Dog Eat Dog MMA Review — The Best Combat Sports Gym in Florence, Italy

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Many aspects of training at Dog Eat Dog MMA in Florence, Italy intimidated me. The name of the gym, the gruff appearance (but very friendly personality, I quickly found out) of the head trainer/owner, Marco Santi, and the litany of competition announcements on their Instagram.

But even halfway during my first class, I knew I had found my home in Florence.

… I know right? Who goes to Florence, Italy and trains in combat sports? Shouldn’t one go there to gawk at the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, eat gelato, cantucci, and bistecca fiorentina, and so on?

Well, I did those touristy things, too. But I also spent six weeks training in MMA-related skills at Dog Eat Dog MMA, doing half grappling, and half striking, and loved every day of it, so I wanted to write this review of my time.

I had to leave Florence a little earlier than anticipated (a project beckoned, and it got too hot and too busy in the city), but it worked out well, as I got to spend two weeks at a boxing gym in Milan before moving on.

Dog eat dog MMA review in Milan cover art boxing mach
Dog eat dog MMA review in Milan (artwork)

Here are my latest posts on combat sports gym reviews from around the world, vocabulary for training in other languages, and other resources. If you’d like to have me visit and see your gym, please contact me — I love visiting new places and making new friends through combat sports.

Dog Eat Dog MMA Review — Overview

The first and best thing I notice about any gym is its community. Community is top down. A good coach attracts a certain cadre of students, and then they help recruit each other, and the good community grows.

Marco Santi is one of those great coaches, who can help competitors compete better, and help enthusiastic hobbyists like me push ourselves a little further.

Marco has been running Dog Eat Dog MMA for decades now. Despite its intimidating-sounding name and its stack of competitive athletes, Dog Eat Dog caters quite well to people of all levels.

Dog Eat Dog MMA is one of the best MMA / combat sports gyms I’ve been to. There are a few reasons why.

On community: I was happy to hear from Marco before joining that “We don’t tolerate any form of violence.” Interesting to hear that from a combat sports coach, but he was right: People at Dog Eat Dog train hard, but they aren’t bullies.

And my time at the gym supported this feeling of community. I trained with some excellent people. And I didn’t get a single black eye! (I’ve received black eyes from the most random of people, and chipped teeth from struggling newbies in other gyms.)

Secondly, at Dog Eat Dog, they train hard. Classes are generally two hours long. The warm up would be brutal for many people — the warm up for striking is 15 minutes of rope work! I was a complete mess on my first day. But I managed to lose a kilo while at Dog Eat Dog in six weeks, despite not really paying crazy attention to my diet (I eat responsible portions, but I still eat everything).

I initially thought I’d do striking and grappling on the same day, every day, as I did at Cube MMA in Korea. But four hours of training at that intensity would be unthinkable other than for professional fighters.

One thing I really appreciated about Marco was that he didn’t shy away from doing effectively one-on-one classes when nobody else showed up. In this sense, even though I had pre-paid for three months and only could stay for one and a half, I felt like I got a lot of value out of my time at Dog Eat Dog — I had several classes that were like private coaching.

Most of my classes, in fact, were just me and 1-3 other students, maximum. So I had a lot of time to ask him questions and to drill difficult techniques (I’m still drilling the spinning kick he taught me).

Finally, the facilities at Dog Eat Dog MMA are excellent. The showers and locker rooms are impeccably clean, the place is huge, and there is even light air conditioning. There appears to be heating for the main area, but I never saw it in action (it was 30+ degrees C, or “very hot” in Fahrenheit, every day that I was there).

There’s a complete weights and cardio section, with even some of the more obscure stuff you’ll see only in some Crossfit gyms (like a reverse hyper thing, like this one at Rogue).


Dog Eat Dog MMA review — MMA in Florence
Matteo (in the grey shirt), and Marco (in the red/orange shirt)

There’s a range of types of community you find at fighting sports gyms. I’d call the community at Dog Eat Dog MMA something like “Informal… but professional”.

It’s informal in the sense that there was never a time that I felt like I was committing a faux pas. Some gyms get very angsty about rules like where you adjust your uniform, how you address people, bowing, punctuality, and so on. Dog Eat Dog isn’t like this. The only rules were: Slippers off the mats, but no slippers / shoes on the mats. And don’t be too late. Pretty easy.

This doesn’t mean you should show up half an hour late or be lazy with your attire. It’s just at the opposite end to some gyms where you either wear the branded gi, or nothing.

I called Marco “Marco”. Not “professor” or “sir”. I could have called him “Coach” I suppose. We addressed each other in informal Italian (the “tu” form). I actually am not sure if that was a faux pas; but he never corrected me!

(Just a note to any readers — This is without judgment. I don’t mind whatever formality level a gym imposes, and always conform to local culture, as long as the training is good.)

Because I’m a slightly older — but very enthusiastic (I train every day for at 1.5-2 hours) — athlete, I’m a little conscious of the fact that I’m often training people who are half my age (in their early 20s, and sometimes younger), who have been doing combat sports for a while.

So one thing I’m always cautious of is what the community is like at a gym. Are the participants friendly people there to improve skills and maybe compete, or are they ego-driven bullies who just want to hit people? Obviously, I gravitate towards the former.

Now, Dog Eat Dog doesn’t have a “group fitness class” feeling like some gyms. Their social media feed isn’t stacked with group selfies or people going out for drinks.

But people also know each other and seem to train with each other. Because Florence was kind of quiet in the summer period, I didn’t get to see any of the larger group classes. But it was easy to see that the camaraderie was good in the classes I did attend.

In my time there, I found my training partner Matteo pretty quickly, and appreciated his attitude — he trained hard, but was super friendly, and always was conscious not to hurt me. I was sorry to say goodbye, but I’m sure we’ll cross paths again.


Dog Eat Dog MMA cage and boxing bags plus rolling space
Dog Eat Dog MMA cage and boxing bags plus rolling space. Note: The mats were about to be refreshed.

I was really impressed by the level of the facilities at Dog Eat Dog. It’s spacious, clean, and well-equipped. Dog Eat Dog has everything. There’s

  • A large mat space that could accomodate around 10 sparring pairs (more if they’re not doing takedowns)
  • A cage
  • A full weights room with at least one of everything, including huge dumbbells and enough weights for serious deadlifts. It’s “Crossfit gym level” without having enough stuff for huge classes.
  • Huge and very clean change room, lockers, and communal shower

Yes, Italy is another place with a communal shower culture, similar to France, Korea, and the US. So if you’re not used to showering with other men while chatting with them… you quickly get used to it! (I did, long ago.)

Have a look through the below photos for an idea.

Disciplines at Dog Eat Dog MMA

Dog Eat Dog MMA timetable
Dog Eat Dog timetable. Check the website for the latest.

Dog Eat Dog MMA focuses on MMA-related disciplines of striking and grappling. Grappling includes wrestling as well as no-gi BJJ. I don’t think they do gi BJJ, though the coach and some of the students have done it / still do it sometimes.

This is not a Muay Thai nor a boxing school. Those schools feel different — there might be Thai boxing-style traditions, or pictures of people like Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson up around the place.

Dog Eat Dog really focuses on mixed martial arts. There’s an octagon in the middle. The whole culture is around that, and secondarily around strength training and a bit of “Calcio Storico” (a type of football where they fight each other) it seems.

On the timetable you can see grappling / wrestling, striking, and strength & conditioning.

That said, some people do train exclusively in grappling, and some people exclusively in Muay Thai-style kickboxing.

Language used at Dog Eat Dog MMA

This is Italy. People speak Italian! Because I’ve been trying to improve my Italian, I made an effort to speak just Italian during my time there, both for my sake and to make it easier for everyone else.

Before going, I made sure I knew a bunch of words and phrases relevant to training in striking and grappling.

Here’s my Italian MMA / Jiu Jitsu / Striking vocabulary list.

That said, people at Dog Eat Dog speak English if you need. I quickly learned that Florence is one of the cities with the highest number of English speakers in Italy, alongside Rome and Milan. MMA also tends to attract English speakers, as it’s an international sport with practitioners from all over the world.

The coach Marco speaks English. On top of that, he personally studies a lot of material that’s English only, so sometimes, he is much more comfortable with an English term (like “takedown”) than its Italian equivalent. But during our time, I think he recognised I was making an effort with Italian, and he spoke to me in Italian.


Training in Italy isn’t cheap. Though prices fluctuate and are somewhat dependent on how long you stay, you can expect to spend around 100 euros a month to train in any gym in Italy.

On top of that, bear in mind that most gyms require you to pay up front for a year of insurance. This is compulsory and I think it’s non-transferable. So that’s an additional 40-60 euros (depending on the gym), regardless of how long you’re staying. I had to pay the same thing at my next gym, even though I stayed there only for a couple of weeks.


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