by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
What do Portland, Oregon, Bettendorf, Iowa and Albuquerque, New Mexico all have in common? Over the last few years they’ve become the home base for some of the best fighters and teams in MMA.

Much akin to many things in life they are the establishment, long standing foundations, but like in all things there is always room for growth and so other areas have steadily begun to take their places among the elite bases for MMA amplitude.

Among these new MMA hotbeds is Jupiter, Florida, home to The Armory, one of the fastest growing and most formidable new schools anywhere as evidenced by the performances of two of its senior members this past week, Hermes Franca and Kurt Pellegrino.

Franca is of course no stranger to the MMA community. Over the last few years he established himself as a world-class 155-pound fighter.

Upon winning 10 of his first 12 fights, Hermes was thought to be a front runner for the then disbanded UFC Lightweight Championship before losing three in a row last year. Upon joining The Armory full-time he’s rebounded, winning every fight in 2006, including last weekend’s come-from-behind submission victory over Nathan Diaz to retain the WEC 155lb title.

Now it would seem that Franca is again one of the top contenders for the UFC’s belt having won two in a row convincingly for the company since rejoining them at UFC 61.

Then there is Kurt Pellegrino. Like Franca, Pellegrino is also a master Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner and established fighter, albeit on a somewhat smaller stage, seemingly headed for bigger things.

After his first fight this year Kurt sported an 11-1 overall record and was invited to UFC 61 to face Drew Fickett, but only if he went above his natural weight and took the fight at welterweight, something Pellegrino had only done once, to unfavorable results.

Although many, including Kurt himself, feel he was dominating Drew in their fight, the weight took its toll and again Pellegrino fell at 170lbs.

He would quickly rebound since, showing why he was undefeated at lightweight, winning his last two fights convincingly, including this Saturday’s win in just over two minutes against Cleuder “Junior” Assuncao.

So having gone two-for-two this past week The Armory continues to be on a roll in 2006.

With Franca and Pellegrino leading the way [along side top trainers Wald Bloise and Raphael Chaves] and a cast of talented youngsters waiting in the wings, Jupiter is becoming one of the leading new areas for MMA excellence.

And given time and continued development we could just be seeing The Armory taking its place aside Team Quest, the Militich Fighting Systems and Jackson’s Submission Academy in the pantheon of elite teams in the not too distant future.