Aspen Ladd trains at MMA Gold

Aspen Ladd trains at MMA Gold

Photo by Eric Holden

After Aspen Ladd's cold, calculated decimation of Amanda Bobby Cooper at Invicta FC 14, ref "Big" John McCarthy went out of his way to tell Jim West how impressed he was with his coaching during the fight. Under West's masterful guidance, "The Shield Maiden" controlled the clinch game, stayed out of striking range and took the fight to the mat, ultimately finishing with an armbar in the second round. Ladd, then just 20 years old, was brilliant, but it was West's calm, technical instructing that really stuck with the legendary ref.

"[McCarthy] came up to me in the cage when they were announcing Aspen the winner," West explained of his experience at Invicta FC 14. "He said 'Jim you were outstanding in the corner. It was the best, most technical instruction I have ever heard in a fight.' He told Aspen something similar, to the effect of 'amazing corner and amazing execution by her.'"

McCarthy has been in and around the sport of MMA literally forever, reffing some of the biggest UFC pay-per-view events in company history. That means he has listened to instruction from all the best of all-time in MMA coaching, everyone from Greg Jackson to Duke Roufus. Yet he was most impressed with a low-key, quiet guy from a small gym in Northern California, dubbed MMA Gold

That night, West put himself on the map among the elite in MMA coaching. Back in 2015, around the time Invicta FC 14 went down, West, Ladd and MMA Gold were all relatively unknown -- perhaps the best-kept secrets in MMA. The team joined forces three years prior when West aligned with Dave Herschbien to create a system they hoped would one day become the "best" in MMA. 

They added in several pieces along the way to make that dream a reality. Former University of Iowa wrestling standout Alex Grunder came aboard as wrestling coach, boxing legend Mike "The Menace" Guy signed on to help out with striking, and Muay Thai ace Jake Dougandara, strength coach Doug Casebier, kickboxing coach Joe Beck and striking coach Dan Brito, were also brought in to form an elite, well-rounded team of combat sports professionals. "Our black belt in Jiu Jitsu, Ryan Brown, is also instrumental for our team's overall grappling skills," West says.

Over the years, Ladd became proof that the MMA Gold system not only works but is revolutionary. It is one of the only facilities in the world that can boast they take people with no background in combat sports, and turn them into elite professional fighters. "Of course [Aspen] has the will to win and dedication, but she had no background in anything -- and we took her to the top," West told AXS. "Most big schools say they build [from the ground up]. But in all fairness, 99 percent of their fighters came in with a heavy background in something, whether it be wrestling, boxing, Jiu-Jitsu, etc."

Now heading into 2018, after Ladd's explosive debut inside the world-famous Octagon as well as the emergence of "Yaya" Rincon, the cat's out of the bag on MMA Gold. No longer is McCarthy surprised to hear technical, calculated coaching from West. It's expected by now. And everyone in the MMA community knows about the plethora of young talent the team has on its roster.

Besides Ladd, who recently signed with the UFC and won her promotional debut, MMA Gold is filled with high-level young prospects. Currently, the list of elite fighters training out of facility includes Ladd, Rincon, Ashley Medina, Anthony "Fluffy" Hernandez, Josh Paiva, Jack Duffy, Kaleigh Burrage, Sam Toomer. UFC stars Max Griffin and Marion Reneau also train there.

Ladd's UFC debut was in Poland, so fight fans across the globe had the opportunity to watch her fight and listen to West's coaching. In the years ahead, it'll be interesting to see how many more MMA Gold prospects get called up to the UFC -- and just how far this little gym in California can go.