in 2018 that clearly established the American Kickboxing Academy as the premier MMA gym in 2018.

Other finalists: Factory X, City Kickboxing

Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2018 MMA Award winners.