Nik Lentz recently changed things up after five years at American Top Team.
In May, Lentz announced his decision to leave the Coconut Creek, Florida gym. He has since opted to train at Combat Club, just 30 miles away from his former team, following in the footsteps of former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler.
Lentz, a veteran of the sport who currently competes in the UFC lightweight division, had issues with the direction American Top Team is going. When he first joined the team in 2012, he said, coaches were able to focus on individual fighters more because of its smaller size. But nowadays, fighters from all across the world come to train at the renowned gym, which, over time, has forced it to move away from the style of training Lentz thrives in.
“[American Top Team was] becoming such a large team that I felt like they were losing the persona that I fell in love with when I came to ATT,” Lentz told BloodyElbow.com’s The MMA Circus. “And the reason I came to ATT is because although it was still a large team, I felt like it was more like a family and that we took care of each other. Because of how large and successful ATT has become, they’re attracting so much more people, that the coaches and stuff just can’t handle the one-on-one nature and the family-like atmosphere that I like.”
For Lentz, the tipping point was when he realized fighters he saw training at American Top Team were in his last opponent’s corner.
During fight week, Lentz noticed familiar faces around Islam Makhachev, the man he would fight at UFC 208 in February. And sure enough, Lentz saw the same people in Makhachev’s corner on fight night.
“It kind of bugged me,” he said. “That’s the side effect of having such a large team. When I see people when I’m training and I see that same person in the locker room of my opponent, I’m just not cool with that.”
(Makhachev’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, did not immediately return a request for comment on Sunday night.)
After that happened, Lentz talked to the gym’s owner, Dan Lambert, and they decided to part ways.
“I started having problems with how they were letting guys in and not vetting them. I had problems with fighters recording me while I was training,” he said. “I brought it to the management, and it wasn’t really going to change.”
Lentz said his objection to where American Top Team is headed is only a personal preference. He understands why everything being done is being done, including the constant addition of foreign fighters — gyms always need new athletes because fighters are always retiring. It’s a constant rotation. And if there is a break in that rotation, everything falls apart.
But Lentz just doesn’t like training with fighters he doesn’t know all the time.
“I don’t want to train in a big-box team,” he said. “I want to have people that I can trust, I want to have people I can talk to, I want to have people that I feel comfortable around. Not a constant, new rotation of people from all over the world who I might not even be able to communicate with on a daily basis.
“I get where the team is going. I personally don’t feel like that method will produce the best fighters, and it certainly didn’t help me. I felt a definite backslide in my progression as a fighter with the message that was going on there.”
Lentz left on good terms, though, and walked away from American Top Team with lots of knowledge he didn’t previously have.
“ATT changed my life,” he said. “They gave me a lot of things. They allowed me to come down to their team, they moved me to Florida. A lot of things have happened in my life because of ATT, and they deserve an enormous amount of respect for my highlights in my career so far and how I’ve trained and everything else.”
When Lentz left American Top Team, he didn’t have a plan. Scouting out a new home before officially departing his longtime team would have been “dishonorable,” he said. But when he did start looking for a new gym to train at, he came across Combat Club, headed by striking coach Henri Hooft. And when he dropped by for the first time, it was an “instant fit.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
“I just loved the atmosphere, the fighters, the training,” Lentz said. “God was really smiling on me when I went up there. It was everything I wanted, and it was everything I had at ATT before ATT got so large and could no longer provide that atmosphere.”
According to Lentz, everyone works hard at Combat Club, making for “productive” sessions. The training is tough, he said, but not as rough as what he was used to at American Top Team.
“There had become such a flow of people that come in [American Top Team], you’d have no idea the type of sparring partners you’re going to train with,” he said. “Training is not fighting, and you don’t want to just randomly walk in the ring one day and have some guy trying to take you out for no reason.
“At Combat Club, everyone’s very high level, it’s a ton of hard training, but everyone’s smart, respectful, and they train like professionals.”
Lentz is scheduled to fight former American Top Team teammate Will Brooks, making for an interesting storyline — a storyline that has come out of the south Florida team before (Tyron Woodley beat Robbie Lawler for the welterweight title last year; Jorge Masvidal, Colby Covington and Hector Lombard have talked about fighting Woodley; Amanda Nunes has mentioned a potential fight with fellow champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk).
Lentz wasn’t a main training partner of Brooks’, but he has trained with the former Bellator MMA champ enough to mostly know the ins and outs of his game — and that goes the other way, too.
“We’ve trained enough with each other to know what the other person does,” he said. “It’ll definitely be an interesting fight, because we both really aren’t going in with too many secrets.”
Despite the fact he is so familiar with his opponent (and vice versa), Lentz doesn’t plan on changing much in his training camp. And he certainly won’t go in thinking he’ll know exactly what Brooks plans on doing, he said.
“Fighting and training are two very different things. If you put how somebody trains in your head, and that’s what you’re going to expect to show up on fight night, you’re an idiot,” he said. “I’m not taking [anything] for granted. I know what he does, but I’ll still watch all of his tape, I’ll still prepare, I’ll still have my coaches tell me what to do — everything that I always do.”
Even though he trained with Brooks at American Top Team, Lentz did not have a problem accepting the fight, which takes place at UFC 216 on Oct. 7 in Las Vegas.
“We’re friendly; we don’t dislike each other — at least I don’t dislike him. I wish him all the best in life,” he said. “But this is my job. I have to take care of my family, I have to get on the right winning track. I’ve been recovering a lot, I’ve had a lot of surgery. I’m kind of rebuilding my career. As far as fights go coming off a loss, fighting Will Brooks is a great opportunity to put me back in the spotlight. Rarely do you come off a loss and get a fight offer that can produce so much for your career. I’m very happy with the fight offer; I like it. I wish Will all the best, but when it comes Oct. 7, I’m gonna kick his ass.”
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