Ever since its arrival to Fairfax County in 2006, LA Boxing has always sought to alter the way people work out in the gym by favoring innovative boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) classes over the usual glut of endless weights and treadmills. Tate Marshall, the owner of seven LA Boxing gyms in Northern Virginia, prides himself on keeping members coming back by keeping things interesting.
Things got really interesting for those LA Boxing facilities earlier this month, when Marshall found himself at the mercy of a different makeover. UFC Gym, a brand extension of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, announced in January an expansion plan that included the purchase of all 81 LA Boxing locations around the country. The four facilities in Fairfax County — located in Chantilly, Herndon/Reston, Tysons Corner and Fair Lakes — are currently about one month into their transition phases. Marshall, who opened up the area’s first LA Boxing gym with his wife in Chantilly seven years ago, was initially saddened by the announcement. In the weeks and months leading up to the transition, however, he’s come to view the change as a positive development that could take his business to the next level.
“At first for me it was emotional,” Marshall said. “But what we can get — the exposure from UFC plus the resources that they have -- I think it’s going to help us stay vibrant for years to come. So I’ve bought into it. LA Boxing was a big part of our lives; now this is the next evolution of it.”
Previously operating out of five full-service facilities averaging 35,000 square feet in California and Hawaii, UFC Gym has begun transforming the boutique LA Boxing facilities, which average 5,000 square feet, to the UFC Gym format. The UFC Gym enterprise, a concept unveiled in 2009, is expected to reach as many as 400 gyms across the U.S. within five years.
LA Boxing members walking into their gyms won’t notice significant differences with the staff or layout — only the logos have changed, while signage alterations, permit finalization and a grand opening ceremony are still to come. According to Marshall, all changes to his gyms will be complete within the next few weeks.
LA Boxing will continue to host its signature boxing, kickboxing and MMA classes, and they’ll be adding four new classes next year. While the UFC tag has been drawing increased attention from people interested in MMA, Marshall’s gyms will continue carrying the kind of edge that appeals across all audiences.
“You get to be in a hardcore atmosphere which really isn’t hardcore,” Marshall said. “So you get that whole feel of it without having to worry about some meathead coming in and trying to beat some people up in the gym. We don’t have thugs in here. Most of our people are government contractors, doctors, lawyers, teachers.”
One believer in the new model is Dave Reeves, an MMA fighter and instructor at the Fair Lakes gym on Market Commons Drive. Reeves, known to some as “Fluffy,” weighed 260 pounds when he worked in retail 10 years ago. Now a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, “Fluffy” has slimmed down to a fighting weight of 155, though his next one will be at 145.
Since the gym’s adoption of the UFC brand, Reeves has noticed more fighters from around the area flocking to the gym to see what it’s all about. He’s also noticed an influx of former cross-fit addicts weary of the physical toll cross-fit takes on one’s body. Those factors have contributed to an uptick in signups for the weekend classes he teaches, which have swelled to 30-40 deep.
Still, Reeves notes that most of his students are more interested in simply learning moves and staying in shape than they are in throwing themselves into full-on MMA fights. The real benefit of it all, he says, is the confidence you gain from immersing yourself into something out of the ordinary.
“I don’t have anyone fighting in the ultimate fighter in this gym, but these guys are in great shape, these ladies are in great shape, and they can defend themselves outside even though they probably won’t ever have to,” Reeves said. “It just gives you a different feeling. It changes people’s approach to this gym.”
Antonio Cordero, 37, has been a member at the Fair Lakes location since 2008. He was diagnosed with lymphoma last December but has been in remission for the last three months. Always more into the boxing aspect of the gym than the MMA one, he got back into the gym about a month ago and continues to reap its benefits.
“This is like therapy for me in more ways than one, physically, mentally, emotionally,” he said.
While he likes the slightly rougher edge the UFC brand brings to the table, Marshall admits the toughest thing about the transition has been convincing people that his gyms will remain family friendly rather than turn into something too hardcore.
“Getting people in shape is still going to be our focus, but they will learn how to defend themselves. They will learn those skills,” Marshall said. “We want to keep it fun and exciting so that they keep coming back.”