Until October 2015, TJ Dillashaw, the UFC bantamweight champion who makes a living cracking bones and bloodying faces, had spent his entire career in California. But before defending his title against Dominick “the Dominator” Cruz in Boston on January 17, Dillashaw moved to the Mile High City. “The altitude’s awesome,” the 29-year-old says. “Definitely helps your cardio.” While that’s a swell bonus, the elevation isn’t what motivated Dillashaw’s relocation—at least not that kind of elevation.
In 2012, Leister Bowling and Eliot Marshall started Elevation Fight Team in Stapleton. The mixed martial arts club has quickly turned itself into a headliner. Elevation has trained about 10 UFC fighters, according to Marshall, on the strength of its elite and diverse coaching staff. Bowling, a former wrestling coach at the University of Northern Colorado, teaches wrestling; Marshall, a retired UFC fighter, focuses on Brazilian jiujitsu; and, last year, Elevation partnered with Duane Ludwig, formerly of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento. In Ludwig, Elevation not only gained access to an elite striking coach—UFC named Ludwig coach of the year in 2013 and ’14—but it also got its first world champ, Dillashaw, who followed his longtime mentor to Denver. (Dillashaw’s defection left some bruised feelings: Alpha Male’s boss, Urijah Faber, banned Dillashaw, a longtime friend, from Alpha Male headquarters.)
In addition, Elevation probably owes much of its rise in the UFC ranks to a new sponsorship deal with MusclePharm, a Denver supplement business that lets Elevation use its 40,000-square-foot Sports Science Center and Research Institute. The center is filled with cool fitness toys (like a turf football field and hyperbaric machines) that the company uses to test products. Perhaps more important is what it lacks: the noisy kid karate classes that most martial arts gyms need to pay the bills but which eat up gym time and space. MusclePharm also agreed to pay Dillashaw (and all of Elevation’s UFC fighters) a stipend to work out at the center, so the champ only has to worry about training. Well, that and Cruz’s wicked uppercut.