UFC 155 will cap off a strong second year for the mixed martial arts camp known as the Blackzilians. With the prominent names in the camp going 22-9, the supercamp of MMA fighters led by former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans will stake their claim as one of the best camps in the mixed martial arts world. With UFC 155 seeing Blackzilians’ Michael Johnson (12-6) go for his fourth win of the year against Myles Jury and Melvin Guillard (30-11-2) looking for another highlight reel performance against Jamie Varner, the gym out of Florida looks to close out 2012 strong and roll into 2013 on a hot streak.
But wait, we already know what those of you not familiar with the MMA world are asking: “What’s a Blackzilian?” Well, it sounds exactly like what the name states.
“I had just left Greg Jackson‘s gym and I looked around the room and it was me, Rashad Evans, Anthony Johnson, Jorge Santiago, JZ Cavalcante, the Villefort brothers,” Johnson says as he reflects on the origins of the camp that started in 2011 when Evans met CEO of Authentic Sports Management Glenn Robinson in Boca Raton, Florida. The tiny gym of six fighters rapidly grew and now features some of the most prominent names in all of MMA. “We figured we needed a team name and Danillo Villefort said ‘Look around, we have blacks and Brazilians, so why not Blackzilians?’”
The rest, as they say, is history. Boasting some of the brightest stars in MMA ranging from living legend Vitor Belfort to kickboxing dynamo and MMA upstart Tyrone Spong, the Blackzilians are lined from wall to wall with former and future champions. While most gyms are top heavy with a couple of big names and a bunch of lower tier guys, the Blackzilians have a group of guys that can take out anyone at any time.
“If you walked into our gym a couple of weeks ago when we did a shoot for this magazine, you would have tripped out looking at our roster,” Melvin Guillard says days before he faces Varner in Las Vegas. “We have an all-star squad. If we took our gym and put it against any other MMA gym, we’d probably smash well over half their roster. We’re like a gang with so many bad MF’ers.”
One of the things that makes the Blackzilians special is the fact that it’s not an open gym that you can pay a monthly membership to become part of the family. Rather, they are a group that prides themselves on friendship, camaraderie and fitting the needs of the group as a whole.
“We’re definitely picky,” Johnson explains. “We don’t want to commercialize the gym and have guys just coming in. We want quality over quantity. We need guys that fit and don’t have egos.” The latest additions to the squad are former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and former Strikeforce, Dream and K-1 kickboxing World Grand Prix heavyweight champ Alistair Overeem. Both have proved to be in the top five of their respective divisions and bring new dimensions to the camp. Not only are they great fighters, but they are also great training partners that bring new elements to the table to make the stable better as a whole.
Although they are a strong collective, when the 2012 World MMA Awards roll around in January, the Blackzilian name will be missing from the ballot for top MMA gyms. It’s something that both Johnson and Guillard say is a glaring omission that they will make sure won’t happen again. ”I think we’re the top camp right now,” Johnson says. His year will end impressively if he beats Myles Jury Saturday night. He will have gone 4-0 with a highlight reel knockout of Danny Castillo under his belt. He’s just one of many teammates that have fought exceptionally well in 2012. “If you look at the records and winning percentages, name another camp that’s winning like we are. I don’t think you can find that. We’ll have four or five guys fight in a month. 2013 is going to be our breakout year and notice that we’re the best gym in MMA. We know it, but the rest of the world need to know it too.”
In a sport that still struggles to find an urban audience, the Blackzilian camp is well aware of the influence that they can have on minorities looking for an athletic outlet outside of football or basketball. ”I’d love to be a role model and get involved in bringing our community into the sport because people don’t realize how many African Americans we have,” Johnson says.
“When you look at the UFC today, you have light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, former light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans and lightweight champion Benson Henderson; the belt holders aren’t the white guys anymore,” Guillard continues. “You have all of these different belt holders that aren’t Caucasian anymore so I think that’s a great thing.”
Both Johnson and Guillard figure that if the Blackzilians continue the trend of winning, young African Americans and, ultimately, the hip-hop community will embrace the sport. All it needs is more visibility. ”It definitely needs to be promoted more in our community,” Johnson says. “It’s not really out there enough for our community to see. That’s something we need to tap into and begin visiting more African-American kids. I’m all for doing whatever I need to do to get the message out there that we can do this too.”