The Fighting Meme: Coral Gables, Florida

“Hey man, how do you do? I’m Liborio,” he said as he leapt from behind the counter and put his arm around my shoulder. “Let me show you around.”

Ricardo Liborio; fighter, teacher, coach, father figure, entrepreneur, cheerleader, visionary, salesman, you name it – led me on a whistle stop tour of the 20,000-square foot American Top Team training facility in Coconut Creek, Florida. Ever cheerful, Liborio was a bundle of constant motion. And why shouldn’t he be? He’d made it big. Five years ago, Liborio, who previously made waves as one of the founders of Brazilian Top Team, decided that it was time to seek his fortune in the United States. He’d met top hotel executive and MMA aficionado Dan Lambert through a mutual friend and a partnership was born. Lambert would provide the financial backing and business know-how, and Liborio would provide the fighting knowledge and sweat equity. The product of this auspicious pairing was American Top Team. The nucleus of the new team was formed by a cadre of Brazilian fighters who followed Liborio north to the Promised Land.

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The Fighting Meme: Sacremento California

In mixed martial arts, the smaller you are the better you need to be to get noticed. Urijah Faber is the reason why there is a Featherweight division in the United States.   Along with stars like Miguel Torres, he built the World Extreme Cage fighting’s brand to be second only to that of its parent company, the mighty UFC.   Blending speed, power, technique, and energy, when I visited his gym Urijah boasted a record of 22-2, with 18 wins by stoppage.   Eleven of the latter came in the very first round.

I watched him slowly drill takedowns with a class of twelve other fighters from his team: Team Alpha Male. They were doing “structured drilling,” in which they’d practice their maneuvers at 25 percent resistance. The purpose of this type of drilling was to allow the body to recognize its relative position and respond with the correct counter or technique without the athlete having to think about it.

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The Fighting Meme: San Jose California

Anyone who has spent a lot of time in fight gyms will recognize their familiar smell: a combination of stale sweat, wet leather, and something vaguely reminiscent of urine (the imported leather, which finds its way into a lot of training gear, is treated with cow urine overseas.) Although it’s not a pleasant smell, it lends credibility. If a gym has been open for a while and doesn’t have the smell, it is hard to take it seriously. It is the smell of strain and physical effort.

When I arrived, I noticed twenty or so professional fighters gathered in the back on the Jiu-Jitsu mats, underneath a giant American flag hanging on the wall. AKA’s head coach Javier Mendez had something on his mind.

“If you don’t have concern for the other people in this room, there is no place for you on this team.” His eyes moved around the space, making eye contact with each member of his American Kickboxing Academy. Many of the guys were new to the game, struggling to make it, holding onto day jobs as well as training. Others were on their way to being millionaires from their involvement with MMA. He emphasized the next part to make sure he got the point across, “Whoever you are.”

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