BRADENTON — The speed bags are scattered around the matted floor, but that’s not what catches your eye as you walk toward the back of the gym.
It’s the cage, a neatly designed aide for the warriors who train at Champions MMA in Bradenton.
MMA is shorthand for Mixed Martial Arts, a sport that has taken American by storm and has quickly risen up to replace boxing as the premier sport for fighters.
“Once it made TV, on cable TV where people could see it for free, then it was done,” Andy Glenn said. “Because I think people are always going to think that the more things you can do inside an arena, it’s going to be funner. When you watch boxing, the better they get, the more boring it gets. People were dying for a guy like Mike Tyson. And how many times did you see Mike Tyson knock someone out in 30 seconds, and you say, ‘Oh man, I paid 50 bucks for that?’ And with MMA, there are so many more tools being used that it’s more like a thinking kind of a sport.”
Glenn and Marley Gail have taken the gym from Glenn’s house to a prime location off 1st Street West in Bradenton.
The hours are from 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday.
There’s a youth class (ages 5-13) and a beginner adult class, before the heavy-hitting advanced fighters take over around 7 p.m.
It’s a wide-variety of guys from different backgrounds, and several are appearing on the Art of Fighting card in Fort Myers on May 22.
There’s Eric Reynolds, who is the most seasoned of the group making the trek south.
Reynolds is 12-4 and comes from a wrestling background during his days at Bayshore.
“It’s the purest sport there is, so far,” said Reynolds, in his fourth year as a pro. “It’s hand-to-hand combat, and it’s what the Olympics were founded on in my book.
Matt Kersse (1-0) is another wrestler-turned-MMA fighter.
The 20-year-old said he moved to Florida, became lazy and then decided to get back into shape.
Now he’s training at Champions MMA in Bradenton, just like Sergio Rodriguez.
It was just two years ago when Rodriguez was a part of the Cuban National wrestling team, competing at the Beijing Olympics.
Now, he’s switched to MMA — a far cry from the grappling wrestling nature he’s trained his entire life for.
“In wrestling, you don’t get punched,” Rodriguez said via his translator, Kelsy Blanco. “In MMA, you do — you get punched a lot.”
Meanwhile, Raul Amaya, who wrestled for Southeast during the same time as Reynolds, has been dubbed “Magical.”
“The promoter from Art of Fighting had called me that, because I knocked a guy out in like 30 or 40 seconds,” said Amaya, who is 4-0.
Gino Tutera (2-1) has the feeling of reaching the pinnacle in sports.
The light heavyweight is a former national champion football player from Georgia Southern — a traditional powerhouse in the former Division I-AA.
“I’ve always been competitive in sports my whole life,” Tutera said. “I’ve been a fan ever since Ultimate Fighting came out in 1993, and it’s just always been something I’ve aspired to do. Once my college career was over, I decided to get started in mixed martial arts.”
Glenn said classes will be offered Saturdays once school finishes up, and the cost is $75 per month, which also includes weight training in the back of the building.
For more information, contact Marley Gail at 758-2857.