Travis Davison gets paid to speak at Brazilian jiu-jitsu seminars across the world, from Sweden to Edmonton, but in Montana the grapplers come to him. And he’s not too hard to find; he’s at his gym in downtown Kalispell seven days a week.
Davison and his wife Kisa own Straight Blast Gym of Montana at 30 Fourth Street East. Since originally opening on First Avenue East in December of 2008, the gym has outgrown two facilities and added boxing, kickboxing and wrestling to its class schedule, in addition to the Davisons’ classes.
Travis teaches multiple disciplines, including jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts (MMA), while Kisa teaches Iyengar yoga, which focuses on proper alignment and breathing. Many of the gym’s fighters take Kisa’s yoga classes. There is also a full-time physical therapist on staff, making SBG a full-service, albeit non-traditional, fitness center.
Straight Blast Gym is known for fielding some of the top jiu-jitsu performers and mixed martial artists in the state, with a high winning percentage among its amateur fighters. It has also produced two professionals: Jake Oyler and Zach Dickson.
Three fighters from Straight Blast Gym are on the fight card for the June 11 Kalispell Kombat, an MMA tournament featuring 10 bouts at the Flathead County Fairgrounds. A group called Fight Force hosts the event. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and bouts begin at 7:30 p.m.
The following day, Straight Blast is hosting a Brazilian jiu-jitsu and No-Gi submission wrestling competition called the Gorilla Cup at Glacier High School.
If you ask Duran Flaget, a former nationally ranked wrestler, no other MMA training facility in the state compares to Straight Blast. Flaget, a 2006 Flathead High School graduate, has trained at gyms in several Montana cities. He will be fighting at 145 pounds in front of his home crowd at the Kalispell Kombat.
“This is the best gym in the state, by far,” Flaget, 22, said. “It’s the only legit training in the state for jiu-jitsu. It’s a whole other level, really.”
In December, Davison traveled to Berkeley, Calif., to receive his black belt certification through the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF). Jiu-jitsu is a foundation discipline of mixed martial arts, focusing heavily on posture, position, leverage, breathing and flexibility. Davison believes he’s the only IBJJF-certified black belt instructor in the state.
Because of his expertise, Davison has always focused his teaching on jiu-jitsu, which emphasizes ground fighting and grappling. But now the presence of boxing coach Phillip Moore and wrestling coach Kevin Wilmot gives students at SBG the opportunity to improve their overall skills in MMA.
Moore is a professional boxer and Wilmot was an All-American wrestler at the University of Wisconsin. Students who choose to pursue mixed martial arts now can incorporate the standing and striking skills learned from boxing with the fundamentals of traditional wrestling, jiu-jitsu, kickboxing and submission wrestling.
“There’s been a huge improvement with their hands and their confidence in their stand up,” Travis Davison said. “The jiu-jitsu’s still the best in the state, I think, but now they’re more well rounded.”
But only a percentage of Straight Blast Gym’s clients pursue mixed martial arts. Others choose from a full slate of classes, including jiu-jitsu training, boxing fundamentals, strength conditioning, kickboxing, yoga, sparring and more, for kids, men and women. There is at least one class every day of the week.
Straight Blast Gym has grown rapidly in the past year and a half, necessitating the 3,600-square-foot venue it currently occupies on Fourth Street. The new facility, which opened in January, has a yoga room, a large space for wrestling and jiu-jitsu mats, a full boxing ring, offices and locker rooms. The front desk area has merchandise such as shirts.
Of the dozens of people who attend classes at Straight Blast Gym, only 10 participate on the adult competitive MMA team, which has its own practices. Three of those fighters – Flaget, 21-year-old Gus Nolte and 21-year-old Will Barnhart – are participating at the June 11 Kalispell Kombat.
Barnhart trained for two years before entering into the ring in a sanctioned event. He won his first fight. Nolte, meanwhile, is making his debut after 14 months of training. The 6-foot-6 Bigfork resident is fighting at 185 pounds.
Some fighters jump in the ring right away, at times dangerously ill prepared. Davison doesn’t allow that, as it opens the fighter up to injury and to a bad experience that might make him quit the sport. Davison’s fighters have to obtain at least a blue belt before competition, which takes one-and-a-half years on average.
“We have a pretty high standard,” Davison said. “I have a really great deal of concern for the guys fighting from here. Win or lose, I want them to have a good experience.”
Davison also emphasizes intense conditioning. In total, Barnhart, who will fight at the Kalispell Kombat at 170 pounds, says he trains about 20 hours a week, while Nolte is roughly the same.
“If my guys don’t have the conditioning to go for the length of the fight, they don’t go,” Davison said.
Barnhart is one of the two main events on June 11. Davison has long believed Barnhart has the tools to go far in the sport, and the upcoming event could be a big step in the right direction.
“My goal right now is to get the belt,” Barnhart said. “Then I’ll defend it a few times and go pro. I’d like to get paid for doing it instead of paying to do it.”
For more information on Straight Blast Gym and the Gorilla Cup grappling event on June 12, call (406) 250-2380 or go to www.sbgmontana.com. To learn more about Kalispell Kombat and how to obtain tickets, go to www.ultimatefightforce.com.
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