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The Winners Of 2024 UFC Peformance Institute Academy In Pose For A Photo Following Their Selection From The Combine In Mexico City (Photo by Maddie Roth/Zuffa LLC)
UFC Performance Institute

UFC Performance Institute In Mexico City Celebrates Inaugural Academy Combine

Top-Tier MMA Talent From Central And South America Vied For Continued Training And Support From Industry-Leading Facility

On the heels of its grand opening last February, the UFC’s newest Performance Institute in Mexico City got down to business earlier this month with one of its prime objectives: holding a combine to identify some of the best emerging MMA talent in Central and South America.

Similar to the format used in recent years at the UFC's PI in Shanghai, China, more than 40 male and female athletes from the region were selected to compete in the inaugural Mexico City combine; a grueling, fast-paced week of striking, wrestling, grappling and conditioning drills. The efforts of each athlete were then recorded into some of the most precise scientific data the industry can produce. Then, at the conclusion of each daily session, the Performance Institute staff would meet to evaluate that data late into the evenings in an effort to determine which athletes would be awarded Academy contracts to continue their training in the state-of-the-art facility under the tutelage of the award-winning PI coaching staff.

Participants of the 2024 UFC Peformance Institute Academy Combine in Mexico City, 2024 (Photo by Juan Cardenas/Zuffa LLC)
(Photos by Juan Cardenas/Zuffa LLC)

“I’m really excited about the Performance Institute in Mexico City,” said Forrest Griffin, VP of Athlete Development and one of the chief coordinators of the 2024 combine.  “Not just because it’s going to give services to all the UFC athletes in the region, but they will have an Academy class here, so those Academy athletes will benefit from seeing the UFC athletes train, maybe even get into training with them. We want to bring the best talent from all around the region to make it better. We want to make this a talent goldmine. We can make Mexico City a real hub.”

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As it pertains to combat sports, Mexico has for decades been lauded for the boxers it produces. But with recent UFC titles won by the likes of Alexa Grasso, Yair Rodriguez and Brandon Moreno, it feels like a turning point where the country and the region are pivoting towards renown in producing world-class athletes in mixed martial arts. The opening of this Performance Institute is certain to accelerate that phenomenon.

“I think it’s going to be huge,” agreed Eric Del Fierro, technical director of the PI. “We’re providing a lot of resources to Latin American fighters that they’ve never had before. We’re hoping to provide a more science-based approach to training.”

PI Coach Andrea Nuñez, who conducted countless athlete drills throughout the week, marveled at the stories she heard from the hopefuls during the process, each as unique as the fighters themselves, but all connected by the dream of making a better life for themselves and their loved ones.

One fighter, for instance, had left his home country nine years ago, scraping money together from odd jobs, including working in a public restroom, to get to this opportunity. “This is my opportunity to make those nine years worth it,” he told her.

Participants of the 2024 UFC Peformance Institute Academy Combine in Mexico City, 2024 (Photo by Steve Latrell/Zuffa LLC)
(Photos by Steve Latrell/Zuffa LLC)

“Another one of them shared with me that he was bullied as a kid until he figured out that he could start punching people. He got really good at it and unfortunately, he became the bully. Someone brought him into an MMA gym and put him in a sparring session.”

He soon found himself face down on the mat and that’s when the change began; he had found his sport.

“It calmed him down and brought him full circle: from being bullied, to being the bully, to becoming a professional MMA fighter.”

Despite being in competition for a limited number of Academy contracts, it was stories like these that fostered a spirit of camaraderie that dominated the proceedings from start to finish. The more strenuous the tests became, the deeper the bonds of friendship seemed to go.

Participants of the 2024 UFC Peformance Institute Academy Combine in Mexico City, 2024 (Photo by Steve Latrell/Zuffa LLC)

As such, it made the final selection process all the more difficult on the final day of the combine. When athletes arrived at the facility that day, the ones who had been chosen were displayed on the massive video wall that greets you when enter through the glass doors of the facility. Hugs, tears and congratulations followed, and the chosen called home to share their big news.

“It was a tough selection process,” Del Fierro explained. “There were 42 people that were part of the combine process. It was hard. A very long, grueling week. And a very emotional week. We only selected 19 out of the 42. It was tough. There’s a lot of talent.”

Nuñez emotionally agreed.

“It’s hard because you see yourself in them. Whether it was the good or the bad news, you remember when that was you. You think of how many times you’ve been told ‘no’ and doors have closed on you. And then you’ve been on the other side where doors finally open up for you. Finally, you get through and finally get a ‘yes’ and it’s the yes that changes your life and your path.”

The 19 fighters chosen impressively represented eight different countries: Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, Peru, Cuba, Costa Rica, Chile, and Venezuela. Time will tell where these developing fighters will eventually land. A few had fights booked already, a few were just getting started. But it was evident all week long how meticulous the PI staff was in scouting this year’s participants.

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“The talent in the gym is unbelievable,” said Duncan French, Senior Vice President of the Performance Institute. “The future of Latin American MMA is here.”