The Evolve MMA Chronicles – Day 1

Singapore exists solely to make us believe the rest of the world is real. That’s something Jean Baudrillard would write instead of just saying Singapore is unbelievable. Before I hopped on my eighteen-hour flight, I thought this place was overrun with guys in military outfits, caning everyone in the street. On the immigration form, there’s a giant red warning with the words ‘Death to all drug traffickers‘. Needless to say, I immediately double-checked every compartment of my luggage. After perspiring for what felt like hours in the immigration line, I finally was officially a legal visitor of Singapore. It was around 5:45 am when I stepped in the cab to trek across downtown Singapore. The sun was slowly emerging off the horizon so the gargantuan buildings that surrounded the streets of Singapore took on this extremely colorful purple gradient. It was as if my life was heavily concentrated with ‘awesome’, and if I dipped my fingers out of the window, I could literally taste it — so I did, and the taxi driver thought I was a complete nutcase.

After a few minutes, I finally arrived at my hotel just in time to throw my bags in my room, change into my gear and get ready for my first experience at Evolve MMA. Back in 2009, I wrote an article about this place which is deemed ‘Disneyland for MMA’. Calling it a ‘Fight Mecca’ is an understatement. Evolve MMA has the highest concentration of champions in any other gym on the planet. I knew about this place years ago, but to think I would finally step foot in this facility was just mind shattering. Armed with a small receipt with ’26 China Street’ written on the back in blue ink, I had all the instructions I needed to arrive at my final destination. My cab driver was equivalent to the Asian version of Penn Jillette. I told him where I was going, then he began to serenade me with an endless string of incredibly racist jokes, for every nationality in Singapore. He then pointed out places in Singapore where ‘all the women’ are, something that is apparently highly common Singaporean taxi-driver culture.

I finally made it to my destination at 26 China Street, the home of Evolve MMA. Actually, it took a while to find the place solely because I was in awe at the area. Singapore is a no joke. It’s a highly luxurious place that’s filled with a unique blend of the best from Eastern and Western culture. If I didn’t have anything to do that morning, there’s a good chance that I would have grabbed a Hoegaarden at one of the many restaurants in the vicinity and attempt to hit on one of the many super models that are also indigenous to Singapore.

As I approached Evolve MMA, I pulled out my Sony HD and started to film as much as possible. Instead of me giving you guys an elaborate description of the gym, I’ll let this 6:29 video speak for itself.

As the owner of Evolve MMA, Yodchatri Sityodtong, was giving me a tour of the place I walked right past an unassuming twenty-seven year old surfing the net on one of the iMacs that’s set-up in the facility. As I walked back from my tour of Evolve MMA, I realized that it was Shinya Aoki and he was on If I knew how to do a backflip at that exact moment, I would. The DREAM lightweight champion was reading an article we did on Georges St. Pierre earlier in the week. Yodchatri introduced me to Shinya and as blown away as I was that I was in front of the Baka Survior, it seemed as if he was also somewhat shocked that I came to Singapore to see what Evolve MMA was about. After Shinya left for the day, Yodchatri told me that Shinya said that I was nothing like what expected me to be — and I take that as some odd compliment.

It goes without saying that Evolve MMA is perhaps the most ballerish gym on the face of the planet. You’ve just seen the video, I’m not making this up folks. It’s also important to note that the Renzo Gracie brand is all over Evolve MMA. The guy has his hands dipped in everything, and as you probably know Renzo Gracie was doing BJJ before BJ Penn was in his — well you know the rest of it.

After the tour, Yodchatri Sityodtong and I sat down in the Evolve MMA juice bar (yes, there’s a juice bar inside the gym) and one of his guys hooked us up with a freshly prepared cup of Acai berry. From that moment on, I started our exclusive interview with the owner of Evolve MMA.

Wait, so you import all your Acai berry?Yeah, we import it directly from Brazil. We have Brazilians here and we try to make it as homey as possible. They live here, and I want them to be here, so I asked them ‘What are the things you miss?’ They named a few things and one of them was Acai. So we got our import license and we’re the only importer of Acai in all of Singapore. No one has really heard of Acai here, but my Brazilian world champs wanted it so I spoiled them.


Wow, so what other things do you do for the Brazilian guys at Evolve MMA? They said they missed churrasco which is Brazilian BBQ, so I found the best restaurants [in Singapore] and we pay for everything for them. When they go on vacation, we pay. We also pay for all corporate housing for all of our world champions. They rent for free in Singapore.


So if you’re a world champion and you come to train at Evolve MMA, you will get a free place to stay?

Yep, that’s it. All of our fighters love it. They get paid more than they do at home and they train with the best. If you’re a muay thai guy and you want to learn MMA, a BJJ blackbelt will teach you how to fight on the ground. If you’re a BJJ blackbelt and want to learn muay thai, you got a Thai guy with like — 300 professional fights that’s a world champion. There’s no bullshiting. There’s no ‘Oh, I’m from Master Kenny G.’ This is legit. We have world champs.

It’s a really international crowd, we have Japanese, Koreans [Chatri points to a Korean student] that guy, he’s a professional MMA fighter. He saw our website from Korea, packed his bags and arrived here like a homeless kid with one suitcase and said ‘I would like to be an Evolve fighter.’ We were like, ‘What the…who are you?’ He told us that he left his life in Korea and wanted to train with us. We let him try out for the Evolve Fight Team, he made the team and now he gets paid salary and his housing is free. He teaches, he fights, we manage his career — basically we’re an all-in-one. We have guys in the UFC like Rafael Dos Anos, we have up-and-coming fighters, we have Asian MMA fighters like Mitch Chilson, we have people like Shinya Aoki, Roger Gracie was just here last month — I can show you a whole list of people who come here to train. [Roger Gracie] came here to train his stand-up because he was going to fight Gegard Mousasi.

Basically the value proposition is that if you’re a professional fighter is you get the best training in every discipline, from UFC to Martial Combat to DREAM, Sengoku — whatever it is we have fighters in all the different shows and we’re Asia’s largest academy.

A lot of problems with fighters in the US is that you have to work a day job just to train and live. Where as here, you work in this environment, you train four hours a day with our professional fight team, and you don’t have to worry about career management because we have a career manager that handles sponsorships and everything.


Do you think it could be a problem that once people know what’s being offered at Evolve MMA, that you may have an influx of new people wanting to join the gym?Not at all. We have a try-out. You can’t just show up and say ‘I want to be an Evolve Fighter’. There’s a two-week try-out process and if they make the team, that’s fine. Right now we have 47 instructors and 15 professional fighters on our fight team. Plus, Evolve is expanding. We’re adding more locations and we’ll have more instructors there.


How big do you want the team to be?

My vision is I want an Evolve Academy in every major city in Asia. That’s my goal. Right now we’re dominating Singapore, and we’re dominating Asia in the sense that we’re the biggest — but right now my goal is to put one of these things in every city. We have an Evolve Brazil as well. We have no bottle neck for world champions and quality instructors. I’m from Thailand, from the Sityodtong academy — former pro fighter and a certified instructor, so I have connections in Thailand to bring all of the world champions here.

We’re having a lot of problems right now finding an American wrestler who is willing to move to Asia. Singapore is cool, it’s not some hillbilly place with river huts and we’re rowing boats. It’s a legit country. Your lifestyle won’t change that much. There’s a lot of stuff to do out here.


If you think you can place an Evolve MMA gym in each major city in Asia, what’s your timeline on it?

I don’t have a timeframe for it, what I care most is that we have legit instructors, legit world champions, legit fighters and legit students that we produce. We don’t want to be a McDojo, like some watered down bullshit. I’m a muay thai fighter myself, so I really care about this a lot. So as long as I think I can open one and all of the factors that make this Evolve special, the legit factor, then it’s good. But the minute that I feel like I have to get some guy who did muay thai for five years — like in America, you see a guy that did muay thai for five years and he’s a head instructor. In Thailand, if you did muay-thai for five years, you’re a beginner. In Thailand to be legit, you need something like 300 professional fights. I have 30 professional fights, they look at me like I’m a child.

It’s like if you’re going to open a golf academy, you would want to have Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh. If you open up a basketball academy, you would want Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant — that’s what Evolve MMA is like.

By the way, when Shinya Aoki came here he’s a huge muay thai fan. Super religious [muay thai] fan. He thought our instructor list on our website was fake. There’s one guy called Namsaknoi that he idolizes. He think that he’s a god in muay thai. Shinya walked into Evolve MMA and saw Namsaknoi teaching a class, he walked up to him in fanboy-mode and professed that he’s watched every fight — it was crazy. I had Namsaknoi hold pads while Shinya Aoki trained, and Shinya’s mom was taking pictures. He was like a kid. The guys we have in muay-thai are legit. In Thailand they get mobbed.


What’s the defining factor that separates Evolve MMA from something like Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu or Greg Jackson’s camp?

There are a few differences, but the main difference is the way the sport of MMA has evolved. Take Georges St. Pierre for example. GSP goes to Renzo Gracie to learn his BJJ, he goes to Roger Gracie to train also, he goes to Freddie Roach for his boxing, for his muay thai he goes to Phil Nurse. He has to go everywhere to find the best. Here at Evolve MMA, all the best in each discipline is here. It’s a one-stop shop. It’s not like you have to travel anywhere, it’s all here. But we’re still young, we’re only two years old. It’s not like we’re going to be Greg Jackson’s overnight. For Asia we already have the number one track record. We have a 94% win/loss ratio right now. The sport of MMA in Asia, aside from Japan, is like ten years ago as it was in the US. It’s like before Forrest Griffin fought Stephan Bonnar. It’s just before the explosion right now. Evolve MMA is growing in Asia and I truly believe that MMA will be the largest sport in the world. I believe what Dana White said.

The reason why I believe in MMA so much is basically — you’re from America. When you were a seven-year-old kid you got into a fight on the playground, I’m from Thailand and I was a seven-year-old kid and I got into a fight on the playground, seven billion people on this planet and everyone has been in a fight. The reason why Mike Tyson at his peak would get a billion viewers is because everyone gets it. You’ll never get a Superbowl with a billion or a World Series with a billion [viewers]. In Asia, they really don’t give a shit about football or basketball. But fighting — it’s genetically built into us.


Do you think Evolve MMA will play a part of the UFC coming to Singapore in the near future?I don’t know. We’re just one part of the whole MMA ecosystem. If the UFC wants to get the best fighters in Asia, they will need Evolve fighters for sure. But is he going to do a show based on what Evolve MMA has done in Asia, I don’t think so.


So you mentioned that you’re having a tough time finding wrestlers to add to your Evolve MMA arsenal, why is that?It’s tough from two angles. One is I’m looking specifically for a credentialed wrestler to match my champions. I can find a D-1 wrestler easy, I already have a lot of applicants and I’ve interviewed a few already. But I’m looking for a high-caliber wrestler who’s in his mid-twenties who has credentials like my other world champions. What I don’t want is people to say ‘Evolve MMA is great at everything but wrestling.’ It’s like a needle in a haystack. I’m looking for a twenty-five year old, usually if you’re already a high-caliber wrestler then you’re already going to be recruited by Greg Jackson or someone similar — so that’s problem number one. Problem number two: ‘Why would I want to move all the way to Asia when I’m already being recruited by — Randy Couture?’


If you had the opportunity to pick any wrestler, regardless of what camp they’re affiliated with, who would you pick?

I actually don’t know the wrestling scene in the US that much at all. Someone like Ben Askren would be amazing or even Joe Warren. I feel like there’s a lot we can add. I look at it like a win/win situation. What can they bring to our game and what can we bring to their game and if those two elements are there, then that’s a huge positive factor. It’s a mutual respect and mutual learning. So someone like Ben ASkren or Joe Warren who I feel are great wrestlers but not that developed in other aspects would benefit tremendously from Evolve MMA.

The pitch is if you’re a great wrestler in America, then you’re one of a thousand great wrestlers in America. If you come out here to Asia, you will be the star. You will learn muay thai under world champions, the best of the best, you will learn Brazilian jiu-jitsu under world champions, the best of the best and you will learn boxing under the best of the best. We will manage your MMA career. If you want to accelerate your goals as an MMA fighter, there’s no better place on Earth if you’re a wrestler than Evolve MMA. We’re going to give you that star treatment and make sure you flourish under our system.

As of right now, the offer is still on the table. Evolve MMA is looking for an outstanding wrestler to add to their team. If any of you MiddleEasy readers can out-wrestle the time-space continuum, feel free to visit Evolve MMA’s website and get in contact with them.

That was just the first day, part two of The Evolve MMA Chronicles while be coming soon, so hang tight and just remember that Shinya Aoki reads the same website as you.

Published on April 23, 2011 at 9:16 am
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