Sports

Never Back Down

Twenty-two athletes from all walks of life completed the accelerated Wimp 2 Warrior training program, culminating in a hyped-up fight night

By Micah Drew
Jackson Sherman enters the ring at the Wimp 2 Warrior cage fights hosted by Straight Blast Gym of Kalispell at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on May 15, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

At the DeSoto Grill on May 14, Travis Davison called up 24 fighters to the side of the patio space to step onto a scale and then strike a warrior pose opposite their opponent. 

It was the night before the third Wimp 2 Warrior (W2W) finale, the culmination of a 20-week intensive training program through Straight Blast Gym meant to provide ordinary men and women the chance to step outside their comfort zone and achieve something once thought impossible. 

“I have a very quitting nature, or at least I did,” Sarah “Back Breaker” Claridge said. “I’m the one that didn’t miss a single day of training, in part because I was terrified that if I missed a day I wouldn’t come back.”

Claridge was one of 22 athletes who took part in the third season of W2W, 20 of whom geared up for the final fight, which took place at the Flathead County Fairgrounds. Across the board, athletes lauded both the challenge of the program and the life-altering outlooks they gained from it. 

“It was so hard,” Claridge said. “There were times where I cried in the morning because you’re sore and you’re hurting and it’s 4:30 and you have to get ready to work out again.” 

“As a coach, polishing diamonds is kind of easy,” Davison said. “Taking a piece of coal and turning it into a diamond, that is way more satisfying. I like this more than coaching our regular fighters.”

Sarah Claridge circle’s her opponent Kelly Byrd during the Wimp 2 Warrior cage fights hosted by Straight Blast Gym of Kalispell at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on May 15, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Travis owns and runs Straight Blast Gym (SBG) with his wife Kisa. When the gym first opened in downtown Kalispell in 2008, Travis taught jiu-jitsu, judo, boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) classes, while Kisa taught yoga. Now, the couple operates gyms in Bigfork, Whitefish and Missoula, with a new location opening in Bozeman soon.

Travis is a longtime competitor and teacher of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a foundational discipline for most mixed martial artists, including those who participate in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). He believes that MMA is one of the best, most comprehensive martial arts, and operates his gym with a mindset of inclusivity and progress. 

“When you walk in here and look at the mat, you’re going to see every type of person, every type of political belief, every type of religious or no religious belief, fit athletic males who want to compete in the cage, 50-year-old doctors and accountants, and a lot of women,” he said. “When you walk through my doors, your number one goal is not your own performance, but how you can affect the people all around you. If that’s your goal, to make everyone around you better at jiu-jitsu, you’ll get better quicker than everyone else on the mat.” 

Travis started the W2W program at SBG two years ago, after W2W founder Australian fighter Richie Cranny approached him. Cranny’s idea was that people can participate in MMA training the same way they take part in recreational basketball or volleyball leagues as adults.

“A lot of people have never completed anything or stuck with anything,” Davison said. “They’ve never done anything hard and then accomplished it and been able to feel proud of themselves.”

The W2W program lasts 20 weeks and consists of 6 a.m. workouts five days a week.  

“Just like any program at the gym, we start, you know, at the edge of the pool for a week or two, then we dip our foot in the water,” Davison said. “Then by midway they have sparring days and by the end they’re up to 35 minutes of intense cardio that I think 95% of people walking down the street couldn’t finish.”

Jackson “The Reach” Sherman had always been into UFC fighting, but hadn’t done anything athletic since high school football. 

“I thought it would be cool to give something my all once again,” he said. “Obviously I was so out of shape starting it that I wanted to quit after the first week, but then I just fell in love with it. That’s what kept me showing up every day — I was excited to keep learning.”

Sherman started visualizing his cage fight weeks beforehand to prepare. 

“You spend weeks sparring, but it’s so different when you actually get into a cage to fight someone,” Sherman said before his fight. “It’s not really a normal thing to do, but I haven’t finished a whole lot in my life before, so I’m going to see it through this culminating bout.”

Hasset Monroe, right, takes a swing at David Streeter at the Wimp 2 Warrior cage fights hosted by Straight Blast Gym of Kalispell at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on May 15, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The week before the finale fights, Davison told the class that half of them would lose their fights. 

“But I told them, don’t let this one small event be the defining factor of what you’ve accomplished for the last 100 classes,” Davison said. “The journey is so much more valuable and important than the results, win or lose.”

“I told myself that even if I fail miserably and I’m humiliated, it’s still worth it,” Claridge said “Even on the hardest, most embarrassing days I’ve suffered through, everyone was right there. To have the fighting experience and friends for life, that’s pretty awesome.”

The next Wimp 2 Warrior program begins in June with introductory classes that serve as tryouts on May 29, June 5, 12 and 16.  Davison expects season four to be the biggest yet. Tryouts are open to people of any age, gender and fitness level, and will be selected based on attitudes and desire to participate. 

“About half of those that finish the program say they don’t want it to end,” Davison said. “They realize they like starting their day out with something hard so the rest of the day is easy, and they end up sticking with it.”

For more information on Straight Blast Gym’s Wimp 2 Warrior program, visit www.sbgmontana.com.

Ashlee Armstrong, right, takes a swing at Sharon Gonzales during the Wimp 2 Warrior cage fights hosted by Straight Blast Gym of Kalispell at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on May 15, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

See more photos in the Wimp 2 Warrior gallery.

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