The UFC All-Strength Team

April 16, 2014

By Frank Curreri

Prior to 1993, the weight-room catchphrase “How much do you bench?” was loaded with subtext. It was actually a measure of how tough someone was. If a guy had a big bench, you did not mess with him.

Then along came Royce Gracie in the early iterations of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a soaking-wet 170-pounder who tore through a line of monstrous athletes who probably could have preacher-curled more than Gracie squatted. Being strong, it seemed, didn’t always equate to being a great fighter.

That was 20 years ago, and UFC fighters have now evolved into professional athletes who know that the ability to explosively manhandle someone is an occupational necessity, like a fast sprawl and a good cross. The very best incorporate dedicated strength and power sessions into their fight preparations.

Our first annual UFC All-Strength Team salutes those fighters who attack the weights the way they go after an opponent in the cage. We relate to those athletes who continually look to improve and who enjoy the quantifiable metric of progress that the weight room provides. And ultimately, we love to watch the fight-ending strikes, slams and submissions that are the calling cards of the fighters on our list. Is it a coincidence that our UFC All-Strength Team owns a disproportionate number of highlight-reel finishes? No chance.

Tim Kennedy


Nickname: n/a
Class: Middleweight
MMA record: 17-4
Best Known for: Hyper-conditioning; fearlessness

Kennedy could be the poster boy for, “Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.” The quick-to-smile middleweight is a special ops sniper, Green Beret, seasoned UFC fighter, and is probably in the top .01 percent of the world in deadly skills. After the zombie apocalypse, Kennedy will most likely be our new leader.

The 34-year-old fights at 185 pounds, but has been known to walk around in the neighborhood of 225 pounds early in his training camps. In person, the 5’11” Kennedy is a massive block of muscle. “My entire life,” he says, “has been about functional fitness. Whether I was an MMA fighter or a sniper, Airborne or a badass Ranger or Green Beret — it’s always been about functional power, strength, explosiveness to kill you with my hands.”

In the gym, Kennedy stays in the three-to-five-rep range but rarely performs one-rep maximums in order to reduce the risk of injury. Even his “safe” training loads are impressive. He squats in the mid-400s for three to five reps, has bench-pressed in the high 300s for three to five reps and deadlifts 400 for five reps. His PB is close to 500 pounds.

“I do a lot more narrow-grip bench pressing, which would simulate, functionally, a move like shrimping [escaping from the bottom] during a fight,” Kennedy says, noting he seldom incorporates conventional bench pressing into his sessions. “I like to keep my elbows tight, and it’s a lot better on my shoulders and elbows.”

Travis Browne


Nickname: Hapa
Class: Heavyweight
MMA record: 16-1
Best Known for: Versatile striking; finishing percentage

While the UFC All-Strength Team is predominantly comprised of shorter and stockier fighters, 6’7” Travis Browne is proof that lanky dudes can pack serious power, too. The affable Hawaiian has compiled a pro record of 16-1-1 and is most likely one victory away from challenging for the UFC heavyweight title. He credits powerlifting for significantly raising his game.

“I only started lifting three years ago and I’ve never felt as strong as I do now,” the 31-year-old says. “I feel a lot of improvement in my hips and my core. I’m not ‘lifting weights strong,’ but I’m ‘old man strong.’ You know how you feel when you’re 16 and you challenge your old man to a wrestling match and he picks you up and drags you around the block? I feel like that. If I get ahold of you, you’re not getting away.”

Browne, who weighs 242 pounds, currently deadlifts 450 for five to eight reps, bench-presses 315 for three to five reps, and says he can squat 350 for eight to 10 reps. Oftentimes his training demands that he goes a bit lighter because his MMA-specific workouts require him to jump from one exercise to the next without rest.

Jim Miller

Nickname: n/a
Class: Lightweight
MMA record: 23-4
Best Known for: Extremely powerful submissions; grittiness

New Jersey–based lightweight Jim Miller is about as strong as it gets in the 155-pound lightweight class. His awesomeness in the weight room is owed to his extensive wrestling background and an obsessive DIY mindset that has inspired Miller to build his own furniture, remodel his house and even brew beer and make bread from scratch. Taking the easy route in anything is not his style.

“I’ve been told that being able to lift your bodyweight overhead, without any jerk to it, is pretty good,” the 30-year-old says. “And I’m able to do a couple of reps with 170 pounds, which is close to my off-season bodyweight.”

Miller is a product of renowned strength coach Martin Rooney. The lightweight fighter boasts a 23-4 record and a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The grappling technician marries clean technique with brute strength into one dangerous package.

“Obviously, the ability to manipulate your opponent in a combat-style sport is a good thing to have,” Miller says. “Knowing I have an explosive 500-pound deadlift makes me pretty confident that I can kneebar anybody. Sometimes it does come down to strength and power. You’ve got to find the balance. When I’m in the weight room, I like to go heavy. You can still get stronger and improve without really bulking up.”

Manny Gamburyan

Nickname: The Anvil
Class: Featherweight
MMA record: 13-8
Best Known for: World-class judo

Anyone who spends much of their childhood judo-throwing other kids is bound to have an insanely strong base of functional fitness. And so it is for UFC featherweight Manny Gamburyan, born in Armenia and raised in North Hollywood, Calif. Gamburyan won the Junior National Championships in judo eight times as a youth and then topped it off winning gold at the Junior Olympics before turning his attention to MMA.

A longtime training partner and coach of Ronda Rousey, the 5’5” Gamburyan has been in the weightroom for years, though he has adopted more of a high-rep philosophy since dropping two weight classes to the 145-pound division. But in his prime, while weighing 168 pounds, he could squat 405 pounds, bench-press 320 pounds and barbell curl 135 pounds for a single rep.

Though mindful not to pack on too much muscle in order to stay in his weight class, Gamburyan still pushes the limit when hitting the weights. “To be honest, when I do legs, I can’t even drive a car after working out,” he says. “I just hit it as hard as I can.”

Chad Mendes

WEC Archive
Nickname: Money
Class: Featherweight
MMA record: 16-1
Best Known for: High-level wrestling; knockout power

Watching Chad Mendes shadowbox or hit mitts, it’s tempting to think that the 145-pound fighter is somehow related to Mike Tyson. The former NCAA national runner-up wrestler is a mesmerizing fast-twitch phenomenon who looks like a leopard when he’s taking guys down and packs devastating one-punch knockout power to boot.

Presently ranked number two in the world in his weight class, Mendes is in line for another crack at the only man to beat him in 17 fights: UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo. Mendes trains in Sacramento on the team Urijah Faber created, Team Alpha Male. When someone as strong as Urijah Faber calls you an animal and raves about how explosive you are, the rest of us should take it as gospel.

“Mendes is definitely the signature power guy for Team Alpha Male,” says Alpha Male trainer, Russell Dunning, pointing to the fighter’s 450-pound deadlift. “Pound for pound, he’s probably one of the strongest guys I’ve ever seen, Dunning says. “When someone’s lifting two and a half times their body weight, you’re talking about an extremely powerful person.”

Urijah Faber

Nickname: The California Kid
Class: Bantamweight
MMA record: 30-7
Best Known for: Limitless gas tank; incredible squeeze with chokes

The avocado doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Faber family. “The California Kid” was born into a Northern California household that prized organic food and conscientious eating years before it became mainstream. He has practiced these habits his whole life, valuing health as much as he does strength and power. Rather tellingly, even when Faber is injured — like a few years ago when he tore his MCL or broke his hand — the UFC star still boasts eight-pack abs that look like they belong on a Batman Halloween costume.

“My strongest body part is 100 percent my core,” the 34-year-old says. “It’s the brain of my body. I emphasize my core a lot.”

Faber relies mostly on medicine balls, exercise balls and plyometric-style exercises to develop his style of python-like strength and explosiveness. (UFC commentator Joe Rogan claims he has one of the strongest chokes in the sport.) Still, when he was doing more pure weightlifting as a 133-pound wrestler at Division I University of California, Davis, his numbers were exceptional. Faber could bench-press 230 pounds for eight reps and squat 225 for three sets of 10. He has also busted out 48 straight pull-ups using a wide grip.

“For a guy who can cut to 135 pounds, to produce those kind of numbers on a deep squat, that’s killing it. That’s excellent,” Dunning says.

Ronda Rousey

Nickname: Rowdy
Class: Bantamweight
MMA record: 9-0
Best Known for: Aggression; trademark armbar

The face of women’s MMA, Ronda Rousey has been known to slam pro fighters in live practices — male fighters, that is. The Olympic judo medalist and current UFC bantamweight (135 pound) women’s champion has steamrolled all nine of her opponents, finishing eight of them with her trademark armbar, a move they know is coming but still can’t stop.

Rousey’s grappling prowess is A-level, but her technique is clearly buoyed by her strength and physicality. According to Leo Frincu, the California-based trainer who has worked with Rousey for much of her career, she can power-clean 135 pounds for a single, squat 160 for 20 reps, bench-press 100 pounds for up to 15 reps and bang out 40 to 50 unbroken conventional push-ups.

“She’s so much stronger than any other female fighter. Right now I don’t think there’s anyone who can match Ronda,” Frincu says. “When I first started with her, we lifted three times a week for one year. So basically I looked at her and said, ‘You have to look like a guy. I know you’re a girl, but basically, if I look at you from behind, I should see no difference between you and a guy.’ She didn’t really like that, but I said, ‘Listen, you’re in the fight business, not in the modeling business.’”
She still looks pretty good to us.

Shawn Jordan

Nickname: The Savage
Class: Heavyweight
MMA record: 15-6
Best Known for: Physical strength; punching power

Few MMA fighters can move loads that compete with pure strength athletes, since their training demands that they spend so much time on technique, cardio conditioning and muscular endurance. But 29-year-old Shawn Jordan is an exception. In fact, it’s quite possible that the 6’1”, 255-pound UFC heavyweight has proven stronger in the weight room than any other elite fighter in the sport’s modern-day 20-year history.

Jordan’s weightlifting prowess is the kind you witness and then tell 100 of your friends. He was a three-sport star in high school and earned a football scholarship to Louisiana State University — an elite and acclaimed college gridiron factory that has produced dozens of NFL players over the past few decades. Capable of delivering bruising blocks and punishing runs, Jordan played fullback for a Tigers team that claimed the 2007 NCAA Championship. Amazingly, Jordan set all-time weightlifting records within the program, including a 610-pound bench press and a 440-pound power clean.

After LSU, the former two-time Texas state champion wrestler traded in his cleats for five-ounce gloves. Unlike many other crossover athletes, Jordan’s weight-room power has translated well to the cage. In his 15 career victories, 11 of them have come by way of knockout.

Mark Munoz

Nickname: The Filipino Wrecking Machine
Class: Middleweight
MMA record: 13-4
Best Known for: Top-notch wrestling; brutal ground-and-pound

Considered a top-10 middleweight for years, Mark Munoz is one of those freakishly strong fighters who can pick up a struggling 200-pound opponent like he’s a package of Pampers. Dubbed the “Filipino Wrecking Machine,” he has been known to produce audible thumping sounds with his fists during the ground-and-pound phase of a fight. The former NCAA champion wrestler from Oklahoma State University considers weightlifting “a huge part of my game.”

In his heyday as a 197-pound wrestler, Munoz would bench-press 335 pounds for five reps. He also squatted 365 pounds for 10 reps and deadlifted 395 for 10. Munoz, who hovers around 205 pounds for most of his training camp before cutting to 186 the week of a fight, scaled back his weight training early in his MMA career. But he credits a loss to an immovable object named Yushin Okami for reigniting his love affair with the iron.

“We fought early in my MMA career, and that’s what made me think, ‘Man, I need to lift,’” the seven-year pro says. “That was the catalyst. Ever since I started lifting, I don’t feel anyone has matched my strength. Lifting gives you a mental boost because you know you’re improving. I lift three times a week. When I get about five to six weeks out from a fight, I lift two times a week and go lighter to keep my muscular endurance and maintain muscle mass while I’m losing weight.”

Mike Dolce

Mike Pyle and Mike Dolce UFC FIT Workout
Nickname: The Nutrition Guru
Class: Former welterweight
MMA record: Retired
Best Known for: Go-to diet consultant for top fighters

You may have seen Mike Dolce, the founder of The Dolce Diet, the current face of the UFC Fit training program and a well-respected peak performance coach who has worked with UFC stars such as Ronda Rousey, Johny Hendricks and Vitor Belfort. He constantly prowls backstage at UFC weigh-ins, since the self-taught nutrition expert has helped dozens of top fighters through the process of making weight. What many don’t know is that Dolce was once a pro fighter, an accomplished high school wrestler in New Jersey and a competitive powerlifter.

At 5’10”, Dolce walks around between 188 and 198 pounds these days. But he describes the Dolce of years ago as a “meathead” who weighed 282 pounds and was single-mindedly obsessed with massive eating and powerlifting.

The results? He squatted 840 pounds, bench-pressed 530 pounds and deadlifted 765 pounds. What’s even more impressive is that he was able to whittle over 100 pounds of that frame but still maintains the strength to deadlift and squat double his bodyweight for reps with the endurance to do 10-mile runs or four-hour bike rides.