There are well-documented pros and cons to being a contracted Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter, from the monetary gains and fame that come with a spot on the promotion’s roster to sponsorship limitations and strict United States Anti-Doping Agency demands. However, many observers may overlook the value of the of the UFC’s most recent addition to its list of perks: access to the state-of-the-art UFC Performance Institute.
MMA media often reference UFC stars turning to the facility to prepare for upcoming bouts, sometimes glossing over the fact that they did so instead of training at their home gyms. Yet the performance institute serves as more than just another option for fight camps. UFC Performance Institute Director of Strength and Conditioning Bo Sandoval sees it as a “supportive role player” in the process.
“We have fighters across this league that have varying degrees of resources around them,” he said during a recent episode of the Fight Strength Podcast. “We have some fighters that have everything and anything at their disposal; we have others that have literally nothing; and [then we have] everything in between.”
Every contracted UFC fighter has full access to the facility and use it to varying degrees. Members of superstar gyms like American Top Team and Jackson-Wink MMA may only need to pay occasional visits. However, for up-and-coming fighters from gyms with limited facilities, the institute offers them -- and their entire prep team -- a place out of which to work. There is also a process in place for fighters who choose to make it home for all or a majority of their training camp.
“There’s so many different ways they reach out and make contact,” Sandoval said.
The strength coach has received calls from managers, coaches and fighters themselves about taking advantage of this benefit. After making contact and setting up a point person to handle all of the interactions, the next goal of preparing a camp is to ask one question: “What is it going to take to build the ideal camp around you?” That differs for all fighters and teams.
“[Fighters] all prioritize different aspects of training differently, so for us, we have to be in a reactive approach in terms of when they reach out to us,” Sandoval said. “We have to get an understanding of where their head’s at and what they’re trying to get done. Then we can help plug and play, in terms of resources and how we can help supplement their training.”
From a strength and performance perspective, Sandoval places an early priority on ascertaining whether or not a fighter has concerns with making weight. This emphasis is understandable since the company has endured a lot of negative press lately due to frequent instances of its fighters missing weight. Once that issue is addressed, fighters making the gym their home have the option of bringing their team with them to train. They can also come alone and work with the trainers already on staff. Furthermore, the facility has working relationships with nearby gyms -- like Syndicate MMA -- with which they partner, as well.
With the massive financial backing the UFC Performance Institute has behind it, the facility has many unique aspects uncommon for most MMA gyms. In what is called the “Recovery Zone,” the facility has a low-level laser light therapy pod. This pod is a useful, 12-minute long, anti-inflammatory option for combatants looking to recover in between training sessions. There is also the institute’s altitude chamber.
“We do have the ability to create a hypoxic environment and put [a fighter] up to 22,000 feet in there,” Sandoval said. “Not that we ever have. You’re talking about peaking Mount Everest at that altitude.”
The trainer acknowledged that the chamber proved useful for several fighters in the main event and co-main event at UFC Fight Night 114 on Aug. 5. The card took place in the high altitude of Mexico City. Engaging in what has been dubbed “supplemental acclimation,” the fighters often trained inside the chamber in the weeks leading up to the event. The chamber cannot fully replicate a fight camp in places like Colorado or Big Bear, California -- “If you’re looking for long-term benefits of high-altitude training, the ideal scenario would be to live high and train low,” Sandoval said -- but it is a decent “watered-down” option for fighters booked to compete under those unique circumstances.
Sandoval estimates 70 percent of the promotion’s 500-plus athletes have been to the facility. This can no doubt cause some crossover, as there are often instances of opponents training at the institute simultaneously. In those situations, a specific booking staff informs the fighters and works with them to make sure the training schedules run at different times.
“We are strategic about how we book [opposing fighters and camps],” Sandoval said.
Moreover, to further calm concerns of opponents and their teams getting inside information, the staff at the facility are held to strict rules about the privacy of fighter intel.
“Our staff almost has to be sworn in, in terms of confidentiality around training,” Sandoval said.
The UFC Performance Institute offers anything a fighter could want in terms of preparation, and with its first year of operations in the books, it looks to have a significant influence on the world’s largest MMA organization for the foreseeable future.
“I like to explain it like we’re the ultimate corporate wellness program,” Sandoval said.