One of MMA's powerhouse teams has a new head coach. Mike Van Arsdale, who has been the man running the show since the group's inception, has decided to relocate to Arizona to be closer to his family and start his own gym. In as his replacement is grappling legend Mario Sperry, who has been coaching at the gym since earlier this year.
Authentic Sports Management CEO Glenn Robinson confirmed the changes to MMA Fighting on Monday, saying they had been in the works.
The news first trickled out through social media, with Van Arsdale soon confirming his departure through Twitter. But, Robinson said, Van Arsdale's westward move does not mean the end of the relationship between the two sides.
"Mike is a good friend and always will be," he told MMA Fighting via e-mail. "His kids missed him as they lived in Arizona and he lived here and went back and forth. He went home to be more with his wife and five kids. He will come back here whenever we need him for a camp and is always part of our family and will be back a lot."
"Mario Sperry is the team leader but also Jorge Santiago has stepped up to assist him in a big way," he continued. "Jorge is a tremendous leader as well. The truth is each of our coaches has many, many years of experience and is a natural leader. Henri Hooft our striking coach had over 100 fights before he started coaching and has coached now for a long time. So leadership is within every coach on the team. We have a new full time wrestling instructor (Babak Nejadmoghaddam) so for the fighters there is no change at all in how things are done. This change actually was in process for a while now so it was not sudden by any means. It was planned out well in advance of being able to affect the athletes."
Van Arsdale notably helped guide Rashad Evans to a No. 1 contender spot in the UFC's light-heavyweight division. Although Evans fell to Jon Jones in the match, he became the first fighter to go the distance with Jones in nine fights.
The 45-year-old Sperry competed in MMA where he compiled an overall record of 13-4, including a stint in PRIDE, where he went 4-3 with a win over Igor Vovchanchyn. He also once fought Murilo "Ninja" Rua to a decision loss before retiring in 2007. Sperry is one of the founders of the influential Brazilian Top Team, a fifth-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and is considered a grappling wizard who has captured several prestigious titles including both the 99kg and Absolute divisions of the Abu Dhabi Combat Club submission wrestling world championships in 1998.
Aside from Evans, Blackzilians members include Alistair Overeem, Jorge Santiago, Eddie Alvarez, JZ Cavalcante, Michael Johnson and Melvin Guillard, among others.