The first thing I noticed when I sat down at AMC Pankration gym in Kirkland was the famous face mopping the wrestling mats.
UFC Flyweight Champion of the World, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson was busily cleaning the floors following an evening workout.
“That is Demetrious Johnson mopping the mat like every other world champion in here does. You have to be humble, regardless of where you came from or where you’re at now. That humility will keep you champion as well as make you a champion,” says Matt Hume.
Hume knows a thing or two about champions. He’s a mixed martial arts world champion himself and one of the most successful coaches in MMA history, training former UFC title holders like Rich Franklin and Josh Barnett.
Hume is also co-owner of AMC, the oldest Mixed Martial Arts gym in the United States, which draws fighters from across the globe.
Tim Boetsch, middleweight contender in the UFC, traveled all the way from his home in Pennsylvania to prep for his fight on December 29th in Las Vegas.
“You know it’s going to be very intense, and that’s part of why I come out here. I certainly feel it’s the best gym in the country. I travel 3,000 miles to train with Matt and these guys. They’ve got a formula that works, and I’m very happy that I can be part of that.
Demetrious Johnson is gearing up to defend his belt on January 26th. “Every day I’m doing doubles a day. Mornings is strength conditioning and then at night it could be anything from Muay Thai, sparring, grappling. It varies. Right now we’re in full force, just getting after it.”
The amazing thing about this gym is that regular folks like you and me can go sweat it out alongside world champion fighters. AMC offers Kickboxing, Jiu Jitsu, and boxing classes for all skill levels.
“We’re right next door to Google, so our clientele is a lot of people from the tech industry. We have a lot of Microsoft people here too. They always end up in fights,” Hume jokes.
“You have every different type of person who trains here. Whether they want to get in shape or they had a bad day at work,” explains Johnson.
Hume says the roots of American martial arts run deep in the Pacific Northwest.
“Almost every place that’s putting world champions out outside [of Kirkland] is from here. They’ve branched out and started their own gyms. And we’re still at the top of the game.”
The UFC has come a long way from near-bankruptcy in the late-1990s to selling out the Key Arena and getting prime time coverage on Fox for the Benson Henderson vs Nate Diaz fight on Saturday.
Boetsch believes his sport will continue to grow, and may one day become as popular as the NFL.
“It’s just taken off like wildfire. It’s a violent sport, but it’s a sport that deep down a lot of people really enjoy watching.”
“I think for people who are going to start watching the UFC for the first time this weekend. Just look at stepping in the Octagon in front of 15,0000 people in the Key Arena, to be able to perform [athletically and] mentally, think about how much mind power that takes,” says Johnson.
As strategic and skilled as the fighters at AMC are, Matt Hume knows there’s something primal and universal about watching pure combat that will keep audiences coming back.
“You feel the electricity in the arena when two guys come into the cage and stare across and are about to start fighting. If you’re new to it, there’s gonna be a lot of things going on that you don’t understand. You can spend the rest of your life picking things up and following it,” says Hume.
“To me it’s really like watching a great chess match. To other people it’s like seeing the greatest hit in football. Everybody enjoys it for a different reason.”