The Blackzilians were a mixed martial arts (MMA) team based out of Boca Raton, Florida–a hotbed for MMA over the past decades. The group rose to prominence in the late 2000s and early 2010s. The team was named after the Blackzilian Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the founding members first trained together. While they met their demise in 2017, their legacy lives on through some of the sport’s biggest names. We take a look at the rise and fall of a world class fight team.
How Blackzilians Rose to Prominence in MMA Circles
Getting Started: Former Members of Imperial Athletics Gym
The Blackzilians were founded in 2011 by a group of former members of the Imperial Athletics gym, which had been home to several high-profile fighters, including Rashad Evans and Anthony Johnson.
Imperial Athletics Gym was a prominent mixed martial arts gym located in Boca Raton, Florida. The gym was founded in 2008 by the late Glenn Robinson, renowned coach Juan Carlos Faraldo and quickly established itself as one of the top MMA gyms in the world. In it’s hay day, Imperial Athletics was home to former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, Anthony Johnson, and Jorge Masvidal.
The gym had a strong focus on striking, with Faraldo being one of the top striking coaches in the sport, along with Henri Hooft. However, the gym also had a well-rounded approach to MMA training, with a focus on grappling and conditioning as well with Greg Jones and Neil Melanson on board. Former UFC, Titan, and Strikeforce vet Jorge Santiago was running the BJJ portion on the coaching team. It was legit one of the best coached teams anywhere.
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Despite a slow start, under the leadership of head coach Henri Hooft, the Blackzilians quickly established themselves as one of the top MMA teams in the world. The team’s roster included several UFC veterans, as well as up-and-coming fighters from around the world.
The Blackzilians’ most notable fighters included legends such as:
- Rashad Evans
- Anthony “Rumble” Johnson
- Alistair Overeem
- Tyrone Spong
- Vitor Belfort
- Michael Johnson
- Eddie Alvarez
- Kamaru Usman
- Ryan Jimmo
Kamaru Usman, who would go on to become the UFC welterweight champion, was just one of the promising upcoming fighters that thrived in the group.
The Blackzilians Differentiators
The Blackzilians had a strong focus on striking, with Henri Hooft being one of the top striking coaches in the sport. However, the team also had a well-rounded approach to MMA training, with a focus on grappling and conditioning as well.
Despite their success, the Blackzilians faced several challenges over the years. In 2014, the team lost its primary training facility due to a dispute with the landlord. The team eventually relocated to a new facility, but the disruption undoubtedly impacted their training.
Additionally, the team’s success was not always matched by their fighters’ individual success in the Octagon. Many of the team’s top fighters, including Johnson, Overeem, and Evans, experienced setbacks during their time with the team.
In 2017, the Blackzilians announced that they were disbanding as a team. The decision was reportedly due to financial difficulties and internal disagreements within the team. Many of the team’s fighters went on to join other teams or train independently. Kill Cliff Fight Club, run by Hooft and Jones, quickly became a stopping point for many of Blackzilians’ former fighters including Kamaru Usman who joined, left, and came back in 2022. Belfort, Evans, and Usman joined when it formed, and were joined by Robbie Lawler, Luke Rockhold, Aung La Nsang, among others.
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Not long after the group officially became defunct, owner and founder Glenn Robinson lost his life to a suspected heart attack.
Despite its relatively short existence, the Blackzilians left an indelible mark on the MMA world. The team’s innovative approach to training and coaching helped to revolutionize the sport and set a new standard for MMA teams. While the team may no longer exist, its legacy lives on through the many fighters who trained and competed under the Blackzilians banner.