Meltzer: Javier Mendez talks Josh Koscheck and what is happening with Team AKA going forward
By Dave Meltzer
When Javier Mendez, the owner of the San Jose-based American Kickboxing Academy gym and leader of one the best-known MMA camps, was asked what his team’s greatest accomplishment has been, the first thing he used to say and still does is, “Keeping the team together.”
So the last few days, Mendez was torn in a very different way than some of the team’s recent disappointments such as first round knockout losses by his two highest profile fighters, Cain Velasquez and Jon Fitch, not to mention the plethora of injuries his team is dealing with.
Josh Koscheck, who has been with the team for eight years, hinted last week at the press conference before his UFC 143 fight with Mike Pierce that something was amiss. When asked about the team’s recent losses, he talked about having to worry about himself, not the team, and would not mention “AKA” by name.
Mendez was not by his side, although Bob Cook was in his corner. After squeaking past Pierce in a fight that could have gone either way, Koscheck talked about it being his last training camp in San Jose and said he didn’t feel 100% physically and mentally because of how things were going down in camp. He did mention he didn’t get up for the fight because Pierce wasn’t as high profile a fighter
as some of his recent opponents.
The next day, Mendez confirmed the split, trying to make it as low key as possible.
“He’s got two gyms in Fresno (about a three hour drive from San Jose) and has everything he needs there, so it makes sense that’s where he should train,” Mendez said. But on Monday, Koscheck, in an interview with MMAweekly.com
, pointed the finger directly at Mendez, his coach from the start of his career.
“There’s one reason I’m leaving San Jose AKA and that’s because of Javier Mendez,” Koscheck said. “He’s the only reason I’m leaving that gym. It almost hurts me because I love training with those guys. I love training with Jon (Fitch), and (Mike) Swick and Cain (Velasquez) and (Daniel) Cormier, and (Justin) Wilcox and all those guys, they are my brothers, and it hurts me to have to make
this decision because the fact that it’s like splitting up the family.”
Personally, Mendez is torn in a number of directions. There’s the part of him that wants to directly respond to the statements where Koscheck directly went after him and to defend his character to people who read the interview and commented on it on message boards that he frequents. He recognizes that in the court of message board opinion, people have not come down on his side.
But the flip side is what experience and the bigger picture tells him to do. Which is business as usual. In a sport where some legendary teams and homes of champions have within a few years become nostalgia, it’s hard enough under the best of circumstances to stay near the head of the pack.
“Our team is only going to get stronger,” Mendez said. “We’ve just signed up Todd Duffee and Gray Maynard to be part of the team. We’ve got Leandro Vieira coming in as our new jiujitsu coach and he’s one of the best teachers in the world.”
“We’re a family and the most important thing is to keep us as a family,” Mendez said. “King Mo, who is one of our newest guys, he just had surgery. There were problems with it (an infection developed from his original ACL surgery and he's had four subsequent surgeries due to all the complications) and he needed surgery again and things got real bad. If he had waited two more days before going back in, it could have been life threatening. When I went to see him and asked if any of the guys had come to see him, tears went down his face and then tears went down my face when he said how he never had a team like this before in his career.”
Mendez also looked back at a major split he had years ago with Frank Shamrock who brought him into the MMA business. Mendez, a former world light heavyweight champion kickboxer, was running a kickboxing gym in San Jose when Shamrock, at that point a submission specialist who was learning striking to become what was a rarity for that era, as one of the first well-rounded fighters, moved to the city.
Mendez became his trainer and Shamrock (who won what is now the UFC light heavyweight title) began what is still one of the most impressive title runs in company history. While MMA was underground, Shamrock was UFC’s biggest star in 1998 and 1999 and the two of them put both the gym and MMA in San Jose, a historical hotbed for the sport, on the map. But they had an acrimonious split years later and didn’t talk until recently.
“I always loved Frank Shamrock and knew in the end we would be friends,” said Mendez. “We didn’t talk for six or seven years. I tried talking with him but he wasn’t ready, but finally he called and said he was ready and it was like our friendship picked up right where we left off.”
So even though Koscheck said that he will never step foot into the San Jose gym again and Mendez admits the obvious -- that the two of them have major issues -- he said that he still loves Koscheck like a family member and thinks that while Koscheck may hate him now, he thinks he also still loves him at the same time and sees it as a family disagreement. He made it clear Koscheck is welcome
back to train at the gym any time he wants to, saying he knows Koscheck has his friends on the team, notably Fitch, his longtime main training partner.
“They all love Kos, and they don’t want to take sides,” he said.
Koscheck has said that he will pay some of the fighters to come to Fresno to train with him. Mendez noted that Koscheck’s gyms, which bear the AKA Fresno name, he expects to undergo a face lift. Koscheck himself went out of his way not to use the initials in interviews last week.
“He’s got a big enough name on his own, he doesn’t need it,” said Mendez.
Koscheck leaving came on the heels of Dave Camarillo, the longtime jiujitsu instructor for the team, having a falling out after opening up his own gym in Pleasanton, CA, about 35 minutes away. But he noted that there were no problems with the fighters that Camarillo has coached for years continuing to work with him on their jiujitsu, as some, like Fitch and Koscheck, have.
To replace Camarillo, Mendez has brought in Vieira, the leader of CheckMat and considered one of the best jiujitsu instructors in the world. CheckMat, based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was the team champion in the NoGi Jiu Jitsu world championships in 2008 and 2009, as well as being Brazilian national team
champion in both gi and nogi style in 2010.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” Mendez said. “We all have. He has his side. I have my side. I don’t want to do interviews about this.”
He noted that on a personal level, he’s not fond of going to baby showers. He thinks it’s more for women, although he did attend Velasquez’s baby shower a couple of years back. Recently, Fitch had a baby shower and he wasn’t planning on going.
“I got a call from Josh Thomson and told me I should go and he was right. I wasn’t ready, my hair was a mess, but I put on a baseball cap and went because that was the right thing to do. You need to have people who can tell you when you’re making a mistake.”
But you could tell he doesn’t think such things should be public consumption in a gossip-heavy industry like MMA, which, because of the nature of how it has developed, has its roots to entrenched in places like Internet message boards where good guys in the sport and bad guys are created and changed daily based on overreactions.
With Mendez, the charge has been that when fighters lose, he brings up not following the game plan as a way to divert blame from himself. But the reality is the fight in question, Velasquez’s title loss to Junior Dos Santos on Nov. 12, was one where it was Velasquez, after the fight, who first brought up not sticking to the game plan before Mendez said it.
And otherwise, Mendez has offered no excuses for Velasquez’s loss even though everyone inside MMA is aware he wasn’t nearly at 100 percent for that fight. The fact is neither was Dos Santos and Velasquez didn’t want to make it look like he was making excuses, and Mendez has offered no public details of the injury.
In a reality show pilot on the gym, it came out that Velasquez had injured his knee in wrestling practice before the fight and they were very concerned going into it. Velasquez hasn’t signed for a new fight as of yet although he is expected to be fighting again in late May or June, but Mendez won’t discuss his injuries.
Mendez noted that you are always going to have disagreements with teammates but wants them staying inside the family. Koscheck had gotten mad at him at one point when asked about teammates fighting each other and Mendez said that he was dead set against it except in one circumstance: if one fighter was champion and another fighter on the team was the No. 1 contender and it was the right fight to make.
Koscheck felt he should have said that teammates should never face each other since there has been pressure for years on Koscheck and Fitch to face each other and both have been adamant that because not only being teammates but close friends, that it will never happen. In the past, Fitch noted that if Koscheck was champion, that he would move up to middleweight rather than face him.
Mendez clarified that by saying if it there was such as situation, the decision is up to the fighters themselves and he would support whatever decision they made. Both would have to want the fight for it to happen, and if that’s the case, everyone would deal with it then. But he feels that unless it is that unique situation of the gym having a champion and top contender, that there are always other fights that can be made and members of his team shouldn’t fight each other.
Koscheck also brought up having cameras in the gym because of the reality show “Fight Factory,” about the gym, the star fighters, Mendez, his wife and other personnel. A pilot was taped for Nuvo TV and they are in negotiations to turn it into a series.
Mendez feels that part of being a pro fighter is that you want exposure to build your name and make you a bigger star. Some fighters aren’t comfortable with the cameras there or don’t want the exposure, but he feels it’s part of being a professional and building your name. Ironically, there are few fighters in UFC who have used cameras to build their name better than Koscheck, who became a
genuine star off the first season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show and has been one of MMA’s big heels ever since.
Koscheck has admitted he doesn’t necessarily want to be the bad guy, but knowing that’s the brush he’s been painted with, eggs it on for all it’s worth. It’s enabled Koscheck to make a lot more money than fighters with similar records, garner more exposure as an Ultimate Fighter coach and headline one of the bigger UFC pay-per-view events one year ago against Georges St. Pierre.
“If you don’t want cameras around and don’t want to do interviews, there’s a way to make them go away,” Mendez said. “Lose. Then you won’t have people interested in you.”