UFC GYM: The Origin Story
The origins of UFC GYM, the first major brand extension of the UFC.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has become one of the fastest growing sports in the world. With its growth, UFC has brought along reality shows, clothing lines and even moved from strictly pay-per-view to now being broadcasted on the Fox Broadcast Company’s network.
Additionally, the growth has created a brand of UFC GYM owned by New Evolution Ventures (NeV), which is comprised of Crunch Fitness, Hard Candy and several other club titles. NeV has placed Adam Sedlack as the senior vice president of UFC GYM to control brand growth.
Extra insight: In February 2021, Sedlack was named CEO of UFC GYM. Read about his top objectives here.
Sedlack, who spent the vast majority of his career working in the Mark Mastrov system of 24 Hour Fitness, has directed UFC GYM from conception to seven locations, and a franchise plan that will exponentially increase its growth over the next several years.
The recent acquisition of LA Boxing’s 81 locations was the first step in increasing the franchise’s reach throughout the U.S. The brand has also made its first landing in the international market by launching a club in Sidney, Australia.
Growth, spearheaded by Sedlack and his team, is believed to complete the conversion of all LA Boxing facilities by the end of the year at the latest, while also continuing to launch corporate facilities in major urban markets. Sedlack and the NeV team developed the strategies for brand development and market growth in 2008, but it didn’t begin as a sold idea when Mastrov first presented Sedlack with the concept.
“Mark called me and said, ‘Hey, I want to talk to you about starting a new company,’” Sedlack explained. At the initial phone call, Mastrov’s previous success with 24 Hour Fitness had Sedlack’s attention, but he wasn’t sold. “I said, ‘Mark, how are you going to be able to articulate a concept where people get recognized by making another person bloody, and take it mainstream?’ I didn’t get it.”
Mastrov encouraged Sedlack to go out and study the UFC brand for 30 days. “That 30 days completely opened my eyes to how incredible UFC was,” said Sedlack. “What people don’t realize is that the transformation of where the UFC was in 1994, to where it went to in 2001, and where it is today, Dana [White] and Lorenzo [Fertita] did an excellent job at figuring out how to make this brand mainstream. There was definitely a marketing aspect that was very impressive, but secondarily, they put rules in the sport and they started getting away from the old-fashion barbaric fights where they’d put 6’8” guys in the ring with these 5’7” guys. They created these weight classes and different divisions. They made it more about the sport of endurance, stamina and strength, combined with the sport of mental skills like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.”
After 30 days of study, Sedlack was sold. “I took a look at this fitness industry that has been fairly stagnant for 25 or 30 years, and I knew that if we could figure out how to articulate the way these UFC fighters trained, we could be onto something golden. At that point UFC GYM stood for something different. It stood for a path of a whole new innovation that we could bring to the industry.”
Like any other big box gym, UFC GYM has its members covered in terms of a vast array of cardio and strength training options. However, UFC GYM differentiates itself from the other box clubs by offering a wide variety of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) training, as well as top-of-the-line personal training, and packages that allow members and families to learn MMA techniques, and get fit together.
The group fitness classes vary from Beginning Functional Fitness to Hardcore Conditioning. A Below the Belt class targets exactly what it suggests — anything below the waistline, including butt, thighs, quads and hamstrings — and although not technically below the belt, it also targets abs.
The Ultimate Classes include everything from Boxing and MMA, to Country Line Dancing and Zumba. “We knew we had to incorporate what was great about the MMA studios in 40,000 square feet,” said Sedlack. “We defined that greatness as the community. If you walk into any MMA gym everyone knows each other, no one is wearing headphones, they are all talking to each other and working out together. It’s a brotherhood.”
Sedlack said the dynamic of UFC GYM was to merge the world of the MMA studio with the cleanliness and customer service of a great big-box facility. “The initial marketing strategy that we had, we wanted to speak to moms, we wanted to speak to kids, and we wanted to speak to fitness enthusiasts, and still obtain a certain level of credibility to the MMA audience through some programs inside the facility,” he explained. “All of our marketing expressed that message of who the club was for, and why it benefited each demographic.”
Once the marketing got the potential members through the door, Sedlack said it was the development of a fantastic sales team that sealed the deal. “You have to have a great sales team in these clubs,” he continued. “I think industry wide, some clubs are getting away from sales teams and I think that is a huge mistake. I think the reason that some companies are doing that is because they fear they are not being represented correctly. I look at it opposite — if you empower them right, teach them right and train them right, they’ll become an incredible asset. At our company, we have to have that asset to go out into these trade areas and communities, and educate people on training differently.”
UFC GYM sends its sales and training teams out to schools, military bases and police and fire departments to teach people about the benefits of training like a UFC fighter. “We teach P.E. classes in Northern California,” said Sedlack. “We try and give back to the community as much as possible. We are in front of them, and we have an audience. Once we have the audience we give them a presentation about training different. Once we teach them about training different, they are incredibly inspired to join our club.”
With the continued corporate development of UFC GYMs worldwide, the franchise branch will play another role, according to Sedlack. He said that he foresees a wheel and spoke method to UFC GYM’s success. “You’re going to have these big UFC GYMs, and then you’re going to be able to complement them with these smaller box franchise clubs that have pretty much the same operating model as the big gyms,” he said. “If you live next to a small gym, you can get the same type of workout, but when you want a little more flexibility, to get more equipment, you can make that extra five-minute drive and go to our big gym. We think we have a very good strategy for growth.”
Extra insight: In this follow-up cover story, learn more about UFC GYM’s global expansion plans.
Prior to being purchased by UFC GYM, Sedlack said that LA Boxing had done a great job of growing the brand and franchises throughout the U.S., which will now be rebranded and growth perpetuated using the vibrant UFC brand. “In 600 million homes worldwide, [UFC] is an incredible attraction, when you have people that love the sport and they want to train like those athletes, and they can get in on a pretty easy entry cost, I believe we can see global growth fairly quickly.”
The LA Boxing transformations will be completed by the end of the year, with corporate development following along to continue the wheel and spoke pattern that Sedlack developed. UFC GYM averages about 25 coaches (trainers) in the club. “We have created our own UFC GYM certification through the National Academy of Sports Medicine,” explained Sedlack. “Basically, it mimics the way that UFC athletes prepare for fights. Off of that, we created our signature programs, called Daily Ultimate Training.”
The Daily Ultimate Training is a special program that Sedlack believes will be one of the more important “game changers” for UFC GYM. “We are able, through social media, [to] articulate out what the workout is going to be for the day,” he said. “They come into the gym and we have a coach take a group of 15-20 people through a functional type of workout. What’s great about our clubs is there is a café waiting for them where we serve nothing but healthy food and everything is under $5. It’s the full landscape of a workout. These 25 coaches per club not only have expertise in science, but they have expertise in MMA and they are bringing those two worlds together.”
Operating the full-service UFC GYMs, the corporate-owned facilities, the employee count must be around 600 employees across the board. Each club averages about 6,000 or more memberships per corporate club.
The entry cost for a UFC GYM doesn’t necessarily operate in the same way as your typical big box facility. Enrollment begins around $75-$150. A fitness package, which costs $45 a month, allows the member to use everything they would receive at another fitness facility, such as strength and cardio equipment, and group fitness classes. However, Sedlack believes the second package, the Ultimate Program, is the true value membership. It begins at $99, but allows the member full access to the facility, including the same equipment usage as the Fitness Program, but provides members the opportunity to unlimited MMA and group fitness classes.
“Through our sales operating system, we wanted to avoid playing the price negotiation game,” said Sedlack. “When you look at all the marketing done now, it’s all around low-entry fees and low-dues fees. We wanted to make sure we didn’t fall prey to that. The Ultimate Membership gives you the Daily Ultimate Training and all the MMA classes you can take. If you were to join a studio to just learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you’d pay $120 a month. So, for $99 a month, on the Ultimate level, you get all the MMA under one roof, and you receive the benefits of the fitness program.”
The offerings, although different than your typical gym, in Sedlack’s view, are exactly what creates community and opens up the demographic for the club. By hosting multiple MMA styles of training, men, women and children, and families are able to exercise together. In a typical personal training program, a father and son, assuming a wider age gap, wouldn’t train together. However, at UFC GYM, Sedlack explained that it’s not uncommon to see a father and son taking a MMA fighting class together, learning how to properly kick bags and developing a closer bond while at the gym.
UFC GYM sticks with the same color scheme that UFC fans have grown to recognize. They will be able to see the branding for UFC while they catch a fight, then they will see the similar branding when they drive down the street to see a billboard for the new UFC GYM. Sedlack doesn’t worry whether a person will see UFC GYM and think negatively due to the UFC brand, because he knows that the brand recognition is evolving through Mastrov, White and Fertita’s vision of the sport. Also, once the club opens and people see that it’s different and innovative, he knows that they will pick UFC GYM over any other typical gym in town.
Photos courtesy of Samson Hatae Photography.