At the beginning of 2013, there was a trend that began to emerge amongst MMA fans. We all know that many people like to make snarky remarks, whenever the opportunity presents itself. One of the most consistent snarky trends was about the losing streak of the Blackzilians. Rashad Evans, Alistair Overeem, Abel Trujillo, Siyar Bahadurzada, Ryan Jimmo, and Michael Johnson all lost their opening fights of the year. Besides Vitor Belfort and Anthony Johnson, nobody on the team was making positive headlines.
Despite having a tremendous batch of fighters, they weren’t getting the results to match the talent. The camp became a punch line for MMA comedians like Tommy Toe Hold and Adam Hunter. Nobody really understood why the camp was struggling. Evans and Overeem were heavy favorites in their bouts at UFC 156. Besides Belfort, they were expected to be the focal points of the gym.
Instead both of them had lackluster performances on their way to losing in an appalling way. Even though he wasn’t knocked out like Overeem, Evans never found his range against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Everyone was shocked to see Evans look that lethargic against an opponent, he was supposed to beat. You add on the fact that it was his first fight coming off the loss to Jon Jones. Many people began to question his status as a top light heavyweight.
The rest of the fighters that were mentioned above had high expectations for 2013. Bahadurzada was being hyped as a rising star after knocking out Paulo Thiago in 42 seconds. In his next fight, Dong Hyun Kim manhandled him for three rounds. Trujillo was on a five fight-winning streak earning a reputation for having menacing power at 155 pounds. He was taken down 21 times by Khabib Nurmagomedov in what was another disappointing performance for the gym.
Even when their fighters had a clear opportunity to finish the fight, they managed to lose. Jimmo dropped James Te Huna with a head kick in the first round, yet managed to lose the next two rounds. Then after nearly finishing Reza Madadi with a head kick, Michael Johnson got caught in a D’Arce choke in the third round to continue the losing streak. At this point, nothing could have surprised me when it came to a fighter representing the Blackzilians. Well except Belfort landing a spinning heel kick on Luke Rockhold and actually finishing the fight. At least they had one high profile UFC fighter winning fights.
Nobody could ever say the gym was missing top-level coaches. Kenny Monday was an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling and well respected in the MMA community. Pedro Diaz was an Olympic gold medalist in boxing, which is why it hasn’t surprised me to see Trujillo and Michael Johnson winning fights by fluid boxing. Then you add in Jorge Santiago as their BJJ coach, who used to fight in the UFC. Their coaching staff is well equipped for any fighter to learn and succeed.
It’s hard to figure out what was a true turning point for the Blackzilians. Obviously Belfort’s stellar year was a major attribute to their success. I’m heavily against his TRT use, but you still have to recognize his accomplishments. It takes an extraordinary fighter to beat Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson, let alone finish both of them in the first round. The winning streak continued when Evans and Jimmo both won their respective fights at UFC 161, although it wasn’t their most memorable performances.
As 2013 had gone on, you slowly saw the tide turn for the Blackzilians. One of the biggest turning points had to be Michael Johnson’s win over Joe Lauzon. It was supposed to be Lauzon’s night fighting in his home state of Massachusetts. Instead Johnson outclassed him for all three rounds using his speed and boxing advantage. He even took Lauzon down in the second round, which was a surprise considering Lauzon’s ground and grappling credentials. It was a complete performance and an upset, which is something that the Blackzillans haven’t had any of their fighters do on a big stage in quite some time.
The biggest turning point for the gym had to be bringing home their first championship. Eddie Alvarez had gone through endless legal problems with Bellator putting him out of action for a year. After all the drama, he was finally returning to face Michael Chandler for the lightweight title. It turned out to be one of the best fights of the year. While I did score the fight in Chandler’s favor like most writers, it wasn’t a decision that infuriated many people. Alvarez fought a tremendous fight and nearly finished Chandler in the fifth round with a rear naked choke. His jab was as crisp as ever, along with his utilization of different angles to pick apart Chandler.
The moment he became champion put all the Blackzilians jokes to sleep. It was an epic five round fight that people would talk about for years to come. Then in a matter of the next two weeks, Belfort knocked out Henderson and Evans mauled Chael Sonnen in both first round finishes. After assembling such a terrific group of fighters, the results were finally showing up.
You saw talented fighters that were underachieving like Michael Johnson finally starting to live up to their potential. He landed a perfect right hook to knock Gleison Tibau, who was knocked out for the first time in seven years. Then to start off 2014, you had Anthony Johnson and Trujillo win by highlight reel knockouts. Their ferocious style of fighting had finally been showcased.
Don’t think there success has gone unnoticed. Some media members went to the extent of picking them as the top gym in 2013. Even though team Alpha Male was my choice, the Blackzilians would definitely be considered as a contender. They had gone from a consistent punch line to now a consistently winning gym. Now they have Belfort and Alvarez fighting in title fights in the next five months. You may see Evans get a title shot, if he can defeat Daniel Cormier.
Anthony Johnson is now back in the UFC following a six fight-winning streak. They have talented young fighters coming up like Cezar Ferreira and Ryan LaFlare. If you want to look at them from an entire fighting point of view, they have some of the top kick boxers in the world. Tyrone Spong is consistently training with Evans, along with Rico Verhoeven and Daniel Ghtja.
When you truly look at their gym, it makes you feel silly if you were consistently dissing them in early 2013. I’ll admit that I didn’t take the gym too seriously at first. It seemed like just a place where Evans wanted to train, after the fallout with Jon Jones and Greg Jackson. The way this group has been built in terms of quality fighters has been impressive. The coaches that have been acquired has made them even more lethal. That combination of fighters and coaches has truly made them into one of best gyms in the world today.