By Holly A. Phillips
In November 2001, it was UFC 34: Matt Hughes vs. Carlos Newton. Hughes won his first UFC title after knocking Newton unconscious, and many said it was “the fight that began it all,” for Hughes’ career.
But you could say the same for local fighter Kyle Bradley.
At 16, Bradley was moving on from playing football, and joined a friend and his father — a professional boxer — to learn how to box. After a few months of backyard training, Bradley began training at the boxing gym on 14th Street where boxer Frank James was a trainer.
“He was a Baton Rouge legend, as far as boxing is concerned,” Bradley said.
And then, thanks to a bit of stolen cable at his brother’s house, Bradley happened to catch UFC 34.
“When I watched UFC 34,” he said. “I was like ‘that’s what I want to do.’”
Bradley started searching for local spots to learn Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and he found Doug Fournet, a worldwide competitor known for his training in wrestling, Jiu Jitsu, Sambo, and MMA.
Bradley didn’t wait long to get in the ring, and he won some fights he was expected to win. After four consecutive wins, he was scheduled to face Brazilian World Champion Adriano Pereira in his hometown.
“Here was a guy who’d just fought in Strike Force,” Bradley said. “I’m the opponent they brought in to lose against him.”
But Bradley won the way he usually does: by a knockout.
After three more consecutive wins, Bradley got a call from his manager Monte Cox asking if Bradley wanted to fight for UFC.
“I had three-weeks’ notice. It was a heavier weight class, against a guy who’d been in the UFC for 10 years,” Bradley said. “I was probably well out-matched.”
But a month before getting the call, Bradley had been warned about this kind of last-minute situation by UFC matchmaker Joe Silva.
“He was saying, ‘Basically I have a stack of names this tall (about one foot) of guys that want to fight in the UFC, so if someone gets hurt, I call one and if they say it’s too short of notice, I put them at the bottom of the pile.’”
So, despite the odds against him, Bradley agreed to fight Chris Lytle in UFC 81.
“That’s what got me in,” Bradley said. “It gave me four fights.”
Out of four, Bradley won one (against The Ultimate Fighter’s Phillipe Nover), which was deemed a “Controversial TKO” with interference from the referee.
After four fights, the UFC cut Bradley.
“I probably got in (the UFC) earlier than my prime,” Bradley said. “I mean it was fun, I was definitely athletically and physically ready. I was an explosive athlete, but I didn’t know a whole lot.”
Bradley believes he’s a better fighter than he was then, and he’s evolved as a martial artist.
“I can’t do the things I used to be able to do physically,” he said, holding up his warped right hand, “but I’m a better fighter, a better training partner.”
After the UFC, Bradley re-enrolled at LSU to continue studying English. Eventually, he plans to become a teacher. For now, though, he’s honing his teaching skills at UFC Gym in Baton Rouge.
Bradley previously held ownership of Gladiators Academy, a local gym that trained competitor, unitl the doors closed in November.
So, he joined UFC Gym, where a majority of his life-long training partners, including Fournet, have been for years.
“I’ve always had a relationship with all of the guys here,” Bradley said. “When Gladiators closed, it was like the perfect storm.”
UFC Gym, formerly known as LA Boxing, has two locations, one on Sherwood Forest Boulevard and one on Perkins Road, and is known for its signature workout: functional boxing and kickboxing.
“We have pro athletes that lead the classes,” said General Manager Melissa McHugh. “You learn technique while getting a total body workout.”
Aside from the boxing and kickboxing classes, UFC Gym excels in MMA training, and has all the gym basics: cardio and weight machines, free weights, as well as TRX bands, a weight sled, indoor turf, and a few giant tires out back.
Bradley now serves as UFC Gym’s head coach, and he’s already made a name for himself with his integrated workout classes.
“It’s high-energy and hands-on,” Bradley said. “You’re involved in something. All of the instructors are competitors, so you’re rallying behind the same thing, it becomes a community.”
McHugh and Bradley ensure UFC Gym is a place for people of all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels. And no, students will not get hit in the face.
“Classes have provided me with a variety of things to do, which motivates me more,” said UFC Gym member Rana Wallace. “Every instructor is different, and my level of fitness has improved.”
Bradley will continue teaching at the gym, and training for fights. He’s still got an offer from the UFC, if he wins five consecutive fights.
“I enjoy helping people, which is why I love to teach,” Bradley said. “But I can’t figure out why I want to fight somebody. The competitive fire is just different.”