Behind the Fight

As one of Dominick Cruz’s coaches on The Ultimate Fighter Live, BJJ black belt Lloyd Irvin brought his specialized coaching system not only to Team Cruz…but to the fi ght fans who tuned in from all over the globe.

As head of Team Lloyd Irvin (U.S. Jiu-Jistu Team) and owner of Lloyd Irvin Martial Arts Academy, Irvin is rivaling the dominant Brazilian teams with a roster of some of the best young guns in MMA, including UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis, Alexander Gustafsson, and Mike Easton. By developing his own specialized training methods, Irvin earned his BJJ black belt in less than four years.

What do you think sets you apart from other coaches?

I’ve practiced and studied the art of coaching as hard as I’ve studied martial arts. No matter what type of learner, athlete, or student you are, anyone can learn systems. Everything that I do is broken down and put into a step-by-step system. During this season of The Ultimate Fighter, I was watching Cruz teach cage tactics—which he is a master of—and just taking notes and putting it into a system. As soon as I got back home, I put it into my school. I am not a master of everything, but I have no ego. I will bring in masters of different things, such as recovery, nutrition, and strength and conditioning. I know my limitations, but I am constantly trying to sharpen my knowledge.

The level of standup in MMA is still behind wrestling and BJJ. How would you change striking to fit MMA?

Striking is still about the money and the prestige. If you have someone who is highly skilled, they will get into K-1 or Muay Thai. In MMA, good strikers can get beat by horrible strikers. My preference for MMA is boxing—guys need to be boxing all the time since it takes time to develop good boxing skills. Everyone wants to learn how to kick, and Muay Thai instruction is great, but your hands are very important. When a striker fights someone who is not well versed, it’s a matter of who gets touched first. Boxing for MMA is about angles. Most people are straight forward, but rarely do you see someone hit/punch off of angles. You need to learn the angles and the body positions.

Let’s say a guy begins MMA at 21 years old with no wrestling experience, are his chances of success limited?

No, but you need to train cage work with them. Cruz was a high school wrestler—and not a great one. His belief in cage work and scrambling has allowed him to do what most people can’t do. The way some people are getting up in the cage is wrong. I’ve broken it down to a science. Good wrestlers will put you down unless you are a good wrestler. If one of my guys gets down, they can get back up by using the cage. Jose Aldo has good wrestling with no background, and he is really great at defending the takedown. Aldo is amazing, and I would like to see other people from his school to see if it is his system.

Is the guard dead in MMA?

The guard is not dead, but time constraints and stand-ups have rendered it less effective. Closed guard is rough unless you are a high level jiu-jitsu player against someone who is not well versed. It’s damn near impossible to submit someone who is skilled from closed guard, especially with punches and elbows. I lean heavily toward butterfly guard for MMA. If you are going to play guard, strengthen your butterfly.

Do you have an overall training philosophy?

As long as you try your best, give it your all, and don’t give up, I can work with you. Hard work will beat talent when talent refuses to work hard. That is our motto, and it’s hanging up in our school.

What are your goals as an MMA coach?

We are trying to get belts. We are belt chasers. We are trying to win. What drives me is winning. I am obsessed with winning and being a winner. I am not in this to lose.

Where do you see MMA headed in the next decade?

MMA is still in its infancy stage, even in 2012. For example, Jon Jones has two brothers who are professional NFL athletes. Jones has only been doing MMA for four years, and he is already the best in the world. When that type of athlete begins MMA as a child, we will see the next evolution of scary monsters.

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