Mixed martial arts booming in Sugar Land

May 27, 2010 3:02:11 AM PDT
The popularity of mixed martial arts has exploded, and in the most unlikely places -- the suburbs of Houston. But we're not talking about cage fights with muscle men, we're talking about young kids learning to fight at the urging of their parents.

When you hear mixed martial arts you probably picture ultimate fighting -- a cage match with two muscular giants, trying to rip each other to shreds.

But there is a new face of mixed martial arts.

"Even though I might look a little weak, I have to say that with my muscles, I can fight back real tough, said Caleb Ferguson, 8, a student of mixed martial arts.

Ferguson is hardly a raging muscle man. Neither is 11-year-old Christian Avant.

"Christian leaves happier," said his mom, Jennifer Avant. "Instead of being all grumpy from school, and all the pressures, he leaves here and he smiles."

Both boys are MMA students, each learning techniques how to defend themselves using all possible options, from boxing to karate, Judo to jujitsu.

Jennifer Avant admits at first, the idea of sport about fighting worried her.

"I was scared, but they're really nice here, and they teach Christian to stand up for himself and you don't use it just to be mean," she said.

Part of the appeal of mixed martial arts is that it allows someone smaller to conquer someone much larger. Like instructor Chad Knight, for example, weighs a 160 pounds, but he could go down fast with a Judo hip throw.

"It looks kind of raw. It looks kind of renegade-ish, but we like to try to keep the tradition," said Joe Soliz, owner of Sugar Land Mixed Martial Arts.

Soliz has seen business at his Sugar Land facility take off in just a year. With 100 clients already, he says he plans to keep expanding based on demand.

When we asked clients what the draw is, they all had the same answer -- confidence.

But isn't this sport encouraging kids to fight?

Parents and their children say no, insisting it actually prevents violent conflicts.

"They know they have the confidence, that they can confront a bully situation, especially in junior high where he's at," parent Mike Archer said. "It makes him feel safer."

"It helps you defend yourself if you're in a type of situation when you're in trouble and you need to figure out a way out of it," Christian Avant said.

"If a boy or something comes up, you can defend yourself even if you're a girl or a boy," student Lily Ferguson, 10, said.

Knight says a move called tapping out, essentially surrendering when one person is defeated, teaches students that the goal is not to hurt someone.

"They're trained under a controlled environment," Knight said. "The person has the option to tap out...and you're squeezing, squeezing, squeezing, and all the sudden, I don't think I can take any more and I'm gonna tap out and you'd let go."

Some parents even swear the sport has transformed their kids' academic performance and behavior in school.

"Now he tends to be a little more under control and not as antsy and jumpy," said Cale Ferguson, parent of Lily and Caleb Ferguson. "It really has helped him."

Jennifer Avant liked what it did for her son so much, she decided to put on the gloves, too.

"Moms have a lot of stress raising kids today," she said.

The mom with a mean right hook says she is hooked.

"Punching is a great release, and you leave happier," she said. "I love to punch."

And now Jennifer Avant says she is one tough mama.

"This is the best decision that I've ever made for me and my son," she said.


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