On a road trip for work I had a couple day stop in Fresno. As usual, I looked through the options online. In many instances, it wasn’t clear who the head instructor was or what level of jiu jitsu to expect, so I picked Dethrone MMA primarly due to proximity to my hotel. MMA gyms can tend to attract the more aggressive practitioner but the BJJ class was taught by a black belt so I thought it was worth checking out. If you visit enough gyms, you will eventually have a less than stellar experience. At Dethrone, I met some nice people, interacted with UFC fighter Josh Koscheck, rolled with very aggressive former wrestlers, and got asked to teach part of the class after being charged a mat fee.
I called the gym and asked about coming in. I was told nogi was at 6pm and was being taught by their purple belt instructor. The gi class afterward was taught by their black belt instructor. When I asked about uniform requirements or drop in fees, the receptionist said there weren’t any uniform requirements/restrictions and that there was a fee of $20 to train.
People were cordial but not overly outgoing. The fanfare and pomp you might see at a formal BJJ gym didn’t exist and no one referred to black belts as “Instructor” or “Coach”. There are gyms that welcome you with open arms and some that try to kill you from the moment you walk in. This was somewhere in the middle. I felt welcome but like people were trying to size me up.
There is ample space in the gym. The right side of the gym is all mats with punching bags. A large kids class was being run on that side. The other half of the gym had a large boxing ring and mats for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. There weren’t any changing rooms or showers, but two bathrooms were available to change. It was well kept, clean, and organized.
What to Expect:
The gym name has MMA in the title so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it seems to cater more towards fighters and wrestlers than a traditional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym. Brian Gonzalez ran the class and well known MMA fighter, Josh Koscheck, was there to support the students. The warm up was led by one of the brown belts and was the typical jogging, shrimping, and rolling. After, Brian showed the stack pass and the key details to avoid getting triangled or armbarred. He also showed a paper cutter submission after the pass.
I was asked to show a technique and continued with the theme of attacking off the stack pass. I shared a couple of the details on the pass that Mauricio Gomes showed for the smaller practitioners and then shared my favorite transition from side control to the baseball bat choke. Rotating to the far side throws the opponent off, the knee on stomach causes them to lift their head which creates the opening for the second had, and spinning back north south makes for a strong and stable finishing position. Technique was followed by a few rounds of sparring.
Both Brian and Josh said they were getting over injuries so I didn’t get the chance to roll with either of them. They asked me to roll with one of their biggest blue belts, a 6’3” 260lb former wrestler with great strength and agility. His top game was very strong and when I put him in an armbar he literally picked my entire body off the ground as he tried to defend. I also rolled with Deron Winn, a former National Wrestling champion who just finished 4th in the 2016 Olympic trials.
While not everyone at the school shares that same background, the style of the gym was aggressive and grinding. People fought hard and didn’t give up any ground. As a result, there seemed to be a slight lack of pure BJJ technique, especially guard work, but there was no shortage of tough rolls.
What to Expect at an MMA Gym:
If you’re used to a traditional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy an MMA gym will be a noticeably different environment. Here are a few key things to consider when training at a MMA gym:
- Hierarchy is undervalued: Traditional BJJ gyms often place a strong emphasis on rank and expect lower belts to always show respect to higher belts. An MMA gym is different. People are fighting to get to the top of the hill and each person in front of them is a challenge to overcome. You won’t see anyone stopping class when a black belt steps on the mat and you’ll have to prove your worth by rolling.
- Physicality over technique: MMA gyms tend to emphasize heart and athleticism over pure technique. Expect every roll to feel like the finals of worlds. It’s a good test of your technique and ability to work through aggression.
- Edge: It may feel like the people you’re sparring with fight like they have something to prove. They may continue rolling when you’re going out of bounds or push the fight when you’re against the wall. BJJ is a martial art and this is a good chance to have a more reality based training session.
This was a bit of a mixed bag experience for me. Once on the mat, the people were very nice and welcoming. It had been a while since I rolled with wrestlers and MMA fighters, so it was a good reminder of the dangers of being too nice during a roll and the consequences of getting into bad positions with aggressive fighters. Unless you’re looking to do MMA or just crave physical rolls, this shouldn’t be very high on your list of gyms to visit in Fresno. I didn’t feel like it was the best return on my investment since I didn’t get to roll with any upper belts and was asked to teach despite paying to train there. That said, rolling with someone with the grappling pedigree of Deron is always a good experienced. You can learn from everyone you roll with and I made the best of the time on the mat.