Zanesville Civic League Community Center is like a second home to two heavyweights fitted with protective gear sparring around rubber mats waiting for the perfect time to lay in a strike.
Joseph Strickland hollered out orders to the mixed martial arts fighters. Strickland, 35, knows the method of his fighters, the power of their next challengers, and he labors intensively to render his students’ weaknesses. The Spartans are a varied and choice group of 13 local fighters who consider themselves a brotherhood, removing the stereotypes attributed to the terms “redneck” and “city boy.”
“Once they step inside the door, we’re all equals,” Strickland said. “It’s about control, dedication, confidence and brotherhood. Every one of these guys is a true fighter. Win, lose or draw, these are the sort of young men we want setting an example for our youth.”
The Spartans work with children in their Fight the Hate anti-bullying campaign to provide a safe haven for troubled youth. Starting Oct. 2, the center will be presenting grappling, self-defense and MMA classes to the general public.
Many of the youth members have been victims of bullying, either at home or at school. Strickland, admits he was a target of bullying as a child. Providing a safe place for kids is his favorite part of the job.
Connor Hina, 20, who has been portrayed by his coach as an “animal” and “leader,” will be fighting in the light heavyweight division Sept. 21, when the center hosts the Ohio Fighting Championships Fall Brawl.
“This has helped form who I am,” Hina said. “I’ve always been interested ever since I was kickboxing as a kid and watching (MMA) on TV. It’s about dedicating yourself and seeing it through.”
Hina weighed over 265 pounds. He’s now at 205 and will fight at 185 next month.
“Mentally and physically, he’s almost there,” Strickland said of Hina’s future in professional fighting. “In all seriousness, I can see him fighting a UFC card in five years.”
“We’re teaching people about how to defend themselves,” said Scott Gross , and ex-Army operations instructor who teaches alongside Strickland at the center. “It’s not about attacking people. It’s about knowing when to walk away and, when there’s no other option, how to protect yourself. You never want to fight, but it’s better to be prepared and never have to use it than the other way around.”
“We really want to show these kids that there’s something else out there for them,” Gross said. “It’s about so much more than just learning how to fight in here.”