From “Rocky” to the Blue Horizon boxing venue to Front Street Gym in Kensington, this city has always been a fighting town. But as boxing gyms and venues close around the city, mixed martial arts is gaining in popularity.
Training, cage fighting and dance are becoming more common as a rich Brazilian MMA scene is forming around the city.
At No Limits Gym on Willits Road in Northeast Philadelphia, Sean Thompson (above) is training mothers, fathers and former professional Anthony Ferrante. Thompson is reaching out to amateur and professional mixed martial artists, teaching them a proper way to train, building strength and conditioning for their sport.
Thompson is currently training Sean Brady, an MMA fighter based out of Philadelphia.
“He just went to a regular gym and tried to do it on his own,” Thompson said of Brady. “About a month ago I sat down with him and showed him how I am going to break it down for him. I’m sport specific for him, in a fight you are going to be uncomfortable, so I try to make him get used to being uncomfortable.”
Brady, who specializes in jiu-jitsu, trains with Daniel Gracie, who opened Renzo Gracie Philly, 2221 N. American St., in late 2012. Gracie got into the business after his wife, Heather, opened an antique store.
“Her business started doing really well, so I decided to open a school,” Gracie said. “I was already having fun training guys and winning fights. I noticed Philly has something special for fighter, that extra push, so I knew I could do good here.”
One of Gracie’s top students is Ultimate Fighting Championship‘s lightweight Paul Felder, who is training for a fight in Brazil.
“They’re just a country that loves fighting,” Felder said about Brazil. “The guy I’m fighting, he is from a small town down there, so it should be fun when we throw down.”
Gracie also noted that it is his goal to get all of his students to the UFC as it represents the pinnacle of the MMA world.
Another Brazilian martial art that is starting to grow here is Capoeira. Born in Pernambuco, Brazil, Adenilson Dos Santos is the Mestre Doutor at Ascab Capoeira, the first capoeira studio in the city. The studio is located on 1213 Race St. in Center City.
“I was the only one with capoeira in Philly in 1997,” Dos Santos said. “Now my students are my own competition because they opened their own studio.”
Capoeira differs from jiu-jitsu because it is more of a cultural experience than a combat sport. In fact, when sparring, students often mimic each other’s moves instead of striking each other.
–Photos and words by Tucker Bagley and Connor Northrup