You’ve probably heard of the big guns in the MMA coaching world—guys like Greg Jackson, Ricardo Liborio, Duke Roufus, Javier Mendez, Cesar Gracie, and Firas Zahabi. However, most coaches toil away in relative anonymity, working day to day to help fighters reach their maximum potential. Behind every great fighter, there’s usually a great teacher—here are five of the best coaches that you probably don’t know…but should.
5. John Kavanagh (SBGi Ireland)
You can call him the “Godfather of Irish BJJ” or you can call him the best MMA coach in Europe. John Kavanagh credits his success as a coach to his singular focus. “I’ve got nothing except MMA in my life, it’s an obsession. All I do and think about is MMA related.” When it comes to philosophy, Kavanagh believes in training at a constant pace throughout the year and always eating clean. He’s currently coaching two of the UFC’s hottest young contenders in Conor Mcgregor and Gunnar Nelson.
4. John Crouch (The Lab)
Only one coach on this list can trace his lineage back to the first UFC. John Crouch received his BJJ black belt from the original UFC Champion Royce Gracie. His current prized pupil is UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson. John sees himself as a grappling specialist and an overseer. As head coach, Crouch concentrates on helping implement game plans and training regimens. “Our sport is so demanding, both physically and mentally, if you don’t have fun doing it and love it, you won’t be doing it long.”
3. Ryan Parsons (Team Quest)
Sometimes a coach works in the background for so long that they become invisible. The list of athletes who Ryan Parsons has worked with could fill a magazine, including Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, and King Mo Lawal. For Parsons, the needs of the athlete always come first. His background in chiropractic medicine and nutrition as well as collegiate wrestling give him a unique set of skills. “Take the time to discover the needs of your fighters, what inspires them, their fears, how they need to spoken to, and what works for them on and off the mat.”
2. Luigi E Mondelli (ATT CT)
When you list two of your mentors as Ricardo Liborio (ATT) and John Hacklemen (The Pit), you are standing on the shoulders of giants. And when your star student is the hottest contender in the UFC (Glover Teixeira), it’s time to pay attention. Luigi Mondelli is a third degree BJJ black belt with more than 21 years of martial arts experience. Luigi understands that MMA is evolving and that coaches need to keep an open mind and never stop learning. “Always keep the martial arts values as part of the training. Being a fighter is easy, being a martial artist living the Bushido is a challenge.”
1. Eric Del Fierro (Alliance MMA)
It’s hard to call the coach of UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominic Cruz and light heavyweight contenders Phil Davis and Alexander Guftafsson unknown, but that’s the way Eric Del Fierro likes it. Quietly, he has turned Alliance MMA into a premier camp. “There are a lot of good teachers, but not a lot of good leaders.” His advice to fighters is to have confidence in your skills and your coaches. “A winning mindset will get you farther than you think. Doubting yourself only brings your skill level down.”
Pictured: Ryan Parsons