Matt Sredzinski cranks up the volume of the music pulsing through his Gladiator Mixed Martial Arts gym, setting off a flurry of activity.
Brighton’s Leroy Bronson, 23, begins to pound a large tire with a sledgehammer in one corner.
In the middle of the room, Nick “The Wolfman” Kessler and Jake “The K.O. Kid” Lamb wrestle on mats, trading fake punches and counter-moves.
Three young men ride training cycles. Others punch heavy bags hanging from the ceiling.
Sredzinski, 28, a 1999 Howell High School graduate who now lives in Brighton, steps into the cage at the back of the gym to spar with friend Tim Farr.
Later, Joe “Stone Cold” Bloom, a Greco-Roman wrestling national champion from Webberville, rolls a massive tire around the room to prepare for his upcoming championship fight.
The gym, opened 15 months ago by Sredzinski, a professional MMA fighter known as “The Shredder,” has become a hot spot for MMA enthusiasts. Farr, 24, a Howell grad, says it’s a dream to have a training place to call home.
“You come in the morning and lose yourself all day,” he says. “It keeps you out of trouble.”
Sredzinski stresses his gym is family-friendly, where fathers and sons like business partner Chris Trainer and his twins come in to work out together. He offers classes in self-defense, kick-boxing and a number of martial arts. He invites groups like Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America and the Boy Scouts of America in for free classes and clinics.
Gladiator Mixed Martial Arts
• Where: 3753 Old US-23, Brighton Township.
• Phone: 866-948-6672.
• Web site: gladiator-mma.com.
He works overtime trying to dismiss the perception that all MMA fighters are troublemakers looking for a reason to fight. The days of the stereotypical drunken brawls during toughman contests are long gone.
“The condition they have to be in to fight, you can’t drink, smoke, do drugs,” Sredzinski says. “This is a positive thing that gives them something to strive for. We are really trying to change the whole perception.”
Sredzinski has launched an amateur fight league where the best fighters from local gyms square off in matches.
The first amateur MMA event he organized Feb. 13 attracted a capacity crowd at the 59 West Bar & Banquet Hall in nearby Highland Township. Bloom, Kessler and Lamb are scheduled to be among the competitors in 15 bouts at the Gladiatorial Games Cage Fighting Championship II, set for 8 p.m. Saturday, May 2 at the same venue.
• What: Gladiatorial Games Cage Fighting Championship II.
• When: 8 p.m. May 2. (6:30 p.m. entry).
• Where: 59 West Bar & Banquet Hall, 786 W. Highland Road, Highland Township.
• Cost: $20-$35.
• Tickets: neptix.com.
• Details: Ages 18-and-up can watch 15 fights.
• Contact: 866-948-6672.
Matches consist of three 5-minute rounds. If one fighter doesn’t get knocked out or “tap out,” a decision is rendered by judges, just like in boxing.
Sredzinski says MMA fighting “is not a mean thing.” Cage fighters battle opponents of similar size. Unified rules forbid head butting, eye gouging, downward elbow strikes, groin attacks and other cruel techniques.
“This is a sport just like any other,” Sredzinski says. “If everybody does their job, the fights get stopped before injuries happen.”
Critics like former presidential candidate John McCain who have called MMA bouts “human cock fighting” have quieted down as the sport has gained in popularity. Al Low, a Pinckney resident who is the chairman of the state’s unarmed combat commission, which oversees boxing and mixed martial arts in Michigan, said he hasn’t seen any protests at amateur events or gyms he’s attended.
Low is in the final stages of drafting unified rules for pro bouts in Michigan. He said an agreement could be signed by May to host an Ultimate Fighting Championship event at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Pontiac or Joe Lewis Arena in Detroit as soon as next year, the state’s first MMA pro event since 1996.
Low called Sredzinski’s first MMA event “one of the most well-organized I’ve seen.” He indicated a good amateur program is critical if the state is to continue to host professional organizations like the UFC.
“I feel strongly about that,” he said. “You don’t just turn pro. This provides an avenue for guys who want to go pro to get experience. We watch careful the safety of these (amateur) shows. Some have done a great job like Matt. Others the opposite.”
Farr calls fellow MMA fighters a “brotherhood.”
“My biggest misconception is how could you hit someone without hating someone? It’s really about mutual respect,” Farr says. “You shake hands after you fight. It really makes you closer. I’ve played countless other sports in high school and I’ve never seen sportsmanship like this.”
Kessler, 20, who grew up playing football and track at Pinckney Community High School, takes classes at Washtenaw Community College and works full-time. The cage provides a stress reliever from all that responsibility.
“Once you go in the cage, nothing bothers you,” he says. “It makes a lot of the other things trivial.”
Lamb admits he was a troublemaker at Fowlerville High School with “energy to burn.” Now he takes his aggression out on his training partners.
“We have a lot of respect for each other,” Lamb says of Kessler. “The rule is you hit as hard as you want to be hit. When we spar, you can tell when this is a day to pick it up (intensity-wise). It’s fun.”
Article written by Jason Deegan