Aung La N Sang spars with a partner at Sanford MMA's press day

Despite its relatively recent arrival into the world of MMA, Hard Knocks 365 is no more.

The Florida-based gym founded by Henri Hooft and Greg Jones in 2017 quickly established itself as one of MMA’s premier super teams. In particular, 2019 has been particularly successful with Kamaru Usman becoming UFC welterweight king, Aung La N Sang continuing his reign atop of ONE’s middleweight and light heavyweight divisions, and prospects including Adam Borics and Logan Storley showing impressive development.

However, it was recently announced that, following a takeover by health giant Sanford Health, Hard Knocks 365 is no more. Not only is the team in the process of constructing another gym in Deerfield Beach, Florida, it has also rebranded as Sanford MMA.

The Body Lock’s John Hyon Ko recently spoke to two men who will undoubtedly benefit from these changes, ONE champions Aung La N Sang and Martin Nguyen, and it’s safe to say, they’re very excited.

“There’s no more Hard Knocks,” Nguyen said. “Our team got sponsored by Sanford Health which is a huge health company. We’re now sponsored by them and we’ll get top of the range medical assistance; we’ve got doctors following us around. Everything is on hand; we’ve got a brand-new gym set up in Florida. I can’t wait to see it. The name is now Sanford MMA, there’s no more Hard Knocks 365.”

Aung La N Sang echoed that sentiment. “It’s gonna change the game for sure man, our facility is awesome,” N Sang said. “I went there today and it’s amazing. Three times the size of what it was. There were about two dozen rooms at the back for medical attention and recovery. I can’t get hurt now!”

Development Team

Nguyen also revealed that, as far as he is aware, the new facility will become the primary destination for the team’s premier athletes. Footage has already shown that the new gym might be the state-of-the-art gym in MMA and for fighters like Kamaru Usman, Michael Chandler, and Vicente Lique, this can only benefit performance. The old facility will become home to a development team with a goal of creating the next generation of Sanford MMA fighters, something Nguyen is incredibly excited about.

“From what I understand, through Henri explaining it, the Hard Knocks gym is still going to be there,” Nguyen said. “It’ll just be called Sanford MMA. That’s going to be our training center for our development team which they’re going to build.

“The other gym will be for the higher-tier guys. In terms of creating that next generation, they’ll still be training with the top guys on some days, but it’ll also give them that little itch to try and step up to that next level and step up their training. I think that the development team is going to be awesome.”

Injury Prevention

With an impressive platform already built by Henry Hooft and Greg Jones, this rebrand and sponsorship can only offer further benefits to the fight team. Sanford Health has been involved in sport for some time, providing performance and recovery services for NFL players including Carson Wentz, Kyle Rudolph, and Adam Thielen, a program called Sanford POWER.

While Hard Knocks 365 already boasted outstanding MMA and strength and conditioning services, access to state-of-the-art health facilities and expert medical professionals will certainly be an added bonus. In particular, Dr. Bradley Reeves has worked with countless Sanford MMA fighters already, and Nguyen considers him a significant asset to the team.

“He follows us around every bout now to make sure we’re all medically cleared and that everything is under control,” Nguyen said.
“Post-bout, we always get checked by him and since starting to work with him, I feel unbelievable.

“It’s the little things that count the most and we’re blessed to have him on our team. Everything is on hand. Whatever he needs, whatever we need when it comes to recovery and post-flight checks. It’s crazy.”

Aung La N Sang also commented on the ‘relief’ of having Dr. Reeves by his side. “He fixed Robbie Lawler’s knee, the torn MCL, he was able to put it back together,” N Sang said. “Luke Rockhold had his shin injury and Dr. Reeves was able to fix that too.

“For me, it’s a relief; especially as I get older, we do have more injuries, and this is rejuvenating. I have this great team of guys behind me. I know I can go out there and do my best and perform better than before.”

Robbie Lawler speaks to the media at Sanford MMA's press day
Robbie Lawler speaks to the media at Sanford MMA’s press day (Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service)

What is Sanford Health?

Founded in 1894, Sanford Health is a health-care provider based in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Nebraska. It’s work primarily concerns five areas: cancer, children’s heart, orthopedics, sports medicine, and women’s health, and this sponsorship marks a deepening involvement in MMA for the company.

Over the last few years, Sanford Health doctors have conducted significant and research into concussion, and have worked with fighters to do so; this deal offers a chance for the organization to improve the current protocol. Sanford Health is also interested in refining procedures involving the time fighters take to recover following fights, likely an area that needs significant improvement.  Dr. Reeves described the deal as the “culmination of several years of putting an effort into MMA and getting ourselves in a position to enhance the sport and to also work with world-class athletes.”

In a sport where injury, concussion, and brain damage are constantly issues of concern, having a huge health care organization involved in the improvement of procedure can surely only benefit fighters. Where issues may arise is if Sanford Health begins using team fighters in studies on concussion and fighter safety, with some expressing concern about health care organizations sponsoring research subjects.

In an interview with the West Central Tribune, Dr. Carl Elliot expressed concern about the deal, saying “You’re not just investing in a sport where you’re taking care of your own players. You’re helping them beat their opponents senseless, which seems a little contrary to the mission of medicine.” For now, however, no plans exist for such research to take place.

Throughout 2019, Henri Hooft and Greg Jones’ team has already established itself as one of the premier destinations for MMA talent. However, one of the characteristics that set the elite gyms apart from the average ones is longevity and this partnership with Sanford Health seems to offer a path to achieving that, not just through the provision of excellent facilities, but also through the creation of the development team.

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