Zuming to the Top with Adam Zugec


Canadian MMA fans know the unbeaten Sarah Kaufman and TFC champion Ryan Ford, but few know the coach behind the two fighters.  They soon will.  Adam Zugec and his Victoria-based ZUMA gym are poised to explode on the world MMA scene as Sarah Kaufman challenges for the Strikeforce Women’s 135 lb title on February 26.

As Kaufman told Top MMA News, “Adam Zugec has a great knack at putting everything together.  He is not only great at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is not only great at Thai boxing. He is not only great at wrestling.  Adam is great at putting it all together and especially great at putting it together differently for each of his specific fighters.”

High praise indeed!  Zugec was drawn towards martial arts after injuries from Junior A hockey forced him to drop his NHL aspirations.  The son of a Karate instructor, Zugec instead started Thai Boxing in Ottawa and was later was instructed by Erik Paulson in grappling and MMA.  Always looking to improve himself, Zugec sought training under the Machados and then Marcos Soares.  It was under Soares where he earned his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.

With all of this training under his belt, one might wonder why Zugec has not fought.  “I am not a fighter at all.  I was alway in the position of information.  I had a passion for the sport, so I would travel and get information on techniques and come home and show people what I had learned,” explains Zugec on why he became an instructor. “My position suits me.  I love teaching, I love the sport, I love training so I ended up coaching.”

The ZUMA beltholders with Zugec

Adam, who studied psychology in university, opened Zugec Ultimate Martial Arts in 2002 in Victoria “to train regular people.  Not to train a bunch of fighters. I alway saw MMA as a sport, not just something where you can see someone’s teeth flying out.”  Then one dancer named Sarah took some classes and things changed.  As Zugec laughs, “Stupid Sarah Kaufman came and ruined everything.” 

Its obvious when talking to Zugec how close he is to his fighters.  He slowly started building a small team of professional fighters – each one of whom Adam has a large emotional investment. 

“I am in a position where I can help people change their life.  I have true authentic emotion and feeling for people I work with.  We are not some fake fighting family.  We are a family.  Every time Ryan Ford goes into a cage, I am with him emotionally.  It is two guys battling in the cage against one opponent.  I am right there with him.  I send him all my Jedi vibes.”

It is a small team of fighters because I have an intense connection with my fighters.  “You cannot work with 50 fighters and you cannot work with just anybody.” And do not think about knocking on the ZUMA door saying you want to be on his ZUMA fight team if you have never trained.  “Would you knock on the Vancouver Canuck’s door and ask to be on their team if you have never been on skates?,”  admonishes the ZUMA head.

ZUMA is starting to gain major recognition in the fight world.  Like TriStar in Montreal and Grudge in Denver, ZUMA also has a relationship with Greg Jackson’s Martial Arts.  How did ZUMA begin working with the famed Greg Jackson?  Zugec laughs, “Greg and I are a lot alike.   We had similar friends who said you are just like each other.  I read a lot of philosophy.  Greg likes to read a lot.  In a sport where a lot of people cannot even read, its like “This guy can read! Greg Jackson can read!  You two should meet! It did not even matter if we were reading the same stuff.”  Eventually, Greg Jackson called Adam because he is a fan of Sarah Kaufman’s and he wanted to send some fighters up.”

Zugec and TFC champ Ryan Ford (photo by Jason Bouwmeester)

Another thing in common is that they are both cerebral coaches who are known for good strategies.  “I have different MMA ideologies depending on who my student is fighting.  I even make adjustments to our plan when i get feedback on the other fighter at the weigh-ins.  How they look, how the move, how they walk, how they talk to their coaches all play a part in how we approach a fight.”  Coaching and cornering are becoming more and more essential in the sport of MMA. 

“Cornering is becoming very important.  I have had opponents come up to me after saying “I think I could have won that fight except I believe I was out-coached.”  Expect a lot out of the ZUMA team in the future.  Not only from Ryan Ford, who will be defending his TFC belt in March, or Sarah Kaufman on Strikeforce, but Diego Wilson, Luis Huete, and Tarek Gabali as well as many others.  The next time you watch these fighters, be sure to look in their corner to see the man behind the fighter.

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