Photo by Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports
Owned and operated by Glenn Robinson, the Blackzilians team became MMA’s latest “super camp” for fighters upon its formation in 2010—a move prompted by the mass departure of fighters from rival Florida-based gym American Top Team. Jorge Santiago, Danillo Villefort, Yuri Villefort and Gesias Calvacante were among the main names to leave ATT—and they happened to have been managed by Robinson’s Authentic Sports Management company at the time.
The newly-formed team soon swelled once Rashad Evans joined its ranks after belatedly finding a home once he had left Greg Jackson’s gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico, following a well-publicised falling out with gym partner and former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Well-known names such as Vitor Belfort, Anthony Johnson, Eddie Alvarez, Michael Johnson, Thiago Silva and Matt Mitrione promptly followed to the sun of Boca Raton, Florida. With much of the gym’s makeup consisting of black and Brazilian fighters, the team’s jokey moniker as the Blackzilians stuck.
As the rather negative saying goes, “all good things must come to an end.” Regarding the Blackzilians, that’s how Evans perceives the state of the camp as he relayed his thoughts to Ariel Helwani on his show, The MMA Hour, on Monday. His “good thing” with the camp has been significantly tainted enough he has sought pastures new.
“The truth of the matter is, the team is splintered, the team is fragmented,” revealed Evans. “It just became a very hard thing for Glenn to kind of keep his grasp as far as keeping everyone together. Henri [Hooft] wanted to throw his brand into his own thing and it just wasn’t matching up with where Glenn wanted to go. That’s part of the fragment, but another part of it was that we didn’t have a gym anymore.
“Our gym was sold and Glenn was supposed to build another gym and I guess they moved into a temporary gym. There was some kind of falling out with the temporary gym, so then part of the team stayed at the temporary gym and the other half of the team went with Henri. I was one of those guys that went with Henri.”
Alongside wrestling coach Greg Jones, Hooft is the man credited for keeping the Blackzilians on the straight and narrow. The Dutch kickboxer-turned striking coach confirmed his departure from the Blackzilians base in Boca Raton shortly after Evans’ comments. After his six years at the camp, Hooft has moved 20 minutes down the road to Boynton Beach—his new gym named the Combat Club. Evans also stated Anthony Johnson, Michael Johnson, Gilbert Burns and Kamaru Usman will be joining him, Hooft and Jones.
There appears to be various reasons for Evans’ move in addition to Hooft’s departure—one being the gym’s ownership. Evans was candid yet fairly non-committal in what he had to say about what went on behind the scenes.
“Glenn—he’s not a bad guy and I don’t want to say anything bad about him—I just think he wasn’t honest with himself about what he can and can’t do, and he didn’t say no enough. At the end of the day, the fight game eats and chews you up if you’re not strong enough and resilient enough to deal with everything goes along with it. That’s one thing that I learned. It’s very unforgiving and if you’re not willing or able to do what you need to do, and say no, or stand up for yourself, or be able to make the right choices, you’re going to get passed up and passed over.
“I think that a big part of the Blackzilians is due to the fact that Glenn failed in some respects.”
Another reason Evans listed for his departure was for the constant gym politics he encountered. “I got so sick and tired of going into the gym and having to put out these fires,” Evans said. “There was so much drama, and everybody jockeying and pushing for position. I was just like, ‘Yo, I just want to train, man.’ There are a lot of other guys that just want to train and that’s what the team was made for. So we could have a great training environment. But, you start bringing everything else into it and all the drama, it just got exhausting.
“It was worse than ten high schools put together, a bunch of gossiping. It was really just a buzzkill to go into the gym at some point,” Evans later added.
With Evans giving his side of the story so publicly, it would only be right to hear the perspective from the Blackzilians camp itself. Fightland reached out to the gym, Robinson and several Blackzilian fighters for comment, but received no response.
However, Robinson did publicly speak out against Evans’ suggestions that the Blackzilians camp is now a shell of its former self, though he does concede some of the points made by the former UFC light heavyweight champion.
Robinson claims a lot of the discontent within the Blackzilians camp was due to having to sell his team’s Jaco Hybrid Training Center to keep the team alive. But, the temporary building—used in between searching and purchasing a new facility—wasn’t up to scratch and members of his Blackzilians team went to train with Hooft at the Combat Club as a result.
Robinson humbly accepts responsibility for a lot of the reasons why Evans and co. left the gym, but he remains defiant. “Blackzilians are going to continue, and we’re still going to be an incredible organization,” Robinson told MMAjunkie.
“There are some really good people, and for those people, I want to stay and see through what I started. There are some people that I don’t have any negative feelings toward, but I just don’t want to work with. This allowed everyone to get their way,” said Robinson, referring to Hooft.
“This business is run on emotion, so if you start making certain changes, it’s a domino effect. So when we realized we weren’t going to come to terms with [Hooft], we said let’s let the dust settle. I have no ill will toward anybody. I’ll just try to keep it small and bring in good people that fit our culture and are about team and not about how ‘I deserve.’”
This recent exodus of fighters has made Robinson reflect on his attitude towards the sport and consider other routes to ensure the Blackzilians name remains at the forefront of MMA. “Some of the guys I’m very close with, like Anthony [Johnson]. I’m going to stay in this sport because I care about them,” he said. “And there were people I’m not close with—they had this air of, ‘I deserve,’ not, ‘I should earn.’ I had young guys asking me for cars that weren’t even in the UFC. I got fed up with it.
“So there were a lot of people I didn’t really want to work with anymore, and this allowed me to come in and clean house. I would have liked it to have worked out with Henri, but it didn’t work out.”
The present problem faced by the Blackzilians is nothing new—a big fish becoming a small fish in a shark tank of a gym, filled with other top-quality fighters and revered coaches, sees the atmosphere for the vast majority of super gyms turn sour over time. You’ve seen it with Team Alpha Male, with TJ Dillashaw opting to leave the gym high and dry for Duane Ludgwig once he left Northern California for Colorado. You’ve also seen it with the awkwardness between Jackson Wink fighters Alistair Overeem and Andrei Arlovski ahead of their heavyweight clash—as well as former fellow American Top Team gym mates Robbie Lawler and Tyron Woodley fighting for the UFC welterweight title. Hell, even Evans left Jackson Wink in the first place when teammate Jon Jones made a beeline for the UFC title shot he was primed for.
The clichéd “iron sharpens iron” mantra is appropriate for many spending their training camps in these super gyms. But, the balance between success and the whole gym unravelling publicly is finely poised.
Gyms boasting the supreme quality of the Blackzilians’ coaches, training facilities and sparring partners are fantastic for MMA’s development. Here’s hoping Robinson’s renewed business sense can rebuild his stable back to its proud position it once enjoyed.
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