Known as the “Wizard of the Scale,” Andre “Benkei” Vinicius Aurnheimer Ferreira has worked with some of MMA’s most accomplished fighters: former EliteXC heavyweight champion Antonio Silva, two-time K-1 Hero’s tournament winner Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante and onetime Sengoku Raiden Championship middleweight titleholder Jorge Santiago.

Now, he has taken his expertise and experience to Finney’s H.I.T. Squad -- the gym founded and recently sold by former UFC welterweight king Matt Hughes in Granite City, Ill.

“There’s no other team in the U.S. where you can raise an athlete from the ground up,” Benkei told “In time, the structure of my professional team will bring back the love for team, and I assure you, it makes a big difference when they close the cage door. Many of those now crying for an apology from camps forgot their love for team and how much that mattered at places like [the] Chute Boxe [Academy] and Brazilian Top Team back during the Pride [Fighting Championships] days.”

Benkei -- who left American Top Team in 2008 -- chose the HIT Squad gym over Imperial Athletics in Boca Raton, Fla.

“I tried to assemble a team with the owners [at Imperial Athletics], but it wasn’t possible,” he said. “They found it cheaper to open a training camp, and that was not my goal. I believe in teamwork and structure, and I don’t believe the concept of teams in MMA is finished. Yes, we’re in a time of transition. Imperial is an open academy; I wanted to assemble a team. They stayed in tropical Florida, and I’m going into the cold to train warriors.”

Jesse Finney, a Strikeforce veteran who purchased the HIT Squad gym from Hughes, was instrumental in bringing Benkei to the Midwest.

“He wanted me to reassemble and adapt the team to modern MMA training,” Benkei said. “The idea is to work with the American wrestlers, as they are the base of the team, and bring in some fighters from Brazil and Europe to raise the level of ground fighting and striking.”

Benkei admits he will lean heavily on previous experience.

“Working for such a long time with MMA schools like American Top Team was important for me in getting this opportunity,” he said. “I lived with fighters from around the world, and that gave me the vision of global training I have today. My dream is to bring together on a single team the strong mind of the American wrestler, the technique of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the explosion of Dutch kickboxing and the serenity of Japanese judo.

“There are so many combinations of martial arts that are only possible in this sport,” Benkei added. “Let’s attract these values from all around the world and work them in combination under the structure of the HIT Squad.”

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