Henri Hooft always had a vision for his team.
From the Blackzilians to Hard Knocks 365, the kickboxing legend wanted to create a one of a kind place for athletes to develop their skills, body and mind. That is exactly what Hooft was able to achieve in 2019 when he rebranded Hard Knocks 365 as Sanford MMA.
Located in Deerfield Beach, Florida, the 10,000 square foot facility is home to over 20 UFC athletes and has quickly become one of the best camps in MMA. There are many reasons for Sanford’s success in the UFC, but when it comes down to it, there is one factor that outweighs the rest for Hooft: the relationship between coach and student.
“Stay humble, respect everybody, respect the gym, respect your coaches and it’s very important that this sport happens because of the fighter and the trainer. Not the other way around,” Hooft told UFC.com. “Business is business, but it starts with a student and a trainer. Then one day he becomes a fighter, then one day he becomes a professional fighter and then one day he becomes a champion, but that whole long way the trainer and the fighter are family for years and years without any money. People forget that sometimes; they think it’s all glory and everything is perfect, but we build something different with our students.”
Hooft’s hard work has paid off, as he, along with coaches Greg Jones, Jason Strout, Kami Barzini, Corey Peacock and Nik Lentz, have successfully built a culture of respect and love inside the walls at Sanford.
“We are trying to build something that brings the whole sport to a new level. As you can see, it’s not only the facility, but it’s also the culture we create for the fighters with the sponsors and the partners that we have. We want to bring it to the NFL and the NBA level because at the end of the day the athletes deserve that,” Hooft said. “We have the perfect place where they can do whatever they have to do, from recovery to training to strength and conditioning; whatever they need, we have here. We even have doctors on board. It’s really cool. Again, like I said, we created a really cool culture here for the fighters to train.”
Another aspect that makes Sanford MMA unique is that the gym is partnered with Sanford Health, which has an onsite clinic adjacent to the team’s training facility. As part of the partnership, Sanford MMA athletes in need of treatment are taken care of by Sanford Health, in addition to support from the UFC.
This type of coverage ensures that athletes aren’t on the hook for unexpected costs that come along with injuries, physical training, surgeries and recovery. This type of financial support helps give athletes like Gilbert Burns peace of mind.
“Everything is covered by Sanford and that makes us more relaxed, and we know that we just need to be on the mat and get better,” Burns said. “A lot of things can go wrong in the world, for sure, but not inside the gym; we know we will be taken care of.”
A typical week at Sanford consists of drills, kickboxing, tough sparring, small group work, wrestling, grappling, circuit work and strength and conditioning. Every fighter is expected to work with one another in a team setting, from the bottom of the food chain to the top, as Hooft and company expect each fighter to have the same opportunities to fine tune their craft.
Hooft’s experience working with champions Kamaru Usman, Victor Belfort, Robbie Lawler, Rashad Evans and Luke Rockhold have shown him how hard work pays off in this game. And that’s the tone he sets for his team seven days a week.
“Our policy is that everyone trains with everyone, two times a day, no special training, no special camps. We just train hard, all together, train skills,” Hooft said. “Try to get the best skill set, try to work the hardest, out work each other and then when you fight, support each other. Everyone wants to be champion; we already had champions and we are going to build more champions, and everybody wants to be one. But to be the champion they have to look around and be around other champions.
“It’s all love, and that’s important,” Hooft continued. “They need to be competitive, but respect is very important to us.”
That mutual respect is evident between the Sanford coaches and athletes. It’s why they are able to train day-in and day-out with each other at such a high level, and combining that respect with an incredible facility, world-class resources and elite coaching is why Sanford MMA fighters continue to rack up wins in the Octagon.
Don’t miss Sanford MMA athletes Brendan Allen, Ian Heinisch and Randy Costa fight on UFC Fight Night: Sandhagen vs Dillashaw, live on ESPN and ESPN+ on July 24.