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Is the UFC’s Chain of Gyms Any Tougher Than a Normal Gym?

I mean, I tap out after five minutes on the treadmill

Even die-hard UFC fans might be surprised to learn that there’s a chain of official UFC gyms throughout the country, a la 24-Hour Fitness or LA Fitness. In fact, in January 2020, UFC GYM celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its flagship location in Concord, California. This milestone marked a full decade of subverting the traditional gym format for a collection of combat-sports packaging beneath the banner of the world’s foremost MMA brand.

Interestingly, it was the brainchild of Mark Mastrov, the same man behind the aforementioned 24-hour Fitness. Mastrov reportedly presented the concept of a UFC-branded gym to the UFC’s majority owners at the time — Frank and Lorenzo Ferttita — during a meeting in 2008. Today, it offers plenty of different kinds of functional fitness, but not surprisingly, its menu of options skew heavily toward MMA, boxing, kickboxing, sparring, self-defense, strength and conditioning and Brazilian jiu-jitsu

How has the rollout of UFC GYM changed the landscape of the fitness industry?

The first public declaration of UFC GYM arrived in January 2009 when the UFC announced gym partnerships with fighters BJ Penn and Georges St-Pierre, the organization’s lightweight and welterweight champions respectively. During the summer of that same year, more details of UFC GYM were revealed, including the official partnership with New Revolution Fitness Company — run by Jim Rowley and Mastrov — to develop the first of the physical gyms: the 37,000-square-foot location in Concord.

“I’m guilty as anyone of building these sterile gyms where everything is push, pull and treadmills,” Rowley was reported as saying by the Modesto Bee. “That is boring. We want to change a person’s idea of what working out is about. What better way to do that than train the way these great athletes train.”

Two years later, Penn’s UFC GYM in Honolulu, which was also reported as occupying 37,000 square feet, opened. “My new signature gym is not a traditional health club or just a fight club, but it offers all the tools you and your family need to get results,” Penn told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The initial rollout of UFC GYM’s franchise locations also included the rebrandings of some existing combat-focused facilities as UFC GYM centers, like when the L.A. Boxing gym in Merrillville, Indiana was repurposed and reopened as the state’s first UFC GYM location in 2013.

Somewhere along the way, the braintrust behind UFC GYM decided that the optimal size for a location was 8,000 to 12,000 square feet. Still, that’s done nothing to halt the acquisition and development of gyms that are much larger — e.g., a 40,000-square-foot site that formerly housed a Sport Authority was acquired for development into a UFC GYM as recently as 2018.

What is presently available at UFC Gym?

As promised, far more than just a lot of push, pull and treadmills.

Daily UFC GYM classes offer all sorts of group exercise options for adults and children, again, many of which are combat-themed — like kickboxing conditioning and no-gi Brazilian jiu-jitsu training. Beyond that, it also offers several popular, non-combat classes, like Zumba, HIIT, Yoga Flow, BODYPUMP and Killer Cycle. 

In essence, UFC GYM facilities are like high-end commercial gyms that also provide access to specialized instruction in combat. The $49 monthly package provides access to the general training equipment, while $79 a month grants members unlimited access to group fitness classes and MMA training. And, yes, they do have Octagons for you to train in.

Speaking of the Octagon, how fight-ready will a UFC GYM make me?

More than you think. In 2018, the Orlando Sentinel reported on the MMA debut of Shawna Ormsby, who received her initial coaching in jiu-jitsu and kickboxing at the UFC GYM location in Winter Springs, Florida. She then racked up 28 amateur fights, three kickboxing championships and a King of the Cage Tournament finalist position before turning professional. 

Ormsby’s coach, Joe Rosario, was a UFC GYM trainer who recruited her straight out of the club’s classes. “I felt her right hand, and I was like, ‘Man, this girl is something special,’” Rosario told the Sentinel

24-Hour Fitness might be open all night. But when it comes to preparing you for a fight (professional or otherwise), the UFC GYM is gonna make it tap every time.