Francisco Grasso quietly has made some big statements in 2023 with his Lobo Gym team.
Training in Guadalajara, Mexico, Grasso, better known as “Pancho,” achieved plenty in a way few have done before, since historically, few gyms in Mexico have been able to stand out and leave their footprints in MMA.
Yet, this relatively unknown figure, who doesn’t do much media, coached his daughter, Alexa Grasso, to become the first Mexican woman to win a UFC title when she submitted all-time great Valentina Shevchenko in one of the biggest upsets of the year. On top of that, “Pancho” helped Alexa keep that title when she fought to a draw with Shevchenko at Noche UFC, which was the first UFC event to celebrate Mexican Independence Day.
But the success of Lobo Gym doesn’t stop there. “Pancho” also coached Irene Aldana to a UFC women’s bantamweight title shot; coached Loopy Godinez into the UFC women’s strawweight rankings; and coached Diego Lopes and Alessandro Costa into the UFC.
Despite the success, “Pancho” hasn’t made much fuss about it.
“‘Pancho’ is very discrete,” Lopes told MMA Junkie in Spanish. “He’s a person that doesn’t need the world’s attention like other people. Little by little, people are realizing, and the recognition is more.
“Each time, more people recognize him and congratulate him on the work he’s doing. Many people recognize him as a great coach. We already knew that a long time ago. More and more, people are bringing him up for Coach of the Year. Even Jon Anik said ‘Pancho’ could be a candidate for Coach of the Year.”
Lopes (23-6 MMA, 2-1 UFC), who’s also Lobo Gym’s jiu-jitsu coach, naturally is biased, but said the facts play it out for “Pancho” to be considered the year’s best coach.
“Looking at the facts – not because he’s our coach and our mentor – but if you look at the fact that we don’t have the same resources as a gym in the United States, (‘Pancho’ looks even better). We’re in Guadalajara,” Lopes said. “In 2018, people were saying that (Aldana and Alexa) needed to leave ‘Pancho’ and go to another gym to be champion, and look at what happened.
“We kept working, and five years later, Alexa is champion. Irene fought for a title. Loopy Godinez joined the team, and she’s now in the rankings. Alessandro is fighting against ranked fighters. I’m fighting to get in the rankings. We’re five fighters fighting at the highest level. It’s not like we’re five fighters and just one stands out. We’re all standing out. … All this is thanks to ‘Pancho.’”
Lopes thinks “Pancho” should get more credit, given where they come from and the size of the gym.
“If you look at other gyms, they all have big staffing,” Lopes said. “They have a jiu-jitsu coach, a striking coach, a boxing coach, a wrestling coach, a coach for this and that. But ‘Pancho’ does everything by himself. He does it all. He’s the mentor of the academy. The only part that ‘Pancho’ gives me complete freedom is in the aspect of jiu-jitsu, and before I teach anything or go into something, I’m always consulting with him first because he’s our mentor.
“A big gym can have anywhere between 10–30 coaches, and we only have one. ‘Pancho’ does it all himself. You saw in this last event there were three consecutive fights, and he was there for all of them. If you ask me, without a doubt (he’s Coach of the Year). He’s got a champion in a gym based out of Mexico. Alexa is the first Mexican woman to be champion, Irene fought for a title, and look at what he’s doing with us.”
There are, however, other coaches who can stake a claim for that award – most notably Xtreme Couture’s Eric Nicksick, who’s been responsible for many key wins, including Sean Strickland’s upset of Israel Adesanya to win the UFC middleweight title.
But even if “Pancho” doesn’t get the award, Lopes would like to see him at least be considered and in the running given everything he’s done in 2023.
“I think just even with ‘Pancho’ being recognized, he would make history. I think ‘Pancho’ would be the first coach to be training out of Mexico to be in the running for something like that,” Lopes said. “Only with that, with being mentioned, he would make history – and if he were to win, even better.”
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