By Joe Wilhelm
Photos by Mitch Viquez and courtesy Systems Training Center

The place has the aura of an old-fashioned boxing gymnasium. You know, the kind of facility where you walk into the room and groups of hardened fighters drop what they’re doing to scrutinize who’s invaded their playground.

Okay, this may be a slight exaggeration. There’s no grizzled, ancient coach snarling instructions or groups of men smoking cigars in the corner of the gym. But in a world of body-pods, supplements and the shake-weight, Systems Training Center stands a throwback of sorts.

Systems Training Center's boxing ring and bag rack. Where the hard work happens. (Photo courtesy of Systems Training Center)

Systems Training Center’s boxing ring and bag rack. Where the hard work happens. (Photo courtesy of Systems Training Center)

“It’s an older boxing gym. It used to be a Muay Thai gym but it has a boxing feel now. The prices are low, it’s a place where people come in and work hard. Some of these gyms nowadays are really nice and plush, but they kind of get away from what the facility is all about and that’s the hard work,” John Robles said.

Robles, an up-and-coming professional fighter who boasts a 7-1 record, has been training at Systems Training Center since October of last year, a month that brought a significant cultural change to the gym formerly known as Systems 8.

Fundamental to this transition was head coach Ian Harris, formerly of PKG, whose success as an amateur coach has earned him a reputation as a technical mastermind.

Though the gym itself has a rustic, old school vibe, Harris, as a coach, views fighting from a very analytical perspective, taking raw data and applying it to the critiques of his fighters.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of people who are as technical or as strategically minded as me,” Harris said. “I try to take everything with a cerebral approach. I’m very scientific. Everything from weight cuts, training and how to corner is researched and broken-down.”

“I don’t like BS and I don’t like myths. I see people do stuff wrong all of the time where we have absolute, hard factual data that you’re doing something wrong.”

The Systems Training Center team backstage at the U of MMA. (Photo by Mitch Viquez)

The Systems Training Center team backstage at the U of MMA. (Photo by Mitch Viquez)

In spite of his constant analysis, interpretation and questioning, the cornerman expects absolute obedience from the Systems fight team.

“Sometimes I’ll give somebody a drill that I know is wrong,” Harris said, “And I’m not doing it because I want them to learn the drill. I’m doing it because I want them to do it without asking a question. And I’m the first guy to say you should question everything. But in the heat of training, I don’t want rebels or intellectuals. It’s like the army.”

But this doesn’t mean that within the walls of Systems Training Center it’s all work and no play.  Though Harris is an MMA coach by day, he is a stand-up comedian by night.

Harris’ comedic routine is based upon religion, politics and culture, a specialty that creates a dynamic in which, as Robles says, “nobody is safe.”

Since taking over as head coach of systems, Harris has developed a fight team that has not only enjoyed success in the cage, but also forged strong bonds outside of MMA.

“When Oxygen was trying to film a TV show on our gym I thought it would be the perfect place,” Robles said, “We have a great group of guys, where you’ll get a little bit of everything. You’ll get some humor, some hard work, you’ll get to see all sides of it.”

“But there just wasn’t enough conflict in the gym. Everyone gets along too well. It got to the point where they were like ‘can someone sleep with someone’s girlfriend?’”

Though the fight team is composed of both professional and amateur fighters, there is no distinction or segregation made between the two ranks. Amateurs spar and interact with professionals on a daily basis.

When University of MMA lightweight championship contender AJ Lavarias first joined Systems Training center last October, he was immediately exposed to this unique dynamic.

“It’s been a great experience,” Lavarias said. “Our fight team has been on a winning streak. The camaraderie we have on our fight team is like no other. Guys are in here Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings training together.”

“It’s truly like a brotherhood. It’s unlike any experience I’ve had before. We really do care about each other and we really want to improve. And we all are improving step-by-step.”

Harris, who has coached and cornered since 2003, has experienced many gyms throughout his career, building an atmosphere at Systems Training Center that he’s always wanted to develop in other gyms.

In fact, the rift between the professional and amateur teams of PKG largely influenced Harris’ decision to take his talents elsewhere.

Coach Ian Harris (blue shirt, front) with his combined fight team. (Photo courtesy of Systems Training Center)

Coach Ian Harris (blue shirt, front) with his combined fight team. (Photo courtesy of Systems Training Center)

“People always claim there’s no attitude in their gym and it’s like a big family,” Harris said, “I think that’s the biggest crock I’ve ever heard. Every gym says that and then you find out this guy doesn’t like this guy, this guy won’t mellow out, this guy won’t spar with this guy because he can’t do anything but bang.”

His tenure as head coach has yet to last an entire year, but Harris has already built a formidable fight team, including professionals Robles (7-1), Terrion Ware (6-2), Christos Giagos (6-1) Eric Steans, Jr. (4-0). His University of MMA alumni Lavarias, Rob Fernandes, Khalid Shannon, Eric Rios, Vince Cachero, Stefani Pogue, Reshan Sabaratnam, and Takashi Muñoz.

Muñoz, who’s taken his talents to the professional ranks, made a great impression in his U of MMA bouts. Having trained in Kyokushin karate all his life and fighting amateur MMA since 2008, he’d been on matchmaker Jay Tan’s radar for a number of years. In 2012, after a two-year hiatus from fighting, Muñoz returned to the cage, going 2-0 for his efforts and culminating in a decisive three-round victory at the U’s ‘Second to None’ in October of that year.

“He’s a freakishly good striker,” Harris said “He’s so calm, very good on the ground, nice, likeable, and a good-looking kid, Everything you’d want to market in a fighter. If he just buckles down and gets some wins, he’s going to be a superstar.”

Systems Training Center is located at 13040 Hawthorne Boulevard in Hawthorne. For more info, call (424) 269-1337, or visit


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