By Jadrian Klinger; Photography by Jadrian Klinger
Glory Lasts A Lifetime
Outside the caged octagon, away from the charged-up crowd, the whirlwind of pre-fight action and the ear-ringing surge of adrenaline, nine mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters – some amateur, some professional – prepare themselves for hand-to-hand combat at Unrivaled Athletics in Camp Hill.
Hands are wrapped, boxing gloves are donned, shin pads are strapped on and mouth guards are put in. Some of the guys wear padded headgear, but not all.
The beat and rhythm of rap peppered with occasional hard rock create the auditory backdrop within the second-floor gym. Height, weight and reach are not given much consideration as the fighters randomly pair up to square off.
There are no referees, cut-men or corner-men. Fighting records are not kept, and there is no cash reward to show nor to win. It’s just the purity of competition – fighter versus fighter, for five-minute rounds.
“I think the only other athletes that are in as good of shape as MMA fighters are gymnasts.” ~ Mike Diggs
The recording of a ringside bell pierces the background music to signal the sparring to begin. A machine-gun drumming of quick hands and feet colliding with various body parts and forced-air whooshes of strong exhalations surround each pair of fighters.
The sparring is not at full speed or power, but there is no question about whether or not the punches and kicks are connecting.
Not all members of Unrivaled Athletics, which opened its doors in early February, spar like this – it’s an invitation-only class reserved for the more advanced MMA fighters. For these padded and gloved gladiators, it’s just another day of practice in their chosen sport, which just so happens to involve getting hit in the face, midsection and legs.
Their competitive spirits compel these men to look past the physical pain of the sport toward the pride and glory of defeating an opponent.
After all, sweat dries, blood clots, bruises heal and bones mend, while a moment of triumph can mentally last a lifetime.
And, besides, who wants to go through life without collecting a few well-earned scars? MMA fighters just have a few more than most people.
For those readers who may not be familiar with MMA, or even the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which is the leading organization and promoter of the sport, it is exactly what the name suggests – a hybrid mix of several martial arts disciplines combined into one complete fighting style.
According to the UFC, MMA athletes can be skilled in anything from karate, jiujitsu, boxing and kickboxing to grappling, wrestling, sumo and other combat sports.
Unrivaled Athletics teaches all skill levels and focuses on the disciplines of jiujitsu, boxing, Muay Thai and wrestling. Jeff Smith, co-owner and president of Unrivaled Athletics, details the fighting styles brought together at his MMA gym.
“We don’t teach traditional Brazilian jiujitsu, we teach it without the Gi. We also have a women’s class, which is primarily Muay Thai, which is basically like kickboxing. Then I teach four grappling classes a week, and I teach four striking classes a week. Then there’s the fighters’ practice, which is a combination of everything. When you sign up, you can get up to nine classes a week, which is a substantial amount for $90 a month, and you can come six days a week if you want. You can come here to learn to fight and get in shape. It’s much better and more fun than running on a treadmill.”
What are the rules of MMA fighting?
“You fight with four-ounce gloves,” explains Smith, 25. “And the only rules really are that you can’t eye-gouge, bite, hit to the back of the head, kick or knee to the head while an opponent is on the ground and groin strikes. It’s highly regulated though. A lot of people might think the sport is barbaric, but they have an athletic commission sanctioning it, athletic commissioners at every event and fighters have to get blood work done. So, they keep it safe.”