Friday, 2 July 2010

Gym of the Month - Sukata MMA

One of the most awesome things about commentating shows is seeing fighters from hundreds of different gyms. It's so inspiring to see the rate that the sport is developing in this country and the facilities that are available to more and more people.
After commentating Cage Control 1 recently there was one name that was in my mind for days. This was partially because of how everyone was chanting it after each fighter emerged from the back, but mostly because I was impressed by just how committed all of these fighters were.
As the chants of "SU-KA-TA, SU-KA-TA", rang out that night I knew straight away this had Gym of the Month written all over it. I had a chance to chat with Gary Savage, the head coach of Sukata MMA Blackpool, about the gym and his aspirations for the future.

What was your first involvement with mixed martial arts?

That would have to be very early on in my life. My dad was an ex unarmed combat instructor in the British Army. He taught me from an early age that you had to be adept in striking and grappling and in the importance of mixing the arts to suit the situation, he used to say that ‘karate is no good if you are in a phone box and can’t kick or punch’ sounds strange now as karate was the first formal martial art I got graded in, and as all I cared about was becoming the next Bruce Lee and loved to kick, my answer was to avoid phone boxes. I was lucky in that I had my dad to keep me grounded (literally), he encouraged my karate and was proud of my early achievements but he always challenged my thinking. Our regular ‘play fights’ always seemed to end the same way, me, on the deck, the old fella having taken me to the floor and the imprint of his carpet slipper across my throat, happy days.

I later studied Japanese Jujitsu and it was around the time I was a purple belt that I saw the first UFC where Royce Gracie turned the martial arts world on its head, I had at this time been training in martial arts for twenty plus years, but that image of this slight Brazilian beating all of his larger and more ferocious looking opponents with relative ease really caught my imagination. I was lucky in that my sensei at the time Trevor Cunningham had a passion for the Ne waza (ground fighting) aspect of our art and we rolled loads in class, even before we knew any formal BJJ.

I continued in my training and competed in kumite jujitsu events, these were probably the forerunner to MMA comps in this country, you could punch, kick, grapple, go for Subs and throw and they could be blood baths, the only difference was they were on Mats and there were point systems in place, but I excelled in competition and ended up winning The North of England Open Championships. I still wanted to learn real BJJ though and had grown tired of the ‘unrealistic’ aspects of the Japanese jujitsu; all I wanted to do was fight. I started my own gym and focused on learning BJJ. In those days a real Brazilian jiu-jitsu Black belt was as rare as rocking horse shit in the UK, so I read any books and any courses that were going I attended.

Carley Gracie, Renzo Gracie and later Royce all visited the UK and I was there eager to learn at the feet of the masters. I went back to my gym and trained three to four times a day and then entered my first BJJ comp in London, I feel both blessed and cursed in that my first opponent was the legendary Rick Young. Rick nearly took my arm home in a bag as a trophy that day but it didn’t matter, the seed was there, I loved it. The next year I won my first Brazilian Jiu-jitsu European gold medal. I continued to fight in any MMA type comps and submission wrestling and did well in those also.

After a few years of trying to go it alone and feeling a distinct lack of progress I started training under my instructor, the world renowned Mario Sukata and have never looked back.
These days I concentrate on competing in BJJ and have most recently won the European championships held in Switzerland in 2009, sorry if the answer was brief Ben, what was the question?

Briefly explain the history of the gym.

The Gym opened in November 2008 as Sukata MMA, prior to this I had run an MMA gym with my long time friend and training partner Paul Rice, we wanted things to move in slightly different directions and I decided to go it alone and Sukata MMA was born. I then set about bringing in other coaches to make the gym complete and to cover all areas.

What is your vision for the gym?

My vision has always been to develop the talents of the team by offering the best coaching available, I didn’t want any of the lads having to go through my own experience of trying to teach myself, I knew that you could only go so far that way, now we have an array of top quality coaches available but it doesn’t get any better than Mario Sukata, the man is a legend, but I am happy with all of the Sukata Coaches, everyone contributes so much.

I wanted, in simple terms, a place where people can learn MMA, BJJ, or Thai or Western Boxing without the need for unhealthy egos, where you can make some of the best friends and train for your own reasons, we have more occupations than the Freemasons at my gym, people from diverse backgrounds, but the one thing we really are proud of is that all are treated equally regardless, and rightly so.

Who are the coaches and what are their backgrounds?

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu coach Mario Sukata is the figure head. Mario is well known in the UK as the head coach of the world famous Wolfslair MMA Academy in Widnes, He is a Black belt under the legendary Carlson Gracie, and is a Brazilian, international and European Jiu-jitsu champion. Mario became famous after the opponent of Dan the Beast Severn pulled out of a bare knuckle Vale Tudo match in Brazil. Not wanting to look silly the organisers asked if anyone was willing to take the fight, there and then.

Mario was very young; I think 17 at the time and stepped up. The fight lasted for over an hour and no one could win, but because Mario showed such heart against a heavier and at the time vastly more experienced fighter the crowd really got behind him. In the end Severn won by judges’ decision, but Mario became famous in his country as a result. Mario has also fought in The UFC and was grappling coach on the Ultimate Fighter UK v USA. Mario tries to get to the Gym as many Saturdays as his schedule allows teaching BJJ and submission wrestling. I am a Brown Belt in BJJ and teach BJJ Gi and no gi and MMA through the week, you have already had my life story ha.

Tom Hanlon holds a purple belt in BJJ and is my right hand man, he teaches at Sukata Preston as well as assisting me at the main academy. Tom started in karate but took to BJJ like a duck to water and has done brilliantly on the BJJ and Sub grappling circuit, he just won his first semi pro MMA fight at Cage Control 1 by way of arm bar, brilliant prospect and a top bloke. In addition to Tom, for BJJ and grappling there is Neil Pimlott and Mark Porter, both have recently been awarded their Purple belts from Mario. Both fantastic ground fighters and teachers and both very loyal to the Sukata name.

We also have the Polish sensation, Daniel Kwapitz. Dan is an excellent blue belt and assists me with some classes and seminars. Leeroy Barnes started off as a student at Sukata and then got a professional contract with the Wolfslair, Leeroy heads up the MMA fight training and is also a great asset to the team, he teaches once a week at the academy.

Now to the striking coaches, We have always been seen as more of a BJJ gym that had MMA, I wanted to change that so I brought in two fantastic coaches, the first to arrive was Andy Brownbridge, Andy is a very forward thinking coach who knows Muay Thai and kickboxing inside out, he has transformed our Thai boxing as anyone who saw the brutal Muay Thai kicks dished out by Big Dazza Williamson at Cage Control will testify, especially his opponent. Andy and I were the Team UK ISKA MMA coaches and trained the winning team in Rome; we have known each other for years and work well together.

The newest addition to the coaching staff has been a revelation; I had heard the name Alan Levene from several of my friends in the boxing community but had never met him. Alan is the most gifted boxing coach I have seen, he is able to break down specific elements of his art into the minutest detail and convey it with passion and enthusiasm that is contagious to all, always the sign of a great coach. The Boxing at Sukata will have to be watched in the future as Alan brings his skills to the team. All in all we seem to have all areas covered Ben.

What range of classes does the gym offer?

We teach BJJ, MMA, Wrestling for MMA, Thai Boxing, and Boxing. The only area I feel is missing is some English martial influence, maybe if there is a Morris dancing coach out there you could drop us a line, or maybe a bell is more in keeping.

As more and more MMA gyms open up over the coming months what do you feel is unique about the gym?

We are all very handsome people. We have the nicest cauliflower ears. Seriously, some of the other gyms coaches try to do everything themselves, I am the first to say I am not the Academy’s best boxer so why would I teach my students to box, stick to what you do and give your team and members the best options available. Some coaches are motivated by money, and some are motivated by ego, both of these motivations are pretty unhealthy in my view.

What is the most gruelling training session that the gym currently runs?

That’s a good question; I think that is down to the individual to answer, some find the grappling classes hard. I, being a grappler, find the stand up classes hardest on my old body, especially Mr Levene’s ton up at the end of the boxing session.

How would you sum the gym up in a sentence?

Blackpool’s MMA Rock: A great place to get acquainted.

What are the plans for the gym for the future?

Jamie Edmonds the MMA coach at Sukata/first dojo Lytham is opening a brand new state of the art facility at the start of September that promises to be a fantastic place to train, and in addition I am upgrading my own gym with a half cage in the near future. With all this going on we are planning to take the MMA and BJJ world by storm, we have some great up and coming fighters to watch out for who have stepped up recently, so watch this space.

Is there anyone that you'd like to thank or give a shout out to?

First off a shout to all of our Sukata Brothers and Sisters, Sukata Preston, Lytham, Kojaks BJJ in Warrington, Sukata BJJ Shropshire/team Spartans, all of the guys and gals of Sukata Blackpool, Mario and Freddy Sukata, all the coaches at team Sukata. I’d like to thank Daz Dickinson for sponsorship and you, Ben, for listening. I’d also like to give a shout to the Oxygym and last but not least my partner Mary for putting up with my obsession.


rick Tingey said...

I have trained at sukata mma for over a year now once sometimes twice a week if poss ive tried the boxing mma and train to keep fit i can only say what a sound place full of sound guys run by real people. im a 45 year old financial advisor who spends 50 hours a week at a desk it makes me happy

Graham Wilson said...

A great gym, run by genuine people who are professionals in their field. I also attend the live fights and can safely say that Sukata MMA Is the gym of choice! SU SU SUKATA!

Anonymous said...

Its official guys Sukata MMA based at Oxy Gym Blackpool are about to expand there business and move locations to a 2000 square feet self contained warehouse of there own, white brick extensive matted areas Tai and boxing ring training cage cardio area changing rooms reception drinks and merchandise showers and ample car parking.
Boxing Tai Boxing MMA BJJ as well as specific clases aimed at cardio keep fit and women only boxercise and MMA.

Good luck to Gary & Darren your commitment is why your membership is loyal and will increase as you get bigger.

Anonymous said...

And were in a recession are we, it shows that this sport is growing by the day and these boys have got it right on the money, if they have taken the facility Im thinking of this used to be a well known Gym, very smart move very few MMA partnerships have the obvious support and backing that these fellas must have it costs over £30,000 to do a number like that maybe they should rebrand Sukata Bannatyne own there own Gym good luck men.