By Levi LaLonde
In 1993, at an arena in Denver Colorado, the very first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was held, which showcased the world’s top martial artists of widely varying styles, pitted against one another inside an octagonal cage. Throughout the first few years of events, the competitors began training in multiple styles simultaneously, to attempt to become the most well-rounded, complete fighters possible. Being just a kickboxer or just a grappler wasn't enough to compete in the cage against a world-class fighter of different discipline. Strikers were getting taken down by grapplers, and they were helpless on the ground. In turn, grapplers were being knocked out by strikers, if they couldn't pull them down into their world of expertise. Over time, what was once a proving ground for traditional martial arts and more of a spectacle, became an extremely technical, modern combat sport dubbed Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA.
Growing up in Alaska, I had followed the sport, watching the events on VHS tapes throughout the years, witnessing legends like Gracie, Shamrock, Couture, and Liddell shape the sport into its modern era. When I was 24, I had been working for Alaska Airlines, and during a training event in Anchorage, I took some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes there with a friend from high school. Eight days into the trip and subsequent training, I was asked by the Alaska Fighting Championships, a local MMA promotion, to fight in their event that weekend! So I called my dad, fully expecting him to tell me to stay away from that nonsense. But instead he told me he wanted to see if I was tough, to go along with all my athleticism.
On fight night, I wasn't necessarily afraid but more curious, anxious, and certainly nervous. But definitely excited to compete. I had wrestled, played football, basketball, baseball, rugby, and ran track, among other sports, and also very recently began amateur boxing and kickboxing. But this seemed very different from all of the above. As the announcers and ring girls left the cage and the door bolted shut, I realized there was nothing quite like what I was about to experience. A minute and thirty two seconds later, it was over, he was face down in the canvas, and I was ready for a new lifestyle. The kinetic energy pulsing through all eight sides of the cage from the rugged, screaming Alaskan fans was so intense it filled me with emotion. This was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Like Tyler Durden said, "After fighting, everything else in your life gets the volume turned down."
I had been competitive in every sport I could find throughout my young life, playing everything my high school and college had to offer. But this was different. Traditional sports felt so one-dimensional and incomplete compared to MMA. The technical martial arts knowledge of training in multiple disciplines such as Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Western Boxing, and Wrestling, are just a few components of what it takes to be proficient at MMA. The strength and conditioning training was so intense and innovative, it directly spawned such fitness crazes as P90X, Insanity, and Crossfit.
The spiritual and emotional growth and mental durability I attain from training makes me a better overall person, and transfers directly to how I live my life. The constant athletic innovation is unsurpassed by anything I've ever experienced in the sporting world. The practical application for self-defense in the street and in your home is on the cutting edge, and is trained in law enforcement, military, and self defense seminars worldwide. MMA is ever evolving, growing, adapting and will continue to do so as long as the human ingenuity and athleticism continues to grow as well. When ESPN began covering MMA — and mainly the UFC — as a legitimate sport, they called MMA the "hardest sport to mentally and physically train and prepare for on the planet." Needless to say, they weren't exaggerating in the least.
Educating the public is really the way this sport had grown into a household name so fast. People think we're barbaric or violent, but MMA is more about the competition of one athlete versus another, and the concepts, values, and spirituality that surrounds its training. My friends have always thought I was rolling around on the ground, hugging guys and doing old school Karate, or just beating the hell out of my training partners in a street brawl. Every single one of them that I've brought to the mat has fallen in love with the internal battle for control over your motor skills, the great self-motivation and willpower needed, and the amount of technical knowledge necessary to train proficiently.
Anyone can train MMA. You don't have to want become a UFC competitor to train like one. MMA training facilities like UFC Gyms train everyday, ordinary people, looking for an extraordinary way to exercise. (Read more about UFC Gym NYC Soho here.) And that's what makes those people different. Training different. They're special because they do something special. Stepping out of your comfort zone, trying something new is the key to living a healthy lifestyle of exercise and learning. I value my life at having the ability to inspire, educate, and motivate others to learn, love, and live an MMA lifestyle. Hope to see you on the mats, and always remember to keep it playful!
Levi LaLonde was raised in a subsistence lifestyle in rural Alaska, and traveled the country on a quest to learn, train, and compete in Mixed Martial Arts. Since then, he has spread his experience in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Canada as well. Now living in New York City, Levi brings an eclectic viewpoint and skillset to the UFC Gyms. Being a second generation strength & conditioning coach, and holding more than a handful of Black belts and brown belts, Levi is a true veteran Mixed Martial Artist and fight sport athlete of nearly ten years. Having professional fight experience in MMA, Boxing, Muay Thai, and Grappling, Levi has trained with and been taught by the worlds best coaches and fighters. That experience has translated into a well-rounded, inspirational, and informative coach and instructor.
Levi is now the head Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach at UFC Gyms Manhattan. He also instructs many other MMA, kickboxing, and strength & conditioning classes, and is a wealth of practical and functional knowledge at UFC Gyms. Be sure to stop him and say hi when you see him around!