The gym is a sacred place for MMA fighters, somewhere they can put in the blood, sweat and tears required to hone their craft behind closed doors and away from the prying eyes of the public.

What goes on there often remains a mystery to fans, but occasionally footage emerges that offers a rare and fascinating insight into the lives of these warriors who are putting it all on the line – not just a few times a year in the cage, but often on a daily basis in the training room.

In this three part series we’ll look to uncover the best behind-the-scenes gym footage, from knockout blows to hard sparring sessions featuring some of the biggest names in the sport.

Wanderlei Silva Sparring With Fabricio Werdum

Let’s begin with a demonstration of the fine line between ‘hard sparring’ and all-out fighting in the gym, courtesy of the man who would later become the UFC’s heavyweight champion, Fabricio Werdum, and one of the sport’s most violent competitors, Wanderlei Silva.

Both men eat some big shots in these aggressive, toe-to-toe exchanges, though despite being the larger man it’s Werdum in particular who comes off worst as Silva throws everything but the kitchen sink at him.

This footage was taken several years ago and it’s worth noting that Werdum’s striking has shown marked improvement since then under the watchful eye of revered coach Rafael Cordeiro (not the last time we’ll be speaking of him in this series) who also oversaw Silva’s career back in the Chute Boxe days.

Donald Cerrone KO’s Training Partner

Even when fighters are only sparring ‘lightly’, the fact that fists and feet are still flying means that KO’s can and do happen.

In this clip amateur fighter Clint Dill is accidentally KO’d by Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone during practice, eating a head kick that left him stretched out on the mat.

To his credit Dill didn’t take it personally, and instead opted to post the footage online himself along with the following message.

”I’m the dude that got knocked out,” Dill wrote on his Youtube account. “No hard feelings and I’m sorry cowboy but this video is as much mine as it is yours, so i wanted to put it up. Before you guys all talk sh*t remember cerrone never meant to hurt me. We went to hooters afterward and had a good time. Don’t talk shit because you weren’t there. My hat goes off to Donald Cerrone. You want to be the best you gotta train with the best.I just happened to get knocked the hell out 😉 Enjoy.”

Josh Neer Vs Heckler

Sometimes there’s genuine animosity in the gym though as was the case here when aspiring fighter Patrick Martin became disgruntled with former UFC fighter Josh ‘The Dentist’ Neer and started talking trash to him on social media.

Martin then made the mistake of agreeing to spar with Neer, telling him, “you are a f*cking joke,” during a heated text message exchange and warned him, “you won’t hit me! Guaranteed!” but as you might expect things didn’t go quite as well as he had anticipated.

Despite having a huge height and weight advantage, the 6ft 6”, 240lb Martin was taken down by the 5ft 11”, 170lb Neer who then laid down a savage ground and pound assault, landing multiple elbows to his head and then kicked him in the face after being pulled off by onlookers.

The video would go viral and led to an investigation by the Iowa Athletic Commission, but they later closed the case due to it having happened in a private gym out of their jurisdiction, while Martin refused to press charges.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0b9v1slvjFo

Royce Gracie Faces Multiple Challengers

Gym wars have become a part of life for the Gracie family who famously left an open-invitation to fighters of other disciplines to challenge them in vale tudo matches in the gym to establish which martial art was the most effective long before the UFC came into existence.

In fact, it’s believed that the first such challenge was issued as far back as the 1920’s by Carlos Gracie in an attempt to show the effectiveness of their chosen discipline, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

In this video, future UFC hall-of-famer Royce Gracie sees off three challengers who’s kung fu techniques proved to be no match for Brazilian jiu-jitsu – an all-too-familiar scenario for anyone who watched this MMA legend defeat string of fighters during the first UFC events in the early 1990’s.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPCMTHz5Qws

Kimbo Slice Vs Sean ‘The Cannon’ Gannon

One of the most infamous gym fights ever took place back in 2004 when at the peak of his backyard brawling fame, Kimbo Slice agreed to a bareknuckle fight at a Boston gym with a police officer by the name of Sean Gannon.

There was a chaotic atmosphere at the fight, and it turned into something of a farce since nobody seemed sure what the rules were. Kimbo’s other fights had been boxing only, but before long this one became more of an MMA bout with everything from takedowns and standing guillotine chokes to knees and elbows being utilized.

Kimbo appeared to get rocked by a straight left early in the fight, while Gannon’s face would eventually be left a bloody mess while also sporting a nasty contusion over his right eye.

Despite the fact that both heavyweights ran out of gas long before the fight’s conclusion, together with interruptions and stalling tactics from Kimbo’s entourage, Gannon eventually emerged victorious after dropping the exhausted Kimbo several times with punches.

It was the first time that Kimbo had lost (on video at least), but he would still use his notoriety to forge a career in MMA, even competing in the UFC for a spell and more recently coming out of retirement to compete for Bellator, while Gannon also had a one and done stint in the Octagon.

Fedor & Alexander Emelianenko Sparring

The beauty of the training room is that it can lead to fascinating match-ups that you’re never likely to see in a competitive environment.

Take this one for instance, featuring the Emelianenko brothers engaging in some hard sparring in their native Russia.

These two haven’t always had the best relationship and there certainly doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of brotherly love going on here as they sling hard shots at each other without the aid of head gear and with a concrete surface waiting to greet them should they fall!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9xjs2fWJEs

Gegard Mousasi Rolling With Ronda Rousey

Continuing on the theme of match-up’s you wouldn’t see anywhere else, here we find UFC middleweight Gegard Mousasi grappling with woman’s bantamweight superstar Ronda Rousey.

During her title reign there was much debate about whether Rousey could beat a male opponent, but based on this footage perhaps former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champ Mousasi would prove to be a bit too big of a mountain to climb.

Conor McGregor Spars With ‘The Mountain’

Speaking of climbing mountains, here’s a playful sparring session between UFC superstar Conor McGregor and Gregor Clegane, aka ‘The Mountain’ from the hit TV series ‘Game Of Thrones’ which looks like the quintessential ‘David Vs Goliath’ battle.

McGregor was giving up a full 12” in height and roughly 260lbs in weight to his opponent who thankfully wasn’t trying to throw his weight around given that the Irishman was in training for a title fight at the time.

‘The Notorious’ couldn’t resist landing a few cheeky body shots though and that eventually brought the big man to his knees.

Rousimar Palhares Submits Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller

From ‘The Mountain’ we move on to the man known in Brazil as ‘Toquinho’, or ‘The Little Tree Stump’.

Given Rousimar Palhares fearsome reputation on the mat you’ve got to be brave, or perhaps even a little crazy to volunteer to roll with him – so Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller seems like the perfect man for the job!

’Mayhem’ is no slouch in the grappling department himself, but Palhares makes short work of him here – getting the takedown, taking his back and threatening with a rear-naked choke before transitioning to the armbar finish.

Palhares is best known for his failure to let go of submission holds in competition which has led to multiple suspensions over the years, so it’s interesting to note that on this occasion he lets go instantly.

Uriah Hall Drops Partner With Spinning Kick

A light sparring session between UFC middleweight Uriah Hall and his training partner at the Reign Training Center stepped up a few notches when the former TUF fighter was caught by a head kick.

Hall shrugged it off and the session continued, but payback was brewing and it came soon after in the form of a trademark spinning kick from Hall that appeared to land hard to his opponent’s liver, causing him to sink to the mat in pain.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBx28pJ0FHE

Nick Diaz Vs Ralek Gracie

Anyone who knows Nick Diaz will be aware that he’s not the biggest fan of the kind of “spinning sh*t” we just saw from Hall, but apparently Ralek Gracie didn’t get the memo.

In fact, Gracie took it one step further by throwing a spinning back fist during what was supposed to be a boxing session.

As it turned out Gracie paid the price soon afterwards by way of a hard shot to the body from Diaz that resulted in an involuntary yelp and took the wind right out of his sails.

Anderson Silva & Lyoto Machida Sparring

There was a moment in time when Anderson Silva Vs Lyoto Machida was the superfight all fans were clamoring to see, but alas this sparring video from 2011 at the Black House gym is as close to the real thing as we’ve seen up to this point.

For the record, Silva has generally dismissed the idea of ever fighting Machida in the Octagon, but publicly voiced his annoyance last year when ‘The Dragon’ hinted he may be willing to take the fight with his long time friend and training partner.

“I think that they’re willing to fight because that’s what they have to say,” the fighter’s manager and owner of Black House, Ed Soares told MMAfighting.com at the time. “Lyoto doesn’t want to fight Anderson. But, they both want the same thing. Lyoto’s not going fight Anderson if it’s not for a title. But if one of them has the title and the other one wants to get it, then they’re going to have to fight, and there’s no way around it.”

That’s all for part one, but be sure to check out part two where we continue to delve further into the best behind the scenes action from the gym caught on film.