On any given night, a group of six to 10 guys gather at Full Force Fitness on East Potter Avenue in Granville for their own version of Fight Club.
Some nights they practice striking, throwing fists, elbows, shins, feet and knees at their opponent. On other nights, they grapple, contorting their bodies into unimaginable positions as they try to force their opponent into submission.
The action is a blur of kinetic energy and fast-twitch muscles fibers; an unadulterated display of strength, agility and athleticism and one of the fastest growing sports in the country. Welcome to the world of mixed martial arts.
Mixed martial arts is a full contact combat sport that allows the use of both striking and grappling. The sport combines a variety of marital arts techniques, including boxing, Muay Thai, Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and submission grappling.
Although the sport has been unfairly characterized as a barbaric blood sport—professional fights are banned in New York State—the truth is the sport is stringently regulated and fighters compete against opponents of similar size in the same way boxers and wrestlers do.
At its most basic level, mixed martial arts can be traced back to the ancient Olympics, but it’s only in the last 20 years that the sport has begun to gain mainstream exposure rivaling that of boxing and professional wrestling. It’s also begun to gain a foothold in the local region.
“From the time of my first fight to now, it’s night and day,” said Jason Ingleston, a Whitehall native who has been training in mixed marital arts for the past decade. “There was always a core niche of guys that would come to fights, now it’s everyone.”
Ingleston is a trainer and instructor at Full Force Fitness, a gym and martial arts training facility started last year by he and Jon Spoor, an aspiring MMA competitor.
“What we’re trying to do is build a core group of guys,” said Spoor. “Right here, in this area is the place to be.”
Spoor, 23, started training in mixed martial arts five years ago, shortly after graduating from Whitehall High School where he was a member of the Railroaders’ wrestling team.
“I grew up watching professional wrestling. I’ve always like the combat aspect and I can remember my siblings and I doing the moves in my parent’s bedroom,” Spoor said.
After his father passed away from cancer in 2005, wrestling became an outlet for Spoor, an escape from the grief of losing a parent.
As his scholastic wrestling career came to an end, Spoor began gravitating toward the world of mixed martial arts. Only a few days after wearing the Railroaders’ maroon singlet for the last time, he found himself helping Ingleston prepare for his first fight. The two have been training together ever since.
“I started in Jason’s grandfather’s basement,” Spoor said.
Ingleston, who has worked at gyms in Castleton, Vt., Whitehall and the Capital Region, said several guys would come over and they would work on basic jiu-jitsu techniques.
“It just started from there,” he said. “I love fighting. I’ve judged over a 100 fights and cornered others. I just love the whole atmosphere.”
After traveling to St. Louis, MO., and training with legendary UFC welterweight champion and Hall of Famer, Matt Hughes, and trainer Matt Fiore, among others, Spoor became certified as a personal trainer and in 2012 opened Full Force Fitness.
He and Ingleston have both fought in a handful of fights in the last five years and Spoor is currently training for a fight later this summer.
Training for mixed martial arts can be grueling because it involves so many disciplines and requires a great deal of conditioning. But the rewards can be great, said Spoor.
“It’s changed my life in terms of discipline and it got me into fitness. If it wasn’t for this, I’d be a 300-pound couch potato,” he said.
Ingleston and Spoor offer mixed martial arts classes to both novice and advanced fighters, but actual fights aren’t for the faint-hearted.
“If you want to be a fighter, be prepared to suffer,” Ingleston said. “When it’s just you and another guy in the cage, there’s no ifs ands or buts.”