2016 Women of Vestavia
Champions Freestyle MMA
by Sydney Cromwell
The women’s boxfit class at Champions has become a popular way to get fit and lose weight. Photo courtesy of Jon Dye.
The sound of gloves meeting punching bags fills Jon Dye’s gym, Champions Freestyle MMA. Only a few months ago, however, the gym was silent and filled only with gallons of water and mud.
On April 6 and 7, floods broke down the door and filled Champions with more than two feet of muck. Almost everything was ruined: equipment, floors, the boxing ring and most of the photos on the walls. Dye was looking at spending at least $50,000 to fix everything, without insurance to help.
“We got close to wondering if we should close up or keep going,” Dye said.
While neighboring businesses closed or relocated, Dye decided he wasn’t done fighting. He took on the expense of repairing the gym and replacing his training equipment, and Champions reopened on June 1. It’s been a struggle to regain lost business, especially since he can’t afford to buy advertising right now, but through word of mouth Champions is growing again.
Dye is a former professional MMA fighter and has been coaching for six years. His fighters regularly come home with belts from state and regional competitions, but the pride of Champions is Walt “The Big Ticket” Harris. Harris is the only Alabama fighter to make it to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and Dye was with him from his early training to his first televised match.
“You’ll hear 1,000 people say it [they want to go to the UFC], but nobody does it,” Dye said. “For me and Walt to set that goal and go through with it, there’s nothing like it.”
Not every member of Champions has dreams of the UFC, however. Dye and his coaches teach jiu-jitsu, boxing, conditioning and “boxfit” classes for men, women and children in addition to mixed martial arts training. Dye said he has been especially surprised by the positive response to his women’s classes.
“It’s amazing how many women want to learn self-defense,” Dye said.
Boxfit is Dye’s fastest-growing class, with more than 100 new women trying the class since August. It combines a cardio workout with kickboxing, which Dye said makes it more fun than a regular gym workout.
“You’re always learning something different,” said Jennifer Derieux, who has trained with Dye since September 2013.
Derieux started coming to Champions because her 11-year-old son, Munro, loved watching UFC fights and wanted to learn mixed martial arts. She decided to try a women’s class one day, and now she, Munro and 6-year-old MariaCatherine are at the gym nearly every day of the week. MariaCatherine quit her ballet classes so she could continue learning to box. Derieux has lost weight and seen her children grow more self-confident. Munro has gotten anger issues under control and even defended a classmate being beaten up on the playground.
“We were proud of him. His coach was really proud of him,” Derieux said. “It’s really helped my son, like 100 percent.”
The atmosphere at Champions is what made the Derieux family stick around, even while the gym was closed due to the flood. Derieux said the gym is “like one big, happy family” and she never feels like an outsider. The professional fighters will tackle her son when they see him or carry her daughter around on their shoulders. Even while training for the UFC, Harris would still find time to play Xbox with Munro.
“They’re fantastic to my kids,” Derieux said. “[Munro] gets so excited because they treat him like one of them.”
Munro has his own plans to become a UFC fighter, and Derieux said her family wouldn’t think of training anywhere else. They are among the many loyal members that are causing Dye to begin adding extra classes. He plans to start new boxfit and women’s jiu-jitsu classes, as well as off-season conditioning for high school football players.
It’s the kind of growth that seemed unimaginable six months ago, but Dye attributes it to boxing and MMA’s wide appeal. From six-year-olds to 78-year-olds, everyone at Champions wants to gain self-confidence and find an outlet for the worries in their lives.
“I think with every punch and kick you release a little stress,” Dye said.
Champions Freestyle MMA
1425 Montgomery Highway, Suite 47, Vestavia Hills, Alabama View Map
PHONE 410-2698 WEBSITEVisit Website HOURSClass hours: Monday and Wednesday, 3-8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 3-6:30 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Champions Freestyle MMA Mixed Martial Arts business
by Sydney Cromwell
November 25, 2014
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