When you ask Javier Mendez why he opened American kickboxing Academy (AKA), he will tell you it was a way for him to live the life of a fighter and make some money at the same time.

Located in San Jose, CA., AKA is one of the pioneer schools of MMA opening in 1991.

Mendez began studying martial arts in 1978 and in 1985 began his kickboxing career. He won the ISKA Light Cruiserweight Championship in 1992 and defended the title for two years. He also became the ISKA Light Heavyweight Champion in 1995. 

Javier said the person responsible for the gym becoming a MMA gym was Brian Johnston. “He was my first UFC guy,” said Mendez. He sought out Mendez to help with his kickboxing skills and after that, the fighters fell into the gym like dominos. Brian brought in Paul “The Polar Bear” Varelans, next came Frank Shamrock, and then BJ Penn.

Today, you’ll see names like Daniel Cormier, Luke Rockhold, Cain Velasquez, and Khabib Nurmagomedov just to name a few.

I asked Mendez about his most memorable fight.

He spoke of the match between Frank Shamrock and Tito Ortiz when Shamrock defended his middleweight title. “The game plan was perfect,” Mendez recalled.

A typical training camp for fighters at AKA lasts about 8 weeks. Fighters will train two sessions a day plus cardio. They will train in grappling and sparring. They can expect wrestling drills with Dan Cormier and Jiu Jitsu with Ron Kessler. At night they will get one-on-one training with coaches.

“I believe we’ve been one of the top ten gyms in the world for longer than anybody,” said Mendez. “There’s no gym that’s stood longer and still is as strong as my gym. I believe it’s because of the family atmosphere that I have created and still strive to create”. 

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The Scrap’s Caroline Romero is a journalism graduate and has 3 children involved in combat sport. Make sure to follow her son Simon Romero on his Behind The Grind podcast on YouTube.