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April 12, 2010

The Ultimate Stand-Up Coach

With two winners of The Ultimate Fighter, Spike TV’s UFC-based reality show, Marco van den Broek can rightfully claim the title of the “Ultimate” stand-up coach: Van den Broek coached both Amir Sadollah (Combat Sports Center, Richmond, Virginia), winner of TUF season 7 and Roy Nelson (Country Club, Las Vegas, Nevada), winner of TUF season 10. However, van den Broek never envisioned himself involved in the sport of MMA, much less one of its most prestigious televised productions.

Van den Broek began training Dutch-style Muay Thai Kickboxing in 1993 in his home country of Holland and had his first fight in 1994. He trained at several gyms in Holland, including Siam Gym, later finding a home at the famous Maeng Ho Gym. Run by well-known trainer Cor Hemmers, it is known as one of the best gyms in The Netherlands and has brought up such well known fighters as Ramon “The Diamond” Dekkers, Dennis Crouwel, Farid, Spyridon, and Carlo Dekkers. Training with twenty professional fighters, including nine world champions, it is needless to say that van den Broek’s own training and coaching was top level through his 34 professional fights.

Van den Broek’s first gym, affectionately known as “Old Style Gym”, started in 1997 in Leeuwarden, Holland, was where he began to craft his own style of coaching. In 2001, he and his partner Petra Janssen van Doorn opened Calmaro Gym in Helmond, Holland. Calmaro soon began to develop a reputation for producing good fighters and its own set of top contenders and champions.

On May 14th, 2004, van den Broek had several career-changing experiences when he and one of his top fighters, Chris Ngimbi, were invited to participate in the WKA-sanctioned Mayhem on Mulberry Muay Thai fight show in New York City. Says van den Broek of the experience, “It was a dream to come true to come to the US, and especially New York City.” Nervous about being the foreigner at the event, Marco found to his pleased surprise that the event was well-organized with fair judging and refereeing. It was an experience that made him eager to come back. Brian Crenshaw (WKA US Representative) was extremely impressed by the Dutch coach and his fighter’s first round head kick KO over Emyr Dakin. Crenshaw applauded van den Broek and Ngimbi for the well-fought victory and encouraged Marco to continue to bring more Dutch fighters to WKA-sanctioned events in the US.

As a result, the dialogue continued after van den Broek’s return to Holland. After another trip to New York, van den Broek got an offer from Brian Crenshaw for an opportunity for Ngimbi to fight in a large, prestigious event in Atlanta, Georgia. Ngimbi would be facing Muay Thai legend Khunpon Dechkampu, who had relocated to Atlanta from Thailand. With over 200 fights to his name, this WKA Intercontinental Title fight was a big step up for Ngimbi.

In retrospect, Van den Broek marks this event as the second significant step toward where he is now, laughingly recalling his early distaste for MMA. This mixed card of Muay Thai, professional boxing, and MMA would be the beginning of Marco’s experience with fans’ appreciation for mixed cards in general and MMA in particular and would open his eyes to the skill and talent required for this hybrid art, which at the time was unpopular in Holland. Unknown to Marco, he was brushing shoulders with big names, such as UFC veteran Sean Sherk and TUF contender Dave Kaplan.

After subsequent trips to the US, where Marco and his fighters participated in other WKA-sanctioned events and Marco taught several Dutch-style Muay Thai seminars and workshops, he was invited to bring his WKA Intercontinental Champion to face Shane Campbell of one of Canada’s top gyms, Iron Tiger, for the WKA World Professional Super Welterweight Title. Marco brought not only Ngimbi, but also Petra Janssen van Doorn, who fought the now WKA professional World Champion Emily Bearden. Naturally van den Broek marked this as a huge opportunity not only for his fighter and his gym, but also now remembers this trip as his ‘coming of age’ to the MMA world.

Van den Broek was asked to come to the US early in order to teach his Dutch-style Muay Thai at Combat Sports Center in Richmond, VA, which hosts a variety of martial arts classes (Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, MMA, and Combat Wrestling, among others), not to mention a very successful fight team. During his stay, Marco worked with Muay Thai fighters, and, for the first time, MMA fighters as well on their stand-up skills. He was a little apprehensive at first, as his experience in Holland with MMA had not been a good one—Dutch MMA fighters at the time were simply not on par with the Dutch Muay Thai fighters with whom van den Broek was used to training. One of the fighters Marco worked with at Combat Sports Center was future Ultimate Fighter Amir Sadollah. Sadollah had had a successful amateur career as both a Thai boxer and an MMA fighter in the WKA circuit. However, it wasn’t until the night of Combat Sports Challenge 19 that van den Broek became “very excited” about MMA, especially during the Dwayne “Diesel” Shelton fight. Marco was impressed by Shelton’s explosive techniques and powerful transitions and throws and at the crowd’s response—everyone in the house was on their feet. Not only were the fans excited, but they were also knowledgeable about the sport. This intrigued Marco, as he was used to MMA fights in Holland receiving the audience’s consternation as soon as they hit the canvas. However, in the States, with grappling being popular and the skill level of groundwork being generally higher, the crowd’s interest and intensity matched the action in the ring. This was when van den Broek realized that he would always love Kickboxing, but that MMA was the future of martial arts competition.

Marco and his team would continue their participation in WKA-sanctioned matches with other fighters such as Twan Aarts, Angelo Wilkes, Thijs Hoefs, Yavuz Kayabasi, and Hamza Ahnine. Van den Broek also made a return trip with Chris Ngimbi for a rematch with Shane Campbell to take the WKA World Title. The association with Combat Sports Center and Team Combat grew, as Amir Sadollah was sent to Holland to train at Calmaro Gym to further refine his stand-up and gain valuable experience with world-class stand-up fighters. On Sadollah’s first trip to Holland, he even got KOed during training by Belarus fighter and K-1 Max and K-1 Heroes veteran Ruslan Kaladko. After Sadollah’s experience at Calmaro, he returned to Combat Sports Center, where he was then picked up for season 7 of The Ultimate Fighter.

Van den Broek continues to refine his coaching and training skills to be applicable not only to Muay Thai but also his new love, MMA. Marco’s breakthrough came when he went to Las Vegas to help Sadollah in his final preparations for The Ultimate Fighter Season Finale, where he networked with other top level fighters and coaches he met at Extreme Couture and Warriors Gym. Since then, Marco has continued to travel back and forth between the US and Holland, training both Kickboxers and MMA fighters, some of whom have traveled from other countries, such as the US, Spain, England to train at Calmaro. On one of van den Broek’s trips, he met Roy Nelson, who asked Marco to work with him on his stand-up. Van den Broek agreed and traveled to Vegas to train not only Sadollah but to train Nelson as well at both Warriors gym and Nelson’s home. After Nelson made it to TUF season 10, Marco helped in his preparation and cornered him all the way to the season finale, which he won, making Marco the first stand-up coach to have two winners of The Ultimate Fighter reality show. Van den Broek’s notoriety has continued to attract fighters coming into his school to work on their stand-up. In addition, the growth and popularity of MMA is evident by the airing of The Ultimate Fighter and the wearing of MMA brand gear by the general populace in Holland when just a few short years ago, the sport was booed by crowds. As Marco puts it, “You know it has arrived when you’re seeing the TapouT brand being worn all over the place.”

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