Written by MMA Fight Radio Host Jay Pagliaro
Photo’s by Bill Merritt MMA Fight Radio Photographer
Since opening their doors in 2007, The MMA Lab’s journey has taken them from upstart gym in Glendale, Arizona to one of the top teams in the sport and home of one of Mixed Martial Arts’ top fighters.
Behind every great team is a great coach, and for the MMA Lab, their Vince Lombardi is John Crouch. The first degree black belt under MMA pioneer Royce Gracie joined The Lab upon its opening in 2007 to teach Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA. The fit proved to be a perfect one, as Crouch has used his expertise to grow the team into one of the sport’s best.
One fighter who has seen results of Couch’s expertise is mutli-promotion bantamweight champion Braden Goodwin. After cutting his teeth with Universal MMA in Mesa, Goodwin (6-5) recently joined The Lab where he quickly noticed the positive effects of Crouch’s coaching.
“There are many things that make him (Crouch) an elite coach,” Goodwin said. “He has such knowledge of the game. He’s a smart man who has been doing this a long time and has a black belt under the Gracies. He’s been able to coach many fighters to the UFC and to championships.”
While winning is obviously of importance to Crouch, he states the secret to his success is building family based mentality which gives his fighters the opportunity to maximize their fullest potential.
“We just try to have a family. That’s important to me.” Crouch said. “(Seattle Seahawks head coach) Pete Carroll talks about not winning but giving people opportunities to excel. Obviously we go into every fight wanting to win. However if the fighter is given these opportunities, we won’t have to talk about our amount of wins; we will be able to show with our efforts regardless.”
Goodwin also stated that the atmosphere of the Lab and Crouch’s genuine caring nature truly stands out to him and drives him more.
“What really stands out is, I can tell John really cares about me and the other fighters here, Goodwin said “I can tell that he genuinely wants to see us all succeed. It makes me want to fight that much harder.”
What makes The Lab also stand out is their openness and willingness to treat everyone like an extended member of the family, regardless of whether they are a high level fighter, amateur, novice or someone just looking to reach their peak fitness potential. According to Crouch, making people feel wanted is a key element to their success along with the success of the other gyms.
“If you can make people feel good about themselves and welcomed, that will get people not only joining the gym but remaining part of it,” Crouch said. “People universally like to feel good and accommodated too. We try to do so for all our members.”
With their success and standing solidified in Glendale, the team decided to plant roots in the East Valley; recently opening a branch of The Lab in Scottsdale, with long time coach Shane Dalton overseeing operations.
“Shane Dalton has been involved with us since day 1,” Crouch said he has seen this from the inside out. He’s really excited to do this.”
Crouch states that while the gym may not be fight team oriented per say, Dalton’s impact in the growth of The Lab and putting the best interests of those who train with him ahead of himself will lead to the same virtues at the Glendale location imposed in Scottsdale.
“You will get great training, friendly and family based atmosphere and have great time,” Crouch said. “Shane is all about building a great student base, while helping people get in shape and better their lives.”
Crouch also was quick to dismiss putting a branch of The Lab in the East Valley, which is home of another two of MMA’s top gyms, Power MMA and Fight Ready, adds additional competition.
“Arizona has been a MMA hot bed from the get go,” Crouch said. “Don Frye, Mark Kerr, Drew Fickett: We have had some real pioneers in this state. It is an amazing community and was one before I got here. I feel like while there are several great gym owners all with similar plans in mind, we are not rivals. We have 17 million people in Phoenix. If we can get a large number of them in, we have all done our job. We want to win but are all working for the same thing.”
For more information about the MMA Lab, including class schedules, visit their website at http://www.mmalab.com/