Article by: James Gregg Mixed Martial Arts Insider

Welcome to MMA Insider, a new, weekly sports column on mixed martial arts in San Diego. The need for this beat has been clear to the fan and fighter community in this city for years. For those who are unfamiliar with MMA, allow me to make a case for San Diego as a major hotbed for international mixed martial arts.

But don’t take my word for it.

“Pound for pound, San Diego goes toe to toe with any major city that has mixed martial arts. The amount of people that come out of there, train out of there, and the amount of gyms that are down there, staggering.”

That’s what Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White had to say on the phone last week.

MMA has been widely accepted as the fastest growing sport on the planet. Just a few years ago, the UFC averaged 12-14 events in a year. Now, Zuffa, the parent company of UFC and Strikeforce, run around 40 per year.

To even the casual observer, San Diego seems to have martial arts academies and MMA gyms on every corner. While some serve as a fitness destination for non-fighters, the pro ranks are filled with fighters with San Diego connections. There are at least a dozen San Diego-based fighters currently on the roster of the UFC and another half-dozen for Strikeforce.

I say at least, because that doesn’t take into account the transient fighters that use San Diego as a regional base for training camps or that come in to help other fighters out. Case in point, former interim UFC heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and his twin brother Antonio Rogerio Nogueira opened Black House Team Nogueira Gym on Miramar Road to serve as their No. 1 base in the United States. The legendary Brazilian duo also owns a gym in Rio de Janeiro.

When they have training camp, teammates Anderson Silva, Junior Dos Santos and Lyoto Machida come to San Diego to train with them. Ever heard of them? Silva is the UFC welterweight champion and is commonly referred to as the top pound-for-pound fighter … in history. Dos Santos is the current UFC heavyweight titleholder, while Machida is the former light-heavyweight UFC titleholder and No. 1 contender to regain the belt from Jon Jones.

“I first (came) here for vacation,” Rogerio “Little Nog” Nogueira said. “Like Rio de Janeiro, people here love sports, love surfing, they love staying in good shape. I saw many black belts here and I thought ‘San Diego is a special place.’ I think it is the best place in America to live.”

Speaking of UFC champions, Chula Vista’s Alliance Training Center is home to bantamweight king Dominick Cruz. The gym, owned by UFC juggernaut Brandon Vera, is home to team Alliance MMA, led by Vera, Cruz, top contender Phil Davis, and contenders Joey Beltran and Phil De Fries.

The Arena MMA on Point Loma is home to arguably the best women’s fighter in history, Cris “Cyborg” Santos. Currently serving a suspension for a failed drug test, look for Cyborg to aim for regaining her title in early 2013.