There are many unique aspects of mixed martial arts that separate it from other mainstream sports. Having the opportunity to punch your opponent in the face to earn a victory instead of just scoring more points than your adversary has to be near the top of the list. However, another interesting characteristic that makes MMA different is—unlike other sports—on any given day you can walk into a gym in America and train side by side with a professional fighter.
Try entering the Indianapolis Colts football facility and asking them if you could catch a few passes from Peyton Manning or showing up at the Staples Center hoping to shoot some hoops with Kobe Bryant. Not only is that NEVER going to happen, but depending on just how nuts they think you are, there’s a good chance you will be going to jail.
Most mixed martial arts gyms are open to the public, and anyone can buy a membership. That doesn’t mean you will be rolling with Randy Couture at Xtreme Couture or sparring with Cain Velasquez at American Kickboxing Academy, but you can get up close and personal with your favorite mixed martial artists at many of these facilities. And remarkably, the fighters are almost always welcoming and will take the time to speak with and take pictures with adoring fans.
While these gyms are providing state-of-the-art equipment and an immaculate environment for professional fighters, they are also offering classes for men, women, and children of all skill levels. They even made an old guy like me feel welcome inside. Only in MMA can you merge pro fighters who are training and preparing for a fight alongside kids who are taking a class on BJJ techniques. This is something I found fascinating on my many tours of MMA gyms for HDNet’s Inside MMA and FIGHT! Magazine.
Here are some interesting factoids and a few of my favorite moments:
SUCCESSFUL MMA GYMS AND FIGHT TEAMS ARE LIKE FAMILIES
One of the most uttered phrases I heard while conducting interviews with fighters and trainers was, We are like a family.. While that may sound cliché, I believe there is truth to the statement.
The fighters who spend time together—both in and out of the facility—benefit from a family-like support system. It seems like the most successful training centers have fight teams that genuinely like and respect each another. They just show their affection by striking and kicking each other.
HISTORY OF FIGHT TEAMS AND GYMS
While mixed martial arts as a sport is still in its infancy when compared to sports such as baseball and football, every gym has an interesting history about how the fight team and gym began.
One of my favorite stories was hearing Matt Lindland, Dan Henderson, and Randy Couture speak about starting Team Quest in the back of Lindland’s used car lot in Portland, OR. One of the most respected fight teams in MMA got their start from very humble beginnings.
• Anthony Pettis going off the cage to kick a bottle of water off my head at Duke Roufus’ gym in Milwaukee, WI.
• Greg Jackson showing me his “kicking tree” in his backyard that he used while growing up in Albuquerque, NM, because he couldn’t afford a punching bag.
• Forrest Griffin explaining that there is only one bathroom at Xtreme Couture and how nasty it could get “with 30 to 40 guys slamming protein shakes.”
• Dan Henderson punching me in the chest (yes, it hurt) while doing an on-camera report at Team Quest Emotional Stories
• Bellator’s Bryan Baker from Team Wildman announcing he was fighting in the tournament while battling Leukemia.
• Close to 100 kids participating in classes at TapouT in Vegas…definitely the next generation of mixed martial artists.
• American Top Team’s Ricardo Liborio teaching blind students MMA after his daughter lost her sight due to illness.
My journey Inside America’s Gyms will continue in 2011 as I resume exploring and telling the stories of these facilities and their fight teams. Inside MMA airs every Friday at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on HDNet.