Regional MMA was back in full swing in 2021. UFC Fight Pass held consistent cards, there were multiple regional champions crowned and a bunch more called up to the big leagues. With the spotlight on regional MMA brighter than ever before, new gyms have started to become the topic of discussion as they build the future stars of the sport.
This year, promotions like CFFC, LFA, and Titan FC were able to showcase the gyms of tomorrow. Because of this, we decided to begin this new award, the Gym on the Rise. The inaugural ballot was full with some of the best gyms all making major noise. But of course, only one can win the award…
It is a honor, and my pleasure to announce Dante Rivera BJJ out of New Jersey as the 2021 Gym on the Rise.
What Dante Rivera has been able to build is something special. So many of his fighters are shining on the regional scene under notable promotions. And they are dominating… Dante and Coach Ash Elbanna of Lionheart MMA are shaping the next generation of fighters from the East.
Some of the guys leading the charge putting their gym on the MMA map are Eric Nolan, who want 3-0 in 2021, capturing multiple regional titles and making his pro debut a memorable one. He was nominated for Pro Debut of the Year. Luke Fernandez also fought three times, capturing the CFFC amateur light heavyweight title after going 3-0 last year. He was nominated for our Amateur Fighter of the Year.
Then of course, the gym also has bright, young, notable prospects like Nezzar Dimes and Nick Caracappa.
Professor Ash posted an interesting statistics that further proves why they deserved to be our first-ever Gym on the Rise. Since he joined the Dante Rivera coaching staff in January 2020, the team has gone 26-3. See below…
Luke Fernandez 4-0
Eric Nolan 3-0
Elvis Lebron 3-0
Jerry Lleshi 3-0
Nick Caracappa 2-0
Nezzar Dimes 2-0
Joe Schick 2-0
Tristan Miksza 1-0
Dan Esposito 1-0
Aiden Vaughey 1-0
Nick Galanti 2-1
Efren Escareno 1-1
Phil Caracappa 1-1
The list features only active fighters, and as you can see they are all still building. The award isn’t about established gyms with multiple fighters in the UFC. It’s about the ones making a noise, even if it’s quietly. One where the results speak for themselves and the fighters are taking on challenges — not just cans.
The coaching staff is legit and the fighters are shaping into must-see talent early on in their careers. For that reason, and all those listed above, Dante Rivera BJJ is our inaugural Gym on the Rise!
Honorable Mentions: Goat Shed Academy, Murcielago MMA and UK Top Team