When 13-year-old Michael Heckman was looking for a mixed martial arts school, he conducted an exhaustive search. And when he was done, Bellmore Kickboxing Academy was at the top of his list.
“It was the cheapest place I found, but it was also the best,” said Heckman, who had previously trained in Judo and was seeking to expand his skills.
Bellmore Kickboxing is home to two title-holders in the Ring of Combat Mixed Martial Arts league: Welterweight champ Ryan LaFlair and Heavyweight champ Gain Villinte.
Bellmore Kickboxing was started 14 years ago by Chris Cardona, and has been in its current location on Merrick Road for the past 10 years.
A little over a year ago, the business expanded, knocking down walls and fully remodeling the facility, which now include a full boxing ring, workout gym and fenced-in fighting cage.
“It’s state-of-the-art for MMA right now,” said owner Spiro Vlantis. “If you look at all the big MMA gyms in Las Vegas, it’s pretty much the same thing.”
Vlantis explained that his gym is a full-fledged mixed martial arts school, which covers not just one limited style, but all aspects of fighting.
“We have guys that specialize in teaching stand-up fighting like boxing, kickboxing and muay thai, and ground-based stuff like Jiu Jitsu and wrestling,” said Vlantis. “I handle all the strength and conditioning training. It’s a big process.”
Of course, Bellmore Kickboxing isn’t all about grown-ups beating each other up- the kids can get in on the action as well. The gym has classes catering to many age ranges, including children ages 7-14, as well as a teen class.
Matt Berman, another owner and trainer, enjoys teaching kids, even though they can be a handful at times.
“I do more private lessons now, but I love doing the kid’s classes,” he said. “I still teach at least one kid’s class a week.”
Berman said he feels that taking these classes is an important part of a child developing into a healthy, well-adjusted adult.
“These kids get huge amounts of confidence doing this,” he said. “But I also really believe in discipline, because these kids can hurt people their own age with the skills they’re learning if they’re not careful. This will help kids in all aspects of life- sports, dealing with everyday stuff, and overcoming adversity.”
Michael Heckman said he enjoys the individual attention instructors pay to their students.
“They really pay attention to what you’re doing, and they fix what you’re doing wrong,” he said. “The teachers here are really nice and helpful.”
Vlantis said it’s the hard work they put in that sets his gym apart from the rest.
“We’re very tight here, and I think that’s what separates us: we’re like a family.”
By Chris Boyle