American Top Team is arguably the premier MMA gym in the world with elite fighters such as Tyron Woodley, Amanda Nunes, Dustin Poirier, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Yoel Romero and many more. The founder and owner of ATT is Dan Lambert, who’s passion for MMA has had him put an enormous amount of time and money into the sport. The humble and honest Lambert talks to us about when he almost bought the UFC, the history of ATT, the success factors but also how they handle controversial fighters like Colby Covington and Greg Hardy. He also predicts who the next American Top Team fighter to hold a UFC belt will be!
The good old days
It’s a good time to be a part of American Top Team. When we talk to Dan Lambert, only two weeks have passed since he was in the octagon celebrating Amanda Nunes becoming champ-champ at UFC 232. Dan has been involved in MMA for many years now, but before the sport came about, he was a big pro wrestling fan. “Actually, I used to trade pro wrestling tapes with people in Japan. It was a way to access the shows over there. That was during the 80s. Later, I got tapes of Pancrase, which was less about flying drop kicks and more of armbars and submission holds. I was amazed, so when the UFC came about in ’93, I was already a fan.”
"WE MADE A DEAL WHICH MEANT I WAS BUYING 51% OF THE UFC"
Back around year 2000, it was very close that Dan Lambert became the majority owner of the UFC. “The original owners ran out of money and had problems to keep the business up float. They were a little desperate to get somebody in, so they reached out to me. We made a deal which meant I was buying 51% of the UFC, and when we were progressing towards a close, they ended up making a deal with the Fertitta brothers instead. That was completely fine by me, I just didn’t want to see the sport go out of business. I would have liked to get my down payment back from the guy though, but that’s another story!”
“In 1995 I watched a World Extreme Fighting show and the guy who won was Conan Silveira, who they said had a gym in Miami, like 45 minutes from my house. I had never done martial arts before, but I went down and fell in love with jiujitsu, which was the main focus of the gym back then. From that day up until about three years ago, I’ve trained regularly, and it was a huge part of my life. But when age caught up and injuries started occuring more frequently, I realized that trying to prove how tough I am is no longer important to me. Now it’s all about the team and helping out on that end.”
Inside American Top Team Coconut Creek 40 000 sq. ft gym.
The rise of American Top Team
In 2001 the Silveira Brothers Jiujitsu switched over to American Top Team, and a group of fighters from Brazilian Top Team came over and joined the gym. Dan Lambert has run the place since ’95 together with Conan Silveira, head coach, and Richie Guerriero, general manager. They started off in an 800 sq. ft. (75 m2) gym, but since about four years they enjoy a top modern 40 000 sq. ft (3700 m2) facility, with both a huge training area and dorms with capacity of housing about 25 fighters. The facility combined with the high-level competence and a history of success makes American Top Team an very attractive gym for all mixed martial artists. We ask Dan to reveal the secrets for success.
"SHE'S A FUCKING BEAST AND I DON'T SEE ANYBODY ON THE ROSTER BEATING HER!"
“I don’t think there are any real secrets anymore. Back in the day nobody knew what the hell they were doing, and I’m actually quite surprised we didn’t get anyone killed in our gym! Over the years it’s just a matter of us doing more mistakes than everybody else because we’ve been around as long, or longer, than everybody else. We learn from the mistakes we’ve made but also put the right things we’ve done in our memory bank. I mean, there are a lot of newer teams out there with great coaches and fighters, but running a team is different thing. Just because you’re an accomplished amateur wrestler or a great MMA fighter, it doesn’t mean you can run a team. There’re so many different issues that come up, and they’ll figure it out eventually but American Top Team certainly have a leg up on that because we’ve been doing it for so long. It takes time to learn your craft.”
ATT Head Coach Conan Silveira, double champ Amanda Nunes and Dan Lambert.
In December of 2014, Robbie Lawler became the first ATT fighter to ever win a UFC belt. Critics had long said that American Top Team were good at building contenders but not UFC champions, but that night Lawler ended that type of talk. Since then they’ve had several champions, and Amanda Nunes is the latest one to win a belt, when she became double champ at UFC 232, four years after Lawler’s win. After the fight, Amanda jumped into the arms of Dan, praising him for everything he has meant for her career. “Man, I was pretty excited for her! To see how far she’s got from where she came from and how much she has accomplished. This is a fighter who completely lacks fear and she’s gotten so confident over the last couple of years. She’s a fucking beast and I don’t see anybody on the roster beating her!”
Another ATT female is two-time Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison, who is now 3-0 in the PFL. Many consider her to be a rising star in the sport of MMA, and Dan can’t do anything but agree. “I never say when someone comes in to the gym, that this person is going to be a champion, because so many things have to click and fall into place for somebody to even get a title fight. But, I’ve got no problem saying Kayla Harrison is going to be a champion! She is incredible and will be an amazing fighter! She brings that work ethic, the attitude, the physicality… She’s going to be really, really, really good!”
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison is now 3-0 in MMA and represents American Top Team in the PFL.
With all the top-level fighters at the gym, we want to know Dan’s prediction on who is the next fighter to become a UFC champion. “Well, there are several who are in a good spot for a title shot. Dustin Poirier is right there, but with the uncertainty with Khabib and Conor it’s hard to know what will happen, but his next fight could be for a title. Jussier Formiga is the number one ranked contender in the flyweight division, but we’re not sure what will happen with the flyweights. Renato Moicano is fighting Jose Aldo in February and the winner of that fight could be in line for a title shot. Heavyweight is such a thin division and Junior Dos Santos has a couple of wins now. Nina Ansaroff is ranked number three in her division, so there could be a title shot for her this year. If I have to go out on a limb and say who the next ATT fighter to get a UFC title would be, I’d go with Dustin Poirier.”
As most MMA fans know there has been a lot of controversy surrounding ATT’s Colby Covington, especially after his fight against Demian Maia in Brazil when Colby uttered insults towards the Brazilian people. This has been met by hard words from other fighters at ATT and we ask how the whole circus has affected the team. “I would say that 10-15 years ago it would have caused craziness at the gym, just because we were a lot less structured. But not now. We had a meeting with the fighters the day after Colby’s fight in Brazil and basically said that Colby can say whatever he wants about Brazil outside the gym, and you guys can say whatever you want about Colby saying that – outside the gym. But inside the gym you’re not American, you’re not Brazilian, you’re American Top Team!”
American Top Team's Colby "Chaos" Covington.
“I mean, I’m not asking my guys to hold hands and sing Kumbaya together and be best buddies. But nobody is going to create any problems inside the gym, or you’re out the door! I don’t care who you are! You can’t let that happened, because once that snowball starts going downhill, it gets bigger and faster. So we squashed it right then and there, and we’ve had zero incidents. As a matter of fact, Colby’s main training partner for the Dos Anjos fight was a team mate from Brazil. After all, it’s just Colby being Colby, doing what he needs to further his career. If somebody doesn’t like it, well don’t train with him. It is what it is.”
"WHO THE HELL ARE YOU TO SAY WHAT THIS GUY CAN OR CANNOT DO FOR A LIVING?"
Another controversial American Top Team fighter is Greg Hardy. The ex-NFL player’s past includes a disturbing incident of domestic violence, and many fans where unhappy when the UFC signed him. The whole thing got worse when he made his debut in January 2019 on the same card as Rachel Ostovich, who was just recently a domestic violence victim. We let Dan answer on whether it has been any problems having him train at the gym or not. “It really hasn’t! I don’t know what did and didn’t happened in his past, but I typically believe that where there’s smoke there’s fire. But in the end of the day, I’m not the criminal justice system and I’m not the police. And I don’t get it, shouldn’t he be allowed to work? Should he go on welfare? Is it ok if he’s bussing tables, becomes a short order cook or a car salesman? Who the hell are you to say what this guy can or cannot do for a living?”
American Top Team's Greg Hardy.
“We told Greg that he’ll be on a short leash. We’re going to judge him based on what happens now rather than what we read in the newspapers. You know what, from that day he walked through our door, there’s been nothing but yes Sir, no Sir, yes Mam, no Mam, to everybody in the gym. He treats everybody with respect, does everything he’s asked to do, keeps the dorm immaculate. He hasn’t caused a single issue, he has followed every rule, been a good team mate and helping out guys who needs it in training. He’s welcome to stay with our team as long as he wants, just like anybody else is!”
As a final question, we ask Dan who he would recommend us to interview. “A very interesting story would be Mike Brown’s! He’s a guy who started out in the sport really early, training by himself in a small little town up in Maine. He ended up winning the WEC title, which at the time was the biggest title in the world for a 145-pound fighter. He beat Urijah Faber, who at that time was so dominant and the biggest star in the division. Then moved on to coaching and became one of the best in the world to do it. He’s literally travelling the world every weekend, because so many fighters want him in their corner. Also, he’s such a big MMA fan! This guy can tell you the entire line up of UFC 4 if you’d ask him!”
We thank Dan Lambert for his time and wish him success!
Text: Pelle Axelsson