Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA header logo

Get to Know Series: Frank Hickman

In some ways Frank Hickman seems almost destined for success in the combat sports industry. Since touching down in Thailand in 2017, Frank has blazed a path of excellence that has been nothing short of extraordinary. His work ethic, analytical mind, and upbringing have helped him establish himself as one of the best MMA wrestling coaches in the world. But just like anything else Frank approaches seriously in life, he didn’t take any shortcuts to achieve what he has. He just makes it look easy.

At just six years of age, Frank was already hitting the mats. His father introduced him and his brother (George Hickman) to the sport. At that age, Frank didn’t think much about why he started; it was simple: his big brother was already doing it. Frank pretty much played every sport there was growing up, but wrestling was the one he stuck with.

Frank Hickman and George Hickman
A young Frank and George Hickman with their parents.

“We enjoyed it because my parents made it fun for us.”

Traveling all over the East Coast to compete, the trips became ‘family trips,’ with his parents always making an effort to make it an enjoyable experience. Other kids spent their weekends watching TV and running through the sprinkler, but things were a little different at the Hickman household. Frank recalls, “We went away every weekend, and we wrestled.”

Some 8th-grade wrestling action.

The arduous training and competition schedule never really phased Frank. His genuine love for the sport gave him a competitive edge that saw him achieve great success. After a decorated high school career, Frank wrestled at Bloomsburg University, where he became a 3x Division 1 National Qualifier, ranked himself in the top 10, and became a Freestyle wrestling All-American.

Frank Hickman wrestling at Bloomsburg University
Frank Hickman wrestling at Bloomsburg University

Wrestling was a labor of love for Frank, as well as fun times with the family. It was also a chance to test himself. Naturally athletic, Frank enjoyed the level of control he had on the mats when it came to training. He also loved to test himself, and the one-on-one aspect of wrestling really appealed to him.

“You have fun when you’re winning and when you’re around your friends. With wrestling, it’s like anything, you get out what you put in. If you put in the right amount of work at a young age, you’ll find your way through the sport you enjoy, you’ll have fun with it. That’s what’s contagious, that’s what keeps you coming back.” 

After he finished his coaching stint at Appalachian State University, Frank took a job as a car salesman. That’s when George invited him to Thailand to become an MMA wrestling coach despite no prior experience. But George knew Frank could do it.

It was a big gamble for Frank. He’d been a wrestler for as long as he could remember. He’d achieved a great deal of recognition as a wrestling coach, and now his brother was advising him to uproot his life and move to a new country, while also starting down a new career path as an MMA coach.

It was no small feat; it takes a certain kind of willingness and grit to change everything you know for something completely new. Accepting this job would require Frank to carefully adapt his style, one he had honed for over two decades. His brother George put him in an accelerated MMA program, making him compete in BJJ, take boxing classes, and learn Muay Thai. Frank found the transition eminently manageable, a testament to his exceptional wrestling IQ.

“Mix it to where it works and make it easy to break it down for people. Cover the wrestling side of things while being focused on MMA.”

Frank has always been known for his hands-on approach to coaching. Even as a co-owner, he’s still on the mats working with the fighters almost every day. For Frank, it’s the only way to coach.

“You’ve got to be able to get in there and sprawl. Show the move, repeat, show them why this way works, show them why and when it doesn’t. You have to be able to show the wrong way too.”

It’s a process and one he’s good at. Take Loma Lookboonmee for example. As her wrestling coach, Frank helped take her from decorated Muay Thai champion to the UFC in just a few short years. Her transition was hailed as one of the fastest and most successful transitions in MMA.

Loma Lookboonmee celebrating after a win in the UFC

His philosophy at the gym is no different. Frank clocks in every day at 7 a.m. and gets to work. His first stop of the day is the cafe. Whether it’s taking out the garbage, stocking up the fridge, or helping make coffee, Frank is always up to the task. As co-owner, he wants the gym to run like a well-oiled machine, so helping where you can is Frank’s motto. As he puts it, “I try to make myself useful.” He genuinely cares about the wellbeing of his staff because if there’s something he’s learned from coaching, it’s that you are only as good as the people around you. You’ve got to keep the staff happy and ensure everyone is alright; that’s how you keep things running at an elite level.

It’s these qualities that cross over into his work ethic as a trainer. Frank is a highly sought-after wrestling coach for MMA athletes. Some of the greatest fighters in the world, like Volk and Izzy, learn wrestling from him. His guidance on the mats is a big reason for Volk’s wrestling success in his fight against Islam Makhachev, despite most analysts predicting he would be steamrolled on the ground by the UFC lightweight champion.

Frank Hickman with Volk and the team after a successful UFC title defence

MMA is complicated, and it’s hard. As the sport grows in popularity, so does the skill set required to excel. As more countries start to take an interest in MMA, a greater variety of styles and techniques are added to the sport. To be the best, you’ve got to be able to keep up with the best as both a coach and a gym owner. Getting stuck in your comfort zone is easy, but Frank doesn’t like being comfortable.

“Just keep trucking,” is what Frank always says. “You’ll never fully master the craft. You just gotta keep trying to break down this game because it’s such a complex sport.”

It’s the ever evolving nature of MMA that keeps him humble. There’s always something to pick up, you can always be better. Frank’s desire to learn is what sets him apart; he’s on the mats learning with his students. He genuinely wants to see the people around him succeed, because for him, that’s what coaching is all about.

Elite wrestling program at Bangtao Muay Thai and MMA in Phuket, Thailand.
Frank teaching a wrestling class at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA

“It’s rewarding. You see the person and see how much work they put in; money, family, time, sacrifice and when you see it pay off for them, you’re more happy for them than anything.”

But in order to get to that level, Frank knows it isn’t some sort of solitary pursuit. The people around you matter and it’s about curating a team that pushes the fighter to perform at their best, even on an off day. And being around people who are going to push you and hold you accountable is something Frank is extremely grateful for.

“I’ve been very fortunate to work with extremely talented coaches as well as extremely talented athletes. Being able to be around other gifted coaches who excel on their side of things as well, you can put some heads together and then you’re able to have a fine tuned machine. You’ve got to have other people around you.”

As they say, iron sharpens iron.

Frank heads up the wrestling program at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA. Book Now and train with Frank Hickman at Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA in Phuket, Thailand!