Prime Gym Time: Gate City MMA

| October 2, 2014 | 0 Comments



The grassy knolls this time of year are awash in political signs, promising anything from deep tax cuts to sweeping change. Among the rows of neon plastic, one sign stuck out triumphantly from the mess, and it only made one promise:

Gate City MMA

Inside American Fitness Center

Unlike politicians, with fighters you know exactly what you’re getting, and I was more than a little excited to check into this gym just two miles from my front door.

The American Fitness Center is a modern gym situated in an old warehouse; ample interior space packed with free weights, machines and any amenities you’d expect from a first-class fitness center. It was the red and black cage at the far end of the building that grabbed my gaze as I entered, as well as the tools of a fitness-centric MMA program beckoning to me. The staples of MMA strength and conditioning were present; tires and anchor ropes alongside thai bags and any apparatus you could ever care to lay your power into. Nestled among students largely at rest after what I’m sure was a rigorous grappling session, the instructor was putting the finishing touches on a leg lock before hopping up to bid me welcome. He was covered head to toe in sweat with a beaming smile, but his movement spoke to his conditioning, having lost nothing in his fluid movements despite putting student after student through the wringer.

Gate City MMA is the home of the Bucket Brigade Fight Team, lead by New England MMA legend Nuri Shakir, a fighter firmly rooted in the early days of the sport. If fifteen years, forty fights, and having tangled with over a dozen UFC fighters has worn on his body, he didn’t let on as he shook my hand and pitted me against one of his students to warm up, going back to the grind himself. Soon enough I took on the master himself as I felt what decades of mastery had given Nuri on the mat. His positioning and balance were both effortless and flawless at once, his eyes watching what I was doing as a teacher, rather than a combatant; more than my match even at play. His transitions and set-ups had the surety of movement that gave me few chances to change my fortunes, and those fleeting moments of respite coming as he gave instruction on how to escape. We wrapped up as the class filtered into the expansive mat area, the “Bucket Brigade” emblem on the padded walls reminding me of the work ethic of the old school MMA fighter.

We think of todays chemical-laden, million dollar talents as the pinnacle of the sport in terms of endurance, but the fittest fighters in the world have always been those who made due with simple exercises performed ad nauseam. The catch wrestlers of yore could grapple for three hours, bare knuckle boxers fight a hundred and twenty rounds, and pre-commission MMA fighters took “No Rules, No Time Limits” to heart. The sport might be broken into neat three or five minute rounds now, but this was a different ethos of combat, and we were going to train like the round would never end.


Nuri took the class through a rapid fire calisthenics work out, firing off a hundred jumping jacks at a pace we couldn’t match, following with rock climbers, squats and a series of thai knees that had the class moved in a circle. Nuri wasn’t grinding for exhaustion, but would stop the exercise dead and demand of a student “What are we on?” Losing count means you’re not paying attention, and in combat, the mind needs to be aware even when fatigued. The drills continued with trading knees in clinch, keeping the class moving, with Nuri cycling in where needed to correct form or simply take over for a spent participant. I had long since taken a spot on the floor out of way to keep my lunch firmly rooted in my stomach, and watched Nuri at work as he directed the efforts of the class. With the warm-up out of the way, he went into the lesson of the day, focusing more on those knees and how to use them at various stages of the fight.

He displayed what he called the “Hanger”; a half sprawl with double underhooks that wrestlers know as a cow catcher or forklift. His technique worked off structure and tendons rather than muscles, fine-tuned after years and years; having stuffed a hundred thousand shots. He showed how to stop the shot and work different combinations off that position, throwing knees up the center and disengaging with a chopping front leg kick to the lead leg. Two students with a traditional thai leaning argued for a more dynamic round kick to the body on break, but the technique Nuri showed was one of combat sensibilities.

The great value of a coach that has lived and fought through many incarnations of this sport is that combat tends to be cyclical; offense and defense, striking and grappling, all switching dominance over time as new ideas are introduced. The funny thing is there’s no such thing as a new idea in hand-to-hand combat, the blueprints of which are burned into our DNA by virtue that we still draw breath today. It’s simply that techniques are remembered and reintroduced, yet for someone with Nuri’s experience, nothing can take him by surprise. While the students wanted dynamic finishes, Nuri wanted economic destruction, and rifled the short kick to the leg to illustrate the merit of the technique. It was a technique devoid or risks and surprises, eternally effective.

We drilled the hanger in a variety of scenarios, working off the wall and turning opponents, and closing out the class with some moderate clinch fighting, landing knees and short punches to each other’s tenderized mid-section. Nuri showed a careful eye throughout the night in choosing pairs to drill, pitting the fiery up-and-coming fighters against each other, while the recreational students went at their own pace.

Not everyone trains in the sport to become champions, but rather to get into shape and try new things. As someone whose combat days are behind them, I could appreciate training under tutelage that would ensure I could make it to work the next day without issue, while the more intense students could get the work-out they needed to hone their skills to a razor’s edge.

Heading back to my car, disgustingly sweaty and muscle-tired beyond anything I’d been in years, I couldn’t think of anything other than coming back to see what gems Nuri could share with us next time. It’s a rare instructor that can work you half to death and make you want more, and Gate City MMA provides a tremendously welcome addition to the New England gym landscape for any fitness level or grand motivation for strapping on the four ounce gloves.

* * * * *

Thank you to Nuri Shakir and the members of the Bucket Brigade for having me. For information on Gate City MMA, please visit and find them on facebook @MMAGateCity. Also thank you to Prime Athletics for providing me with the quality gear I needed to undertake the class. Prime Athletics is the premier MMA clothing company in New England, with their wares sold at many of the local events. Follow them on facebook and keep an eye out for their fall line coming out shortly.





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Category: 3Col, News, School Spotlight

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