Spotlight: Jake Bonacci

The Xtreme Couture strength and conditioning coach went from college student to MMA training guru virtually overnight. Here’s how the 26-year-old made his own rules in a field that didn’t have any.

It has been said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity — which would make Jake Bonacci one of the luckiest S.O.B.s in Las Vegas. How else would you explain the way he turned an unpaid internship at Xtreme Couture into a job as its head strength and conditioning coach?

A native of Ironwood, Mich., (and a longtime UFC fanatic), Bonacci was studying for a master’s degree in exercise physiology at The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn., when, in early 2007, he spotted an opportunity to put his education into practice.

“I saw that Randy Couture had opened a gym in Vegas, so I started calling and e-mailing them every chance I had,” he says. “After a few months of me bothering them, they finally responded and said, ‘You can come out here to teach classes for members, but we’re not going to pay you.’ It was a gamble for me, because I had other opportunities that I could have gotten paid for. But I looked at it as a huge chance.” The gamble paid off big. Between personal training sessions for gym members, Bonacci began working with Xtreme Couture’s roster of fighters. And that summer, the boss came calling.

“Randy asked me to put him through a workout when he was in camp for the Gabriel Gonzaga fi ght [at UFC 74]. I was nervous — I’d said hi to him maybe twice before that workout. But when we were done, he was like, ‘Alright, you’re in charge of my strength training for this camp.’ ” Just like that, Bonacci had a job doing what he loved, working for one of his idols; he was 24 years old. But what exactly did he do to make such an impression on “The Natural”? Bonacci explains that he took bits and pieces from everything he had learned about athletic performance training — from grad school at St. Scholastica, to a previous internship with Chris Bell at Impact Sports Training in Duluth, to high school weightroom sessions with his older brother, Josh — and put them together his own way.

“There was no written outline of how to train for MMA,” Bonacci says. “But I always thought about how I would do it. I do the best job I can to mimic the sport itself in my workouts. We don’t train like bodybuilders. We train in functional manners — putting the body in similar positions as it will be in a fight.”

Now, in addition to leading high-powered workouts with fighters like Tyson Griffin, Gray Maynard, Jay Hieron, Gina Carano, Mac Danzig and Vitor Belfort, Bonacci has a flourishing online training business ( and a strength/conditioning manual co-written with Randy Couture due out this month. But don’t expect him to throw it all away for a shot at the glory inside the cage. “I’m happy with what I get to do within the sport and the way I’ve helped it evolve,” he says. “That’s all I ever wanted.”

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