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Marc Montoya | The Interview

An In-Depth Discussion About Coaching Philosophy With One Of MMA's Great Minds

From the regional scene to the world stage, it’s becoming increasingly rare to encounter an MMA promotion that doesn’t feature a Factory X talent. The UFC, of course, is no exception. From Anthony Smith’s renaissance at light heavyweight, to James Krause’s remarkable win streak, to a slew of Dana White’s Contender Series standouts, one needn’t look far to witness the elite results of Kru Marc Montoya’s labor of love.

Marc Montoya Embraces Anthony Smith
Montoya with Anthony Smith

We wondered aloud what exactly was in the water out there in Denver, Colorado.

"You know what's in the water? Marc Montoya and his awesome team of coaches. Greatness is in the water, and I'm drinking from it," answered Maurice Greene, another Factory X standout in the UFC.

“It’s the number one gym in the world.”

Greene is hardly alone in his reverence. In fact, it’s hard to think of another stable of fighters more effusive in praise for their coach, and their results in the Octagon speak to the success of the coach-athlete bond.

“We started real small; a little shoebox-type gym in a strip mall in 2008,” Montoya says with pride. “Now we occupy a 10,000 square foot facility, and have just been super-blessed with the growth from where we started to where we are now.”

With more and more athletes representing the gym on bigger and bigger stages, Montoya is forgiving of terms “breakout” or “upstart,” secure in the knowledge that what we’re witnessing is the fruits of a decade-plus grind.

“The rapper Xhibit said being underrated gave him time to create,” explains Montoya. “I think that’s a great line, because that coincides with what we’ve done here at Factory X. All of a sudden people are like “Oh crap! That’s a breakout year!” I appreciate that because that means we’re doing great things and we’ve got people’s attention. But it definitely didn’t happen overnight.”

We wanted to see if there was indeed anything in the water, and paid a visit to the man himself, who graciously sat down with us to give us a firsthand glimpse into his coaching ethos.

UFC: Observing your training session just now, you’ve got fighters of all different ages and skill levels on the mat as you were walking around. As a group, what are you looking for from your team during these practices?

Marc Montoya: When I’m walking around on the mat looking at my fighters, I’m looking for a bunch of stuff. Are they giving us signals or signs of habits? Are they being tricky? Are they setting traps? Or are they being predictable? Is their movement efficient? What’s going on technically? Is their decision-making instinct, or are they out there thinking?

So we’re trying to figure out and decipher all this stuff. I’m making mental notes of how I can make this kid better. I have a checklist of a bunch of stuff, and I’m trying to see what that fighter is doing based on what I saw yesterday or what I saw this morning. Are we getting better? Are we plateauing? Are they going backward? Are we growing?

Those are the things that I’m looking for. It’s not an easy task, because you’ve got a bunch of kids on the mat and a lot of stuff going on. But that’s why I make my mental voice notes, and go back on paper and say “Ok, these 10 kids need to do this, these five need to do that,” and just continue to sharpen their strengths, but absolutely go in there and sharpen all those weaknesses.

The other thing I’m looking for is attitude. Are we happy to be here? Are we learning today, or are we just checking boxes? Are we going through motions, or are we really putting max effort out? I want to motivate if it’s not. I also want to jump some ass if it’s not. I want to congratulate if they are, and give them praise when it’s earned. A lot of it is technical. A lot of it is being their number one cheerleader, but also being their number one critique when it needs to be there…but in a way that’s going to help them grow, not break them down.

Lastly, going around and looking at if I was these kids, as if I was my own coach, what would I want from that coach? Trying to fill all of that is essentially what we’re trying to do on a daily basis on the mat.

UFC: How do you approach team chemistry? If I’m a new fighter off the street and want to be a part of Factory X, what would I have to show you to convince you I belong?

MM: If somebody new wants to come in here and train at Factory X, there’s an entire process that we go through. The first thing is going to be myself and that athlete sitting down and having a conversation on whether or not this is the right fit. What my expectations are. What our coaches’ expectations are. What the team’s expectations are. Obviously what their own expectations and goals are. One of the things I tell athletes a lot is: “if your goal is to not be a world champion, I’m probably the wrong coach.” That doesn’t mean that fighter is wrong. It just means my goals are to be world champions together. If that’s what you’re striving for, that’s one of the things we talk about in that initial conversation.

From there, I’ll put them on the mat for a week, and we’ll see if it’s the right fit. Because ultimately that’s what it needs to be: the right fit for the athlete, the right fit for the coaches and the right fit for the team.

Then from there we have two personality tests that all of our athletes take. The reason I do that is I want to know more about them---faster. Obviously I’m willing to build and grow a relationship over time, but I want to know who they are, what makes them tick, how do they learn. That’s one of the biggest reasons I do it is: how do these kids learn? Are they more auditory? More visual? Do they need to write things down? I want to know. We analyze and review and go over all that stuff. Those are the things of value to myself and our coaches, in order to help motivate and push those buttons.

I always say, if they are going to be just result-oriented—meaning they’re only going to focus on the result—then it’s probably not going to work, because we’re going to spend way more time on the mat training together than we ever are in the cage fighting together. So I want them to be in love with the training and the process. That’s a hard thing to do, though. It takes a lot of bonding and time and getting on the same page to deliver that message: be in love with the training, be in love with the process, and the cherry on top is when we get to go lock the cage door and perform.

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UFC: You’ve obviously spent time in any number of other gyms. What is it that’s special about yours?

MM: What sets Factory X apart, and I’ve said this from day one, is culture. The thing that I focus most on to this day is culture--because there has to be a standard, there has to be a good fit—and the culture we have around here is a hardworking family.

Staying hungry and humble. Being consistent. Be committed. Sacrifice. Those are some of our key words and those things make us special.

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When people come into this environment, from the outside looking in, one of the things they say is “Wow, you’ve got a real team there. You’ve got good synergy.” These guys are willing to go to battle together to sharpen each others’ iron. That’s something that’s really awesome to see, and it also sets us apart.

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UFC: What’s the key you’ve found as a coach to not letting a promising fighter get overly discouraged by a loss?

MM: When a fighter loses, that is the hardest thing they’re dealing with at that present moment. They put everything on the table to go out there and showcase their skills. I always say we’re in the “prove it” business. We sign the dotted line because we want to prove we’re better than the fighter signing the other contract. So it’s tough when you go in there and you lay it all on the line and you’re in your underwear in front of thousands of people in a locked cage and it’s your time to perform and at the end you didn’t prevail. You didn’t win.

The biggest thing I’ve found over the years is that you have to console these kids. You have to console them in the losses. The wins are easy, you know? High five. Great job. Play some music, dance around, have some fun. They’re on top of the world. The losses are tough. We have to stay on top of what they’re doing mentally, because a lot of times they’re beating themselves up. We want to be that voice inside of their head, consistently, when they lose to remind them “Hey, you got here because you’re amazing. You got here because you’re a great fighter. You got here because you’re a great man or a great woman.”

We also want to remind them they have support. Because it feels very lonely when you lose. It happens to me as a coach, and it’s on a small scale in comparison to a fighter. My phone barely rings when we lose. When we win, it’s full and it takes days to get through it all. When you lose, you figure out who your real friends are, figure out who your real support is. I always tell fighters “You’re never as good as they say you are, and you’re never as bad as they say you are.” We’re always kind of somewhere in that middle.

The biggest thing is to lend support, be an ear for them to bend, continue to tell them they’re great because they still are, and ultimately tell them that a win or a loss doesn’t define them. That’s one of the hardest lessons to learn in life, and it’s something I still struggle with.

On the mats at Factory X, 2019 (Photo by Steve Latrell/Zuffa LLC)
On the mats at Factory X, 2019 (Photo by Steve Latrell/Zuffa LLC)

UFC: You’re obviously very busy coaching, cornering, traveling, running the gym, etc. How do you maintain a work/life balance, and how do you teach that balance to your athletes?

MM: I think it was Robert Herjavec, who is best known for being on Shark Tank, who said “If you’re looking for balance in life, don’t be a business owner.”

Yes, there has to be some kind of “balance.” But I think the biggest thing for my success has been that the people that are influential in my life—whether it’s my wife, my kids, my athletes, my coaches, my family—they understand my mission. They understand what I’m trying to accomplish. They’re on the same page as me. They want to see me be successful. They want to help me be successful. They want to be there when times are tough.

There really isn’t a balance if I’m being honest with you. Obsession is lonely, right? I’m obsessed with this. I’m obsessed with watching these kids absolutely change their lives. I’m obsessed with them coming in, being overweight, being addicted to drugs or alcohol, having relationship issues—and then them growing on the mat and ultimately go out and growing in life.

One of the things I have in that [initial] conversation with the athletes that I talked about is my first goal is to help them be world champions in life. My second goal is to help them be world champions in fighting. And I really, truly mean it in that order. The cool part about it is that fighting is the vehicle that we get to share life together with. There’s a lot of failure, but that equals learning. And then there’s a lot of just wins, not just in the cage, just in life. That stuff is really cool.

So when it comes to balance, I would be lying to you if I said I’ve figured out the balance. What I do know, though, is why I’m doing what I’m doing. And that makes it easy to go out and explain the “what.”

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UFC: Looking back at the last decade, what would you say is your proudest moment as a coach?

MM: It’s really hard to pinpoint one moment. But I think there are multiple things that have made me super proud, one of which obviously is what we’ve grown and built to this day. Starting at a real small facility and getting to where we’re at today--just the evolution and the growth—I’m super proud of that as a coach.

The other thing that makes me proud…I always say “It’s not what I know, it’s what my athletes know.” I feel like when my athletes show up, they always show up to fight. They have good IQ. They’re in shape. And the athlete is able to translate what they’ve learned, and I’m really proud of them going out there and showcasing that, whether it’s on the local, regional level, or all the way to the UFC level.

It’s a bunch of things. I could go on all night about what makes me proud: the staff that’s been created here, our coaches, watching my kids go to school and pumping their chest like “that’s where I’m from!” That makes me really proud. My wife’s support, their support, all of my athlete’s support, the students…if you look around here, it’s really hard not to smile. There’s not just one thing that makes me proud, there’s a bunch and it encompasses everything we’ve done here.

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UFC: It’s been a successful decade for Factory X. When you look ahead to the next ten years, is there anything in particular you hope to accomplish?

MM: That’s a good question. Right now I have a five-year goal. I’ve said this publicly, I’ve said this to my team, I’ve said this to myself, I’ve said this to my wife and kids: I want to win five world titles in five years. I haven’t seen anyone do that. It’s a goal that scares me. It’s a goal that I don’t know how we’re going to accomplish. It’s going to take some divine intervention to get that done.

I read a book recently, one of my favorite books: Chase the Lion by Mark Batterson. It says essentially that if your goal doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough. And that goal scares the s*** out of me. But I also know that we can accomplish that. I don’t know exactly how, but we can. We just fought for a world title. Anthony Smith fought Jon Jones recently. Of course, we lost that, but the point is we were right there. That was an opportunity to go win one of those five. Every day the time ticks and I’m looking around going “Holy s***, how are we going to do that?” So that’s my five-year goal, and it scares the hell out of me.

In 10 years where do I want to be? Well, ten years would put me in my mid-fifties. In ten years, I will have accomplished those five world titles for sure. The growth of our team would stay the same or better, and just the quality of what we do would be better. I want to continue to motivate and grow and build a culture that surpasses me and creates a legacy. I want it to go for generations.

In 10 years I hope that I’ve learned to enjoy the journey a little better than I do now. That’s something I have to remind myself about. I’m a very Type-A guy. I’m very A to B, straight line, get-there-as-fast-as-you-can type guy. Sometimes I don’t smell the roses. That’s something I preach to my team, but ultimately when I’m preaching it to them, I’m speaking it to myself. Learning to do that is a goal, for sure.

Header images courtesy of Jordan Kurtz of Comments From the Peanut Gallery