Mixed Martial Arts Gains Popularity in the Valley

By: Gloria Balding Email
By: Gloria Balding Email

HARRISONBURG -- Mixed martial arts, or MMA, is a combat sport which utilizes a combination of different martial art techniques. The most popular fight league is the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC.

The idea for the UFC stemmed from getting martial arts masters to fight with each other to determine who was the better martial artist.

"There is no other feeling standing 15 feet across from another man when you getting ready and you both know you are getting ready to fight each other in seconds. It's pretty intense," said Kyle Baker, an MMA fighter.

Baker started Harrisonburg MMA on South Main Street. He got the idea when he was looking for a place to train in the area.

It started with just a few men, but it's grown into something much bigger.

“We have pretty much a double in membership since the beginning of the year. When I took over the gym, we had four paying members and now we have more than 30,” said Arvin Terrell, the owner of Harrisonburg MMA Institute.

People walk through the door of the gym looking for everything from fight training, to a unique workout, to self defense training. For Scott Noble, a former JMU running back, MMA is another way to compete.

"Once I stopped playing football, I felt like I had the time and I wanted to still compete. So, I just came over to the gym and that's how I got into it. I wanted to see what it was about," said Noble.

MMA training is a workout, but a main concern for many people is safety. The sport is banned in New York, Connecticut and Vermont. The leaders of those states say it is simply too violent. Baker agrees the sport is based in violence.

"They are right. It is very violent. It's not like you are drinking and fighting in a bar. It is
a controlled environment with a referee. You are paid to be violent,” said Baker.

But is violent the same as unsafe?

In a landmark study, the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that the injury rates were some of the lowest, even lower than football.

That's not the only changing perception about the sport. A growing number of women are deciding to take up MMA.

"It's definitely growing. I think girls are definitely stepping out of that box. And realizing they can still be sporty and do something like fighting and still be girly," said Laurie Krause, an MMA fan.

Krause picked up MMA from her older sister. Like many women, she decided to try it for the workout, but now appreciates MMA for reasons other than the big fights.

"I mean MMA is everything. It isn't just UFC or Ultimate Fighter and what you see on TV"

Yet you will see more female fighters on TV. Just this past weekend, the first female UFC title fight took place between fighters Rhonda Rousey and Liz Carmouche. Rousey won by submission in the first round.

For Krause, more women in the gym means more sparring partners, but like any fighter don't under estimate her.

"I have enough girls here that I can bounce around from one to another, but when it's a little slow, then I'll train with one of the guys, but I'm not afraid to get tough."

MMA Institute of Harrisonburg has grown so much it's actually moving locations. The new location will be able to accommodate more classes.

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