By Dan Downes
The question I probably get asked the most is, “What do I need to do to make it to the UFC.” Obviously, there’s no single correct answer. Every athlete that has made it to the highest level of fighting has a different story and route to the top. There is, however, one starting point. Before you worry about hiring an agent, getting your first fight or even buying your equipment – find a team. Why is a team important? MMA may be contested as an individual competition, but being a part of a strong team is vital to success.
First, off, you need someone to teach you. You may watch it on TV and have a lot of knowledge, but never assume you know that much. Hubris and pride have cut down many a fledgling MMA career. Elite competitors need a coach to assess their strengths, weaknesses and give advice. Also, they provide a valuable networking advantage. Having a coach that already has fighters will help guide you further along the path to MMA stardom. He can get you in touch with promoters, knows what events and tournaments you should enter and can give you insights into your future opponents to make sure you’re not being rushed.
You need people to challenge yourself against. That’s the key word here – challenge! If you walk in the door and you’re already the best person on the mat, you’re in the wrong place. Some people want to go to places where they’re the best. It may be the best choice for their ego, but it is a terrible choice for their career.
Choosing the Right Team
Now that we know the importance of an MMA team, how do you go about choosing one? First and foremost, it’s important to choose the team that is right for you and not necessarily the best. What does that mean? Just because a school has the best/most successful fighters does not mean that it is the best environment for you to learn. Think of it like this: a friend of mine lives the best sushi restaurant in Chicago, but he’s allergic to seafood. Sure it may be the best, but what good does that do him?
Find out if the school develops talent. Ask how many of the people on the competition team rose through the beginner ranks of school or if they came from other places. Think of it from a football analogy; has the school drafted and improved athletes or has it only come from free agency? Some other reasons are technical. For instance, do they have people in your weight class? Are there people in your age group? These are all important things to consider.
Last, but certainly not least, make sure it’s a place that you can have fun and enjoy going to. Whether you want to make your full job or not, the training session will be much longer and harder if you don’t want to be there. The road to highest level is long and difficult, but finding the right team is the first step to success.