Gym of the Month – The Blackzilians

Gym of the Month – The Blackzilians

Wednesday, Jul 12 2017

In the award-winning 1989 movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner's character Ray Kinsella is a farmer who hears a voice inside his head urging him to put his main business to one side and build a baseball pitch. He does so, and it becomes home to the ghosts of some of the sport's greatest players.

The film resonates with Glenn Robinson, owner and manager of Florida super-team The Blackzilians. Like Kinsella, he started his project on impulse and had no inkling of how special it would turn out to be. But while Kevin Costner’s players where ghosts of yesteryear, Robinson’s are very much the star players of the modern-day fight game.

“You remember that movie, and that voice? ‘If you build it, they will come’?” he says. “I guess it has been a little bit like that. This all started when I was asked to help a friend out. I rented a gym for Jorge Santiago and three others guys to train at. We brought in training partners for these guys, but then these temporary training partners ended up staying. They never left.” 

Originally housed at a tiny gym which had “maybe six guys training there”, the squad quickly grew to the point where a new facility was needed. Robinson funded a large warehouse-size training center which houses all the facilities any fighter - indeed, any professional athlete - would ever need.

Like a beacon in the darkness, the JACO Hybrid Training Center has attracted elite talent from all over the world. GLORY heavyweight contender Tyrone Spong is one of them.

On an average day he will line up on the mats alongside one of the most concentrated line-ups of fighting talent to be found anywhere in the world. UFC contenders Alistair Overeem, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort are just three of many elite combatants in the pro-team. There is a lot of star power around, but Robinson feels a special affinity for Spong.

“One of the reasons me and Spong get along so well is that we both have the same mindset: there is no doubt in our minds that we are going to be number one in what we do. He is a leader, he is a real help to everybody in the gym. He has a great attitude and he trains like an animal,” Robinson explains.

On June 22, Spong will be fighting at GLORY 9 NEW YORK. He is taking part in the eight-man light-heavyweight tournament which forms the centrepiece of the landmark event, a brief detour from his charge at GLORY’s heavyweight title.

Spong thinks the tournament will be a good way to show US fight fans what he is about and Robinson agrees. With Spong coming off a huge knockout win over three-time K-1 Grand Prix winner Remy Bonjasky in March earlier this year, Robinson thinks the tournament is his for the taking.

“I think that this tournament is going to look like a truck crashing through something. Spong is going to run into it like a big truck crashing into little trucks. I can’t wait to see it; he is going to smash people,” he laughs. Moments later Spong wanders into the office and it is clear from the repartee between them that they have a great relationship.

At an average gym, having a fighter like Spong in a prestigious tournament like GLORY 9 would be the focal point of the gym’s staff and training partners. But for The Blackzilians it is one strand in a tapestry of top-flight competition. Luckily, the coaching line-up at the team is no less remarkable than the fighter line-up.

Hooft is the kickboxing coach and has previously worked with Peter Aerts among others. Olympic gold medallist Kenny Monday is wrestling coach for the MMA fighters and Pedro Diaz, an Olympic gold medallist in boxing, serves as the team’s head boxing coach. Their formidable knowledge-base is complemented by physiotherapists, nutritionists and strength & conditioning coaches.

Some more Blackzilian members include former Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez, WBA champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, Anthony ‘Rumble ‘Johnson, Thiago Silva, Matt Mitrione, Jorge Santiago, Siyar Bahadurzada, Gesias Cavalcante, Miguel Torres, Danillo Villefort, Yuri Villefort and Ryan LaFlare.

It’s an all-star line-up, comparable to that of the Miami Heat basketball team. Like the Heat, the Blackzilians have found that the strength of their line-up and the large-scale nature of their operation has brought detractors out of the woodwork. There’s been a strong tone of jealousy in some of the public commentary about the team.

“It’s like any time you have somebody that comes from nowhere and then they are successful, some people don’t like to see that. If you look at what we have achieved in the short time we have been around, I guess it’s understandable that there’s going to be some jealousy out there,” Robinson shrugs.

“But I love it, I honestly love it. If someone wakes up and goes to write something negative about us, that means they have gone to bed thinking about us, you know? And we get a lot of support too, we get a lot of really nice emails and messages and stuff at the gym - there’s a lot of fans out there.”