Photo by: UC San Diego Athletics

Matt Cox Fights for Victory as a Triton Performance Coach and Jiu Jitsu Competitor

UC San Diego

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LA JOLLA, Calif.- Victory generates a different kind of rush. It comes with an internal flood of pride and triumph. It materializes with an uncontrollable grin, a scream, or some other explosion of emotion. There is a reason that it is chased by every athlete, including University of California San Diego Performance Coach Matt Cox, who has been finding it through mixed martial arts for 18 years.   

Cox grew up in Clovis, Calif. and began wrestling in third grade. He continued to wrestle competitively in high school and secured a spot on the Fresno City College wrestling team after graduating.

“I had a couple of injuries near the end of my high school career, but I wanted to continue wrestling,” said Cox. “The junior college coach approached me and said that they could get me a spot there.” 

The wrestling coach from Campbell University came to Clovis to recruit one of Cox’s teammates while he was a student at Fresno. Cox was offered a spot on the team and attended Campbell after completing two and a half years at Fresno. 

“It was a quick transition and I [had been] imagining my career was over and going to Chico State,” Cox remembered. “After a quick conversation, I was like, ‘Okay. I’m going to North Carolina.’”

Cox studied exercise science, and his roommate’s connection with the women’s lacrosse team allowed him to begin assisting with the team’s lifts.

“While I was in wrestling, I used strength and conditioning to help myself become more competitive. When I started helping my friends prepare for their competition, I fell in love with it.” said Cox.

After graduating from Campbell, Cox interned as a sports performance coach at Marshall University and UCLA. He then served as a graduate assistant at Marshall University and University of Hawaii at Manoa athletics before interning for the Fresno State football team. 

Cox utilized his mixed martial arts background to administer boxing workouts for teams at both Marshall and University of Hawaii. He also continued training on his own and began to practice jiu jitsu when a friend introduced it to him at the University of Hawaii.

“My experience in martial arts has taught me to work incredibly hard and not give up on myself when things get tough. I think this helps me relate to my athletes when they are grinding in the middle of their seasons,” Cox reflected.

Cox came to UC San Diego as a performance coach in 2017 and currently trains the men’s and women’s swimming and diving, water polo, and rowing teams. Cox occasionally teaches boxing to the swimming and diving and rowing teams, and teaches wrestling, jiu jitsu, and boxing to the water polo team once a week. Sophomore water polo player Sydney Boland believes that this training has a direct impact on game performance. 

“Matt teaches us a lot of holds and how to get out of them, which we can translate to the water during a game,” said Boland. “If we are being held a certain way by an opponent, we can use what Matt teaches us to get out of the hold and get open.” 

According to Cox, his time under Senior Associate Athletic Director of Athletic Performance Matt Kritz has led to a greater respect for movement and an emphasis on the importance of building a foundation prior to heavy lifting and individualized training.

“The fact that Matt is also in training helps him better understand what his student-athletes are experiencing,” said Kritz. “Matt knows from his own experience if he does a big lifting session, that session will affect his MMA training, so he must consider all the physical stimulus the athletes experience to ensure the weight room complements the athletes’ physical development.”

Cox is currently a purple belt in jiu jitsu and practices twice a day, or eight to ten times a week, under his coach Richie Martinez for the Tenth Planet Freaks team in San Diego. He competed in two professional fights, or superfights, this past year. 

Cox also competed in the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Foundation (IBJJF) World Championships for the second time in 2018. He won one match and lost to the competitor who ultimately placed third.

“I feel like [competing is] imposing your will on something. It shows dominance and it’s fun,” said Cox. “You get a sense of winning and it’s more of an adrenaline rush.”

Cox hopes to compete in jiu jitsu at least 10 times this year, receive offers for more superfights, and get on the podium at the IBJJF World Championships. He sets high goals for working with his teams at UC San Diego as well.

“As a sports performance coach, I want to deliver national-leading support to the aquatics athletes to enable them to achieve their athletic goals,” said Cox.


About UC San Diego Athletics
With 30 national team championships, nearly 150 individual titles and the top student-athlete graduation rate among Division II institutions in the United States, the UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program annually ranks as one of the most successful in the country.  The Tritons sponsor 23 intercollegiate sport programs that compete on the NCAA Division I and II levels and, in summer 2020, will transition into full Division I status as a member of the Big West Conference.  UC San Diego student-athletes exemplify the academic ideals of one of the world's preeminent institutions, graduating at an average rate of 91 percent.  A total of 80 Tritons have earned Academic All-America honors, while 36 have earned prestigious NCAA Post Graduate Scholarships.  In competition, more than 1,300 UC San Diego student-athletes have earned All-America honors.

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