“I prepare my students for war,” Cordeiro told “It’s not just the go in there and you want to (just) beat them, you want to be nice. No. You want to be there, you’re going to be bleeding. You’re going to feel tired. It’s good.”

Cordeiro, a member of the legendary Chute Boxe Academy in Brazil during his own fighting career, opened Kings MMA in 2010, and since then, the Huntington Beach-based gym (which also has three gyms open in Southern California as well as a new El Paso location) has housed several champions, including Fabricio Werdum and Rafael Dos Anjos. The team has gained a strong reputation as one of the most notable gyms in the world, churning out contenders and successful fighters across different promotions. 

Currently, some of the more notable fighters working with Cordiero include middleweights Kelvin Gastelum and Marvin Vettori, lightweight Beneil Dariush and flyweight Sabina Mazo. For Gastelum, the opportunity to train at Kings MMA presented itself after he spent time with Werdum, and Cordeiro’s pedigree immediately stood out to him.


“To me, it’s an honor to be training here under master Rafael,” Gatselum said. “There’s a long tradition that goes way back before I ever came here, and I respect that, and I honor that, and I’m just honored to be here, to be a part of it.”

That reputation could be an intimidating for an athlete looking to take the next step in their career, but for Mazo, the atmosphere cultivated in the gym helped smooth out the welcoming process.

“If you know about the sport, then you know about the history, and master, of course, is in there,” Mazo said. “For me, I was really anxious about coming here. But since day one, it felt like family. It felt like a great environment.”

Having that kind of atmosphere for athletes is something Cordeiro tries to create, and while his gym produces contender after contender, he approaches things from a different angle. While he felt confident in his ability to teach striking and jiu-jitsu, he knew he needed to gain a better understanding of the wrestling side of the sport.  

The mixed martial arts portion is an obviously big part of the gym’s identity, but the core of it is rooted in something else.

“Inside our gym, we have MMA, but our focus is martial arts,” Cordeiro said. “We teach people how they have to live their lives inside the Octagon and outside the Octagon. I think a lot of fighters are lost. As soon as they know about what happens inside Kings MMA, the guys came here. They become a big family.”