The Cult of Lloyd Irvin

A top UFC trainer builds a house of champions. Allegations of psychological and sexual abuse tear it down.

Irvin can also be seen at Ultimate Fighting Championship events, where pros like Brandon Vera and bantamweight champion Dominic Cruz have turned to him to sharpen their grappling. In one post-fight moment that went viral, Irvin awarded Cruz a jiu-jitsu belt promotion immediately following a title defense.

"Team Lloyd Irvin has helped me out so much," Cruz told Fist-A-Cuff Radio in 2011. "They're doing big things in mixed martial arts."

Phil Davis, a top-ranked contender in the 205-pound division, once called Irvin "an honest to goodness ninja." In an increasingly lucrative sport, Irvin is singled out as one of the top go-to trainers to help prepare for war.

Keenan Cornelius
Mike Calimbas
Keenan Cornelius

"The guy could not only whip my butt, but he was beating the shit out of guys fighting in the UFC," says Camacho, who made the trek to Maryland after watching Fowler dominate in a tournament.

Irvin's coaching talent creates a devout brotherhood. Competitors often throw up three fingers after winning bouts in an "LI" formation; others get tattoos of the school's logo, a bulldog in military fatigues. Some wear "three-percenter" signs on the podium. According to Irvin's philosophy, it means being part of the elite: the remaining 97 percent are those who fail in competition, in business and in life.

The school's aggressive sales force welcomes everyone from 4-year-olds to casual enthusiasts paying $199 a month or more, but Irvin's focus is reserved for the competition team and the attention it brings. Training is arduous: two or three times a day, with tryouts that can last four to five hours and involve vomit, dehydration or liability waivers.

In a sport that demands a callused body, that's nothing unusual. But the closer a student got to Lloyd Irvin, the stronger the sensation that you were drowning.

"The people he had the most control over were females," says Jordon Schultz, a two-time world champion. "Any task at any time. They were extremely obedient."

Former student Miguel Escobar, who now works at a martial arts school for disadvantaged youth, saw female students shaving Irvin's face, clipping his fingernails and acquiescing to requests for massages. Ryan Hall, a black belt who left Irvin's in 2008 to start his own school, watched Irvin tickling, tackling or chasing them around.

Others were disturbed that he would share a hotel room with student Nyjah Easton while traveling, a habit witnessed by several of Irvin's students, including Schultz. (Easton did not respond to requests for comment.)

A woman didn't have to be enrolled in Irvin's school to catch his eye. Several students allege that Irvin made advances on wives or girlfriends, despite being married since 2003 to his wife, Vicki Irvin. Escobar recalls introducing Irvin to his girlfriend at a club, then leaving them to talk about a potential business opportunity. He looked back to see Irvin with his arm around her. She walked away, telling Escobar that Irvin had invited her to his hotel room.

"No disrespect, but were you hitting on my girlfriend?" Escobar asked him.

"Don't worry about her," he recalls Irvin saying. "She'll be all right."

Irvin's students felt a similar sense of sexual entitlement. One former girlfriend of Schultz, who asked not to be named, recalls that some of the men living in the fighter house asked him if she could "come around."

Knowing what that meant, he declined. According to Schultz and his ex-girlfriend, athletes would sometimes bring dates back to the fighter house, where weed or ecstasy would be passed around. So would the date. Pictures would be taken. It was, in the words of a source who asked to remain anonymous, "Vegas meets jiu-jitsu."

"These were just kids, 19, 20 years old," Escobar says. "You put them in certain situations and things will happen."

Some things were more serious than others. In 2008, one of Irvin's most promising pupils, De'Alonzio "DJ" Jackson, then 19, left Maryland to attend college in Iowa. According to police reports, Jackson invited a 16-year-old girl to the Double D bar for college night. When she and a friend picked him up, he gave her some Bacardi he produced from a backpack.

After spending some time in the Double D, they went outside to a car. The girl told police that Jackson penetrated her even as she repeatedly told him to stop.

The next morning, the 16-year-old awoke with a headache that she suspected might be drug-induced. She told her foster mother, who informed authorities. When questioned, Jackson denied giving her alcohol, drugs or forcing himself on her.

The day after the incident, police discovered he sent her a text: "I'm sorry I took ur virginity like that. Plz give me another chance."

Court records show the state of Iowa charged Jackson with third-degree sexual assault and supplying alcohol to a minor. He pleaded down to serious assault and received a suspended sentence resulting in fines and 60 days in jail, which he was allowed to serve in Maryland.

Jackson returned to Irvin's to work and train. A YouTube video from November 2012 shows him performing one of his jobs: driving a van and picking up children aged 4 and up — including young girls — for Irvin's after-school program.

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