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Mixed martial arts alive, kicking in West Michigan

Got to love this.  The sport of mixed martial arts is growing.  Let the fighters in West Michigan tell you what all the hype is about.

Great article by by Kyle Meinke | The Grand Rapids Press

COMSTOCK PARK — It was a moment of clarity almost a year ago that inspired brothers Sean and Mark Malone to start their own mixed martial arts training facility.

The mosquitoes, after all, were nearly unbearable that day.

“My brother and I were training last spring in the garage, and it was cold, wet, damp and bugs were everywhere, and we started thinking about where we could go to train,” Sean Malone said.

“Then, we thought to ourselves, ‘Where can we go? There’s nowhere around.'”

Mixed martial arts, a full-contact combat sport that combines fight techniques from martial arts, boxing and wrestling, is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States.

Grand Rapids Mixed Martial Arts is the largest facility of its kind in the area.
When: 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: 5220 West River Drive, Comstock Park
What: A seminar led by UFC star and former King of the Cage champion James Lee, who will be available for autographs. Pride fighter Mark Love also will attend.
Cost: $30 in advance or $35 at the door to participate in seminar. Free for spectators. Free refreshments will be provided after the event.
More: To reserve a spot, call (616) 647-9199

But West Michigan has been slow to join the trend.

For years, training facilities remained few in quantity and limited in quality. Fighters were fragmented, forced to train in twos and threes in area garages, basements and living rooms, or travel out of the area, Sean Malone said.

“We wanted to develop a community, to bring all these fighters training on their own together,” said the 43-year-old Malone, who also owns roofing and construction companies.

“What we wanted to do was bring the best in the mixed martial arts scene in Grand Rapids — the best equipment, the best facility — to start uniting that scene.”

So the Malones, with Sean’s wife, Becky, and head trainer Nate Carey, established Grand Rapids Mixed Martial Arts, 5240 West River Drive in Comstock Park.

GRMMA opened Feb. 1 and will host a grand opening celebration at 3 p.m. Saturday. Ultimate Fighting Championship star and former King of the Cage champion James Lee will headline the seminar, and Pride fighter Mark Hunt also will attend.

West Michigan’s only official King of the Cage training facility, GRMMA is the area’s largest mixed martial arts center and draws fighters from across West Michigan.

“In Kalamazoo, like a lot of places, it’s limited because there isn’t a big training facility there,” Chapman said. “(At GRMMA), it’s huge, and people are driving from hours away. The facility and instructors are a big draw.”

Despite growing popularity, mixed martial arts has been mired in legal battles through the years. Critics say it is violent entertainment without a place in the sporting world.

Though professional mixed martial arts remains barred in Michigan, amateur fighting is allowed.

West Michigan catches on
The growth of mixed martial arts in West Michigan is two-fold, said Paul Simpson, CEO of Ground And Pound Promotions, which organizes local fights.

New gyms in the area improve the sport’s accessibility and visibility, and better resources and instructors elevate the level of competition.

Simpson said fight participants and attendance has more than doubled in the past year.

“It wasn’t long ago when there were more backyard venues holding fights. It wasn’t organized,” Simpson said.

“Now, you have first-rate teachers like Nate Carey in the area, and fighters are training diligently, and are mentally and physically in shape. It is raising the bar and bringing integrity and discipline to the sport, and people respect that.”

While Forbes values UFC, the sport’s top league, at $1 billion, amateurism still dominates Michigan’s mixed martial arts scene.

Even the owners of GRMMA aren’t looking to turn a buck — not yet, at least.

The Malones and Carey have agreed to forfeit their paychecks for at least 12 months so all revenue can be re-invested into the facility.

“If we make just enough to pay the bills, pay back our investment and keep our doors open, I’ll be happy,” said Mark Malone, of Belding. “I don’t want to train in a garage again and have to fight the mosquitoes.”

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