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The First Rule Of Factory X Book Club

Dustin Jacoby laughs as he recalls Marc Montoya’s reaction to being asked about the Factory X Book Club.

“He said the first thing about the book club is there is no book club,” said Jacoby, the middleweight veteran who has gone 4-0-1 in his second stint in the UFC. And when it comes to that current run, “The Hanyak” owes a lot of it to what happens when punches and kicks aren’t being thrown.

“It’s a big part of the success that I’ve been on,” he said. “We train everyday and we work our bodies out and we sweat, but it’s just as important to sharpen our mind. It’s one of the biggest assets and one of my biggest tools going into these fights is being fully prepared mentally, and the books have really helped.”

So there is a Factory X Book Club, then?

“I'm gonna have to tell these guys to stop giving away the secrets,” said Montoya, creator of the book club and head coach of the gym in Englewood, Colorado that has produced some of the best fighters in the world over the last several years.

That might be a yes.

What isn’t up to debate, whether the Factory X squad admits it or not, is that their leader has brought something to their training routine that has more to do with life than the right technique to hook off the jab. And at the top level of the sport, where the mental game may be even more important than the physical and technical parts, having good life lessons in your back pocket is essential. That’s not always the case, though, and Montoya noticed it as soon as he put ten years of fighting away in 2008 to begin coaching.

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“I didn't have a mentor like myself in coaching,” he said. “I had some guys that helped me at the beginning, but when it came to an actual coach like myself, I didn't have anybody like me when I was fighting. And the mental game is so big in sports. I played college baseball, so I played at a high level when it comes to team sports, and obviously fought for years since '98 as a fighter, and since 2008 I've been doing this as a coach. I spent some time doing those things. We train our asses off physically, and so does the rest of the world, especially at the UFC level.

"So everyone's punching and kicking and grappling and wrestling and doing the MMA thing. And that's the prerequisite, the ticket to admission. So we're honing on bodies into sharp, fine, thin edges, and you're going into fights sharp. The problem, though, is that when I first started coaching, most of the athletes - even to this day - you're training young guys and girls, so the experience in life is not vast. And a lot of them come from broken homes and tough backgrounds, and some have dad issues, and I'm not exempt from any of that, by the way - I'm right there with them.”.

Dustin Jacoby (R) talks with coach Marc Montoya after the conclusion of his light heavyweight bout against Ion Cutelaba of Moldova during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 01, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Dustin Jacoby (R) talks with coach Marc Montoya after the conclusion of his light heavyweight bout against Ion Cutelaba of Moldova during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 01, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

So when faced with a fighter who has come from a less than ideal situation and is trying to make their way in an unforgiving sport, Montoya isn’t just the one saying, “Do as I say.” He’s been down those same roads in one way, shape or form. And as he found his way out, he now has the knowledge to give to those looking to follow in those footsteps in more than just fighting.

“A lot of the younger fighters, they don't know what they don't know,” said Montoya. “So my thought process was, well, if you don't know what you don't know, then you better start learning because you can't wait until you're my age. I'm almost 47 years old, and you can't wait until 47. MMA will be way done for you to learn all those lessons. So how do we sharpen the mind? We're doing all this work to sharpen the body, so how do we sharpen the mind? And one of the ways that I found personally, through business, through fighting, through life, is to read. My wife, Jarah, is a big reader - she's read more books than I could probably even fathom. But the point is that she consistently has read, and we've been together for 23 years and I watched her read a ton.

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"Early on, I was like, there's gotta be something in that. I went to college, I studied, I got a degree in journalism, and I do have an education, but I also come from the hood. I was born and raised in the inner city and I come from teenage parents that were on welfare, and my grandmother helped raise me, so I understand the whole struggle. But I was fortunate enough to work my way out of all that and move past it and change the trajectory of my family's life. When I look at all that, education in MMA is important, but education in life is even more important. I always tell these guys and gals, my first job is to help you become a world champion outside of the mat, in life. And my second job is to help you become world champions in the cage. But they have to be one in the same.”

The plan was simple enough: find books that could educate and entertain, one per month, and see where it would take Montoya and the 40 pro and amateur fighters in his gym.

“We want ripples in life, and not peaks and valleys, and so education is one of the ways to do it,” he said. “We gotta work on the mind as much as we're working on the body. That's been my path to saying, okay, what are some fun books that I like that aren't just gonna be like going to a class that you hated in school, but you went because you had to. I picked some books that I thought were fun and took a gamble. Okay guys, let's go read some of this.”

Factory X Built A Culture That Fits | UFC News Gym Visit
Factory X Built A Culture That Fits | UFC News Gym Visit

Montoya started with “The Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon.

“I wanted to start off positive, have some fun,” he said. “‘The Energy Bus’ is an amazing book; it's a story about a bus driver, and her clients getting on the bus have these issues in life and the bus driver's actually the person that has the wisdom to give them on how to work through all this stuff. Then we transitioned to cool books like ‘Can't Hurt Me’ by David Goggins. It's hard not to get pulled into that book.”

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Books by Stephen Covey, Russ, Tim Grover and Teddy Atlas followed. And at the end of the first year, Montoya had a question for his team.

“Who read all 12 books?”

Nine hands raised.

“The statistics have to raise here, because if I have a team of 40 and only nine of them have read all 12 books, but I was cool with that percentage to start,” laughed Montoya. “So I gave a little reward system and said, ‘You guys get to pick the next nine months.’”

That was the reward? I would have thought something like getting to miss Friday sparring one week.

“F**k that, that's way too important,” said the coach, whose book club numbers have improved, even if there was some resistance at first to the whole idea.

“I've had push back, but here's where the push back stops,” he said. “Take Dustin Jacoby for example. Let's take his second stint back in the UFC. There's no coincidence that part of his success is that he's worked on his mind. And one of the ways that Dustin has committed to working on his mind is reading these books. Dustin will send me books and go, coach, you ever read this? A lot of times it's yes, and sometimes it's no.

"I give these guys a book a month to read, but if you want to go and read something in addition, the point is that I'm just giving you suggestions. I'm trying to help you create a habit, I'm trying to help you be successful. If the book I recommended you're not getting into but you found a different one, then go read that book.

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)

And if sitting down with the physical book or reading it on a mobile device isn’t your thing, Montoya has no problem with his fighters taking in the books by listening to them, as long as they get the information.

“The invention of Audible books is huge for fighters because some of the fighters don't enjoy reading and they're not going to get through a book if I tell them to just read it,” he said, “But they can obtain the information by listening to it. And these guys travel back and forth to training and do whatever they do on the weekends, so it's a great way for them to not just listen to music and actually learn something while they're sitting in the car. That part has helped too with the younger generation. Plus, their attention span is s**t so to tell them to read a book for 45 minutes a day, I might get one guy to do that at best.”

Montoya laughs, but getting the men and women he works with ready for battle in a fight and in life is serious business. And he takes it as such. Not everyone who shows up at the door is the right fit, and a three-month evaluation period will figure out that conclusion. But if Factory X is the right fit for a fighter and the fighter is the right fit for Factory X, they’ve got a head coach willing to go to any length to make sure they achieve everything they’re looking to achieve. And it doesn’t start with fists or feet, but with the mind.

“The mental part is something that I felt was key to success,” Montoya said. “I'm gonna get as close to these kids as they're gonna let me and the levels of that are gonna be different based on the kid. But my first job was never to be their friend; my first job was to be their coach and being a coach is holding them accountable and mentoring and telling them the truth, even though a lot of times that's not what they want to hear, but it's what they need to hear. And in time, if we become friends, it's awesome.

"But my job is not to become their friend. And my job, on the mental side, is to figure out what makes them tick and what doesn't. Some of that comes with spending time together consistently on the mat, and one kid responds to getting yelled out, and the other kid, if you did that to him, he'd go into a shell. So you've got to figure all that out. And you also have to have some conversations with them and figure out what their fears are and talk about the elephants in the room and we gotta talk about some of the losses that they've had or the loss they just had and why they felt lonely after a win.

"Everyone wants to f**king win, but winning's really hard because that means you have an expectation to do it again, it means that you've got a bunch of fake people around you most of the time when you win, because your phone's pretty quiet when you lose. You gotta figure all that stuff out. That takes time, that takes trust and it takes the right culture and the right kid inside that culture to be able to break down those barriers and then run through these walls that they've put up.”

Dustin Jacoby reacts after the conclusion of his light heavyweight fight against John Allan of Brazil during the UFC 268 event at Madison Square Garden on November 06, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Dustin Jacoby reacts after the conclusion of his light heavyweight fight against John Allan of Brazil during the UFC 268 event at Madison Square Garden on November 06, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

It can be a lot to take in if a fighter just wants to get to the UFC and get paid to fight for a living. Especially the whole book club thing. But hey, at least there are no book reports or quizzes.

“No book reports, no final exams,” said Montoya. “But if you're standing on the mat after we had a hard training session and I said, ‘Tom, what did you think about chapter two in ‘Winning?’ And you sit there with a blank stare looking at me because you haven't read it. That happens. And is there any better way to get you prepared than to be like, 'F**k, the coach is gonna potentially call on me in a group of 40 people, so I better have my s**t together.'”

Staring down Dustin Jacoby can’t be too fun, either, especially on the month when he picks the Book of the Month.And for Montoya, that’s the idea. To be accountable. Not just to him, but to each other.

“I could have a really good team if it's me always cracking the whip,” Montoya said. “But we have a great team when your brothers and sisters are doing it next to you. When they're leading from the front and it's not just me, we have a great team. So it was an opportunity for them to lead and then they have ownership in it. If it's coming from me and them, there's a different perspective there, and it's giving these guys the ability to lead. There's a bunch of followers in life. We don't need anymore followers. Go be leaders and go make a difference.”

Just don’t talk about book club.