Higher education and combat sports will come together this fall.
UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber and Sacramento State are launching what is believed to be the first university-backed combat sports development program, Faber and Sacramento State president J. Luke Wood told ESPN. An official announcement is expected later Thursday at a news conference.
Combat Sports and Martial Arts University — or Combat U — will be overseen and run by the Sacramento State athletic department and be a collaboration between the school and Faber’s Team Alpha Male, which is housed at the Ultimate Fitness gym not far from the campus.
All Sacramento State students, men or women, are eligible to join the program and scholarship funds will be available for students who want to continue their education while also getting world-class combat sports training.
“I do some amateur boxing, so I spend a lot of time on boxing gyms…,” Wood said. “And the average person in the gym is a first-generation student who didn’t necessarily go to college or even think about college. They’re a person who may come from a lower income background. And so, it’s about reaching out and creating an opportunity for people who would never have thought of college as a pathway to their dreams to be able to go on and get a college degree.”
Combat U will start in the fall 2024 semester with Sacramento State club sports in boxing, wrestling, Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu. Faber will act as the program’s executive coach, and fighters and coaches from Team Alpha Male will coach the individual disciplines.
Students in the program will have the opportunity to participate in competitions on the school’s campus promoted by Faber’s A1 Combat, which is streamed on UFC Fight Pass.
Faber said the idea came together when Wood was informed by a woman student from India, Aranjot Kaur, that she was enrolling in Sacramento State with the added intention of also training in MMA with Team Alpha Male. The club sports in the individual disciplines will also funnel into a pro prep class for MMA.
“These are going to be club teams that are under the athletic department at Sac State,” Faber said. “And they’ll have their own seasons, they’ll have their own coaches, head and assistant coaches. But the real goal is to help funnel that into a pro prep class that’ll happen at Urijah Faber’s Ultimate Fitness. … The pro prep team will be a Sac State program.”
Combat U will not be supported by the NCAA, the biggest body overseeing college athletics. But Faber and Wood said they expect more programs like this to open up in the future and the potential for MMA or other martial arts becoming NCAA sports are there. Wrestling is already an NCAA-supported sport.
“And so, as the sport matures, I think you’re going to see people treating the sport differently,” Wood said. “And that’s why we’re not taking MMA, we’re not taking combat sports for granted, and we’re using it as an opportunity to give other people an opportunity that we believe that they deserve.”
Faber graduated from the University of California, Davis with a bachelor’s degree in human development and went on to become a pioneer in MMA for the lighter weight classes. He was a longtime WEC bantamweight champion (prior to the UFC buying the promotion) and the first lighter-weight fighter in MMA to become a box-office attraction.
While Faber wrestled in college and graduated, he’s aware that many fighters and prospective fighters stop school to chase their dream of being in the UFC or another major mixed martial arts promotion. He believes with Combat U, fighters will now have the option to get an advanced education and still train at the highest level.
“Now we’re actually able to focus time and energy into developing these students who are … disciplined [and] have a lot of talent. We’re going to be trying to draw talent from across the world,” Faber said. “It’s already happening here and now we have an avenue for these guys to get their education on top of a better and more individualized access to getting them to their goals faster, which is awesome.”