Fans filled the gym and lined up out the door of Folsom Mixed Martial Arts on Saturday, eagerly awaiting a chance to see and even meet UFC legend Chuck Liddell.
While they waited, though, they got a glimpse of something a little closer to home, a new mixed martial arts gym in Folsom, one set on popularizing the sport even more in town.
“Folsom is a great family-based community,” said Ron Lobley, owner of Folsom MMA. “It’s a very active area with the lakes and trails. Mixed martial arts are the best possible fitness. You’re working out and at the same time learning martial arts, boxing, kickboxing, judo or general self-defense. It’s just a completely different experience than you get in a traditional weights gym.”
Men, women and children stopped by Folsom MMA at 316 Natoma Street in masses on Saturday, watching exhibitions put on by local fighters inside the cage in the arts of judo, kickboxing, boxing and jujitsu. Barbecue was served outside and music by DJ Rigatone emanated throughout the gym.
“The crowd is more than I expected,” Lobley said. “There is a tremendous amount of people here with their kids and their grandparents. It’s a whole range of diverse people from all walks of life coming in and we all have a common interest together. That’s what’s exciting to me. It’s not just a bunch of young, tough guys coming out here all buffed up from the gym; it’s young kids and everyone else. We want the whole community to feel welcome to come here and the whole family can have an experience here.”
When Liddell arrived a little over an hour into the event, escorted by Sacramento Kings and Monarchs owner Gavin Maloof, who came with Liddell to Folsom MMA after Liddell’s appearance at Saturday’s Monarchs’ game, the eager Folsom crowd erupted in applause.
Liddell stayed two hours signing autographs and taking pictures with local fans, supporting the local non-profit organization now establishing a branch in town through Folsom MMA.
“The main inspiration behind all of this is Team Sacramento Judo, which has been around since 1979,” Lobley said. “We have opened our gym up now to create a new chapter, Team Folsom. Chuck Liddell took the time out to come and volunteer for the fundraiser that we’re doing today. That’s going to help contribute to Team Folsom/Team Sacramento to help underprivileged youth and people that are having hard times right now.”
Liddell made the appearance free of a typically expensive appearance fee, and was awarded a commemorative plaque for the gesture, along with an acknowledgement letter from all the black belt senseis in the local club thanking him for coming.
“We want to use this day and this event to draw crowds in here and at the same time have Chuck Liddell available to them in a small setting which they may not experience again,” Lobley said. “He’s an icon, and we want to thank him for coming out and contributing to our event.”
The fundraiser will ultimately benefit Team Folsom, the ultimate goal of the gym to build a team of local fighters in all martial arts to compete nationally, in all ages available. The attempt worked, as several curious residents made their way to the front desk to ask about memberships and training schedules.
“We want to develop a community-based team,” said Lobley, a competitor in various martial arts the last 22 years and now a trainer. “We can take them from five years old to their 30s, to regional and local tournaments. We let them experience competition and teamwork, working with others with the same goals. Once you go through competitions you realize it really wasn’t as tough as you thought and it helps your confidence.”
Lobley’s experience in other gyms while watching the sport of MMA grow inspired his opening of the new gym, which he hopes takes off quickly with the already overwhelming support Folsom has shown.
“Other gyms have opened and we’ve all been able to go around and share our specific talents with others in the community,” he said. “There’s enough draw now from the public that we’re able to have a facility like this instead of working our in someone’s garage like it’s been done for years. This is a new type of hybrid MMA gym on the market and the success of this will help us move forward the progress of the sport and other gyms like it.”
By Patrick Ibarra