Jim Miller (above) is a product of New Jersey’s AMA Fight Club. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Mike Constantino wears many hats as head of the AMA Fight Club in Whippany, N.J., from mentor and manager to trainer and friend. In less than five years, he has transformed the school into one of the top destinations for mixed martial arts training on the East Coast. UFC lightweight contender Jim Miller, former International Fight League middleweight champion Dan Miller and twice-beaten UFC welterweight Charlie Brenneman are among those who make the AMA Fight Club their home.
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Constantino discusses the origins of the school, the challenges he faces at a growing academy, Miller’s status in the lightweight division and his previous work as a bodyguard.
Sherdog.com: How and when did the AMA Fight Club originate?
Constantino: I’ve owned and operated American Martial Arts since 2004, and AMA Fight Club derived from that in 2006. I wanted to evolve my program and brought in Renzo Gracie black belt Jamie Cruz to teach jiu-jitsu; I was teaching the muay Thai program. Around that time, I decided to start a fight team and wanted to train and manage professional MMA fighters, and things just took off. I’m very fortunate.
Sherdog.com: What has allowed your school to become so successful in such a short period of time?
Constantino: I believe in teamwork. I know that I can’t do everything by myself and also know that I’m not the best in everything, so I went out and got the best people in their individual areas of expertise. When we’re all together, we make a very strong team. I also attribute it to hard work and the desire to succeed. I had motivation to succeed. Failure was not an option. I know it sounds cliché, but I sacrificed and risked a lot to open my own gym. I left a great job and took a huge risk, so I had to stay focused and determined.
Sherdog.com: How did you become involved in martial arts?
Constantino: I am a lifelong martial artist. I began when I was a child and then took some time off to play high school sports. Then, I met my instructor and mentor, Tom Patire, when I was 19 and earned my black belt in the combative martial art of Hom Do. I then began training under muay Thai legend Master Kumron Vaitayon and earned my instructor rank under him in 2005. I also currently train jiu-jitsu under Jamie Cruz.
Sherdog.com: Did you ever think it would take you to the places it has taken you?
Constantino: I always had a vision of being where I’m at today, and I have a vision of where I want to go, so yes.
Sherdog.com: What has it been like for you to work with fighters like Jim Miller, Dan Miller, Charlie Brenneman, Frankie Edgar and on down the list?
Constantino: I’m blessed that I have the opportunity to work with some of the best fighters in the entire world. It sounds so crazy to say, but that’s a fact; these fighters are some of the best in the entire world.
Sherdog.com: Speaking of Jim Miller, how do you feel about where he currently stands in the UFC -- are you at all put off by the fact that he has not yet fought for the title, or are you content in him waiting his turn?
Constantino: Jim deserves his title shot, hands down, period, end of story. I believe he has waited his turn. He fought anyone placed in front of him, never questioning why him or why not someone else. Jim is a true company man, has fought on six days’ notice and is 9-1 in the Octagon. Fun fact -- Jim has the most wins in the Octagon since 2008 with nine. Anderson Silva is second with eight.
Sherdog.com: Is it hard to manage personalities when dealing with MMA fighters competing at the highest level?
Constantino: It really isn’t hard. I’m an only child, so my fighters are truly my brothers that I’ve never had. Another key element is that I’m not a manger for the money. I’m not a manager because it’s the cool thing to do. I’m a manager because I truly want what’s best for my guys, and I know that I can provide it for them. If I need help with something, I’m not afraid or ashamed to ask someone to aid me. It all goes back to teamwork. I have lawyers and doctors that donate their time and expertise to help me keep my fighters safe.
Sherdog.com: How do prospective fighters go about joining your gym -- is there a selection process they have to go through in order to make sure they are right for AMA?
Constantino: Anyone can join AMA Fight Club as a student. If you express an interest in fighting, and I feel that your skills are on par and you’re ready, I’ll allow you to work out with my pros. I do an evaluation, and it’s either you need to work on this and that before you can train with the pros again, or if you make the cut, you’re in and welcome to continue training with us.
Sherdog.com: Do you think your gym gets the credit it deserves, as compared to top gyms like American Top Team, American Kickboxing Academy and Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts?
Constantino: As far as credit, we’re starting to get more attention. I’m slowly being mentioned as a top trainer and manager, and I’m honored to be mentioned with the industry leaders. As far as being at the level of the few gyms that you mentioned, we’re definitely on their level. AMA Fight Club has had five fighters under UFC contract -- Jim Miller, Dan Miller, Charlie Brenneman, Ricardo Romero and Rafaello Oliveira -- and two fighters on “The Ultimate Fighter”: Brian McLaughlin and Andy Main. In addition to those fighters, we’ve had the honor and privilege to have fighters like Ricco Rodriguez, Frankie Edgar, Nick Catone, Kurt Pellegrino, Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro and many others come to AMA Fight Club to train at some point in their careers. That, to me, in addition to my main guys, puts us on the level of any gym in the entire world.
Sherdog.com: What is MVC Sports, what role do you play with it and how do you balance your responsibilities there with those you have with AMA?
Constantino: MVC Sports is a full-service sports management company that I own and operate. My motto is that I provide everything for my fighters so that all they have to do is train and fight. MVC Sports handles the rest, from contract negotiation, sponsorship deals, supplements, appearances, tattoos -- anything the fighter wants, we provide. I have a great vice president, Bill Murphy, who is on top of the game, and I’m very fortunate to have him onboard. Same theme, different company -- teamwork.
Sherdog.com: What does your new position with the Urban Conflict Championships promotion entail?
Constantino: I’m in a special advisory role with UCC. The president, Chris Sblendorio, has a great thing going on and successfully ran three pro MMA shows in northern New Jersey. That’s my home area, so I was offered a position to help him make his already great promotion better, and I accepted. We have our first show together on April 22, and we put together a stacked fight card featuring “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 12 cast member Andy Main, Rolles Gracie, WEC vet Mike Budnik, IFL vet Jamal Paterson, “The Ultimate Fighter” member Mike Stewart and many, many, more top fighters.
Sherdog.com: As a gym owner, how do you plan to keep pace with the growth of MMA in the next five, 10 to 15 years?
Constantino: I just opened my second AMA Fight Club gym, located in Pompton Lakes, N.J. I plan on staying ahead of the rest of the pack by continuing to provide superior instruction and not being complacent. I most recently made a good thing better by bringing in muay Thai legend and multi-time world champion Kaensak Sor Ploenjit. Kaensak is widely recognized as one of the greatest muay Thai fighters in the world, and he now teaches at AMA Fight Club.
Sherdog.com: In a previous life, you worked as a bodyguard. What were your most interesting assignments and why?
Constantino: I had some of the best times in my life as a bodyguard. I got to work with many famous celebrities and was fortunate to travel the world, including Asia, Europe and the Caribbean on many details. One of my most memorable assignments was being the detail leader for the 45th Annual Grammy Awards at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 2003.