There a long list of top mixed martial arts gyms all over the world, but you'd be hard pressed to find two more respected teams than Jackson-Winkeljohn in New Mexico and the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) in San Jose.
Now there's always been a fair amount of respect between the two gyms outside of a few rivalries between fighters, most notably the battle between Jon Jones (Jackson's) and Daniel Cormier (AKA).
This week on 'The Ultimate Fighter', the two gyms will face off again as veteran competitor Damacio Page from Jackson-Winkeljohn takes on Adam Antolin, who represents AKA.
Neither fighter stepped onto the show solely to represent their team, but they both know in a bout like this, team pride is certainly on the line.
“There's a little bit in the back of my mind. You read things online about the top gyms in the world and you see that AKA and Jackson-Winkeljohn are up there,” Antolin said when speaking to FOX Sports. “I'm not worried about it when Damacio is punching me in the face, but it's there a little bit. I want to keep AKA at the top and I want AKA to stay at the top. It's a pride thing.”
Antolin was a bit more unknown coming onto the show where as Page had fought in both the UFC and WEC and actually faced off with current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson previously in his career.
Page has been a member of Jackson-Winkeljohn for his entire career so he looks at his coaches and training partners as family more than just teammates. At the same time, Page knew that he couldn't allow any outside influences to impact his chance to win the show this season even if he was going up against a fighter from another top facility.
“I think at the end of the day as long as I represent myself well, I'll represent my team well,” Page said. “Same thing with AKA, they're always evolving as well. They're not going to be as good of a team as they are without learning or just evolving in their own aspects. We're the same way. It wasn't so much our team against his team. It was more if I do well, we look good.”
When he first arrived on the show, Page knew a few of the competitors who were part of the tournament but Antolin wasn't one of them.
With no access to phones, television or internet, the time for Page to look him up ahead of their fight was already gone, but when he learned that the Tachi Palace Fights champion trained out of AKA, he knew right away what kind of fight he was getting into.
“Obviously he has something to offer. At a gym like that, you're always going to have an abundance of training partners so it's going to be better than the smaller team,” Page said. “Here at Jackson's we've got five or six 125er's who are legit and he probably has the same thing. You've got to have a good team.”
He also wanted the chance to prove that AKA isn't just a gym full of killers from the bigger weight classes because the team is also chocked full of top fighters from the lower weight classes and Antolin hopes he can prove that with his run on the show.
“I have a lot of pride representing AKA. Everybody knows about the big guys at the top Cain (Velasquez), DC (Daniel Cormier), (Luke) Rockhold, Khabib (Nurmagomedov) but we've got a lot of guys coming up. I'm trying to put the lighter weights on the map for AKA,” Antolin said.
“This is my opportunity to put them on the map and say AKA doesn't just have big guys. We have everybody from heavyweights down to women at 115.”
More than team pride, Page really just wants to go out and prove that he still has the skills to go with the top fighters in the world whether that's Antolin coming out of AKA or Johnson, who is undoubtedly the top flyweight fighter in the sport.
Page knows his time in MMA is limited so he's looking to make the biggest impact possible and it starts with his fight on “The Ultimate Fighter” this Wednesday night.
“I'm here to do a job, I'm here to kill. I'm here to win. I'm here to be an exciting fighter. That's why people like to watch me fight,” Page said.
“I'm not done. I've got four more years. I've got a set record in my head and when I get there, then I'll walk away.”
The new episode of “The Ultimate Fighter” debuts on Wednesday night at 10 p.m. ET on FS1.
At AKA, there's an expectation to win. I'm going out there to represent AKA. We're winners. We don’t fight just to fight, we fight to win.