By Dillon Tabish, 7-26-12
||Caption: Gus Nolte, bottom, works Dave Gilder into a submission hold with his legs during a jiu-jitsu lesson at Straight Blast Gym in Kalispell. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
At 33 years old, Randy Kopchinsky decided it was now or never. The Kalispell resident boxed for quite a few years and trained in Muay Thai for a stretch, but he had never stepped foot in the caged realm of mixed martial arts.
Kopchinsky joined a growing legion of local fighters and it led him to where he is today, coaching up-and-comers and preparing for his first official MMA fight.
Training out of Straight Blast Gym of Montana in downtown Kalispell, Kopchinsky will make his MMA debut on July 27 at the latest Fight Force Kalispell Kombat. He’s one of 22 fighters scheduled to enter the cage at Majestic Valley Arena. Fights begin at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be purchased either at the event or at SBG on the corner of First Avenue East and Fourth Street East.
“This is something that’s been on my mind for quite some time now,” he said recently while taking a short break from leading a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class at SBG. “I’ve always wanted to and always wanted to, and finally I said ,‘You know what, I’m 33, now’s a good time to go throw it out.’”
SBG has organized a food drive for the Veteran’s Food Pantry in conjunction with Kombat. For every 10 cans donated, donors receive a ticket that enters them in a drawing for a 10-person ringside table at Majestic Valley Arena, valued at $500. The food drive remains open until July 26, and a winner will be drawn that night. Donations are accepted at SBG.
Kalispell Kombat has established itself as the premier MMA event in the valley. With typically two events a year, Kombat showcases local and regional fighters.
“Every time Fight Force has been here, every show I’ve been to, they do their best to make sure they get competitive fights,” said Travis Davison, head coach and owner of SBG. “As a coach or competitor, you don’t want to go through a fight where you completely overmatch your opponent. A true competitor wants to be tested.”
At the same time Kombat has built its reputation, SBG has established itself as the valley’s preeminent MMA factory. In over three years the gym has grown from nine members training inside a 700-square-foot room to almost 200 members of all ages exercising inside a 7,000-square-foot facility.
“The gym couldn’t be better. Literally,” said Davison, who runs the gym with his wife Kisa.
Davison has three local fighters scheduled to compete at this week’s event. Kalispell native Duran Flaget will defend his 135-pound title belt for the first time.
“I’m confident in my abilities,” Flaget said. “I know there’s always work to be done. You just need to keep working and getting better in the gym and I feel like I’m doing that.”
Flaget, working off a strong background in grappling, hiked his amateur record to 10-4 at the previous Kombat in January. Flaget won via unanimous decision, generating more confidence with his coach that he might be ready to turn professional. But there’s a rule at SBG: before anyone can turn pro, they have to defend an amateur title at least once.
“You’re not a champion unless you’ve won at least one title defense,” Davison said. SBG currently has two professional fighters – Zach Dickson and Jake Oyler.
Gus Nolte also appears to be headed toward making the leap to the professional ranks down the road. The 24-year-old Kalispell fighter is undefeated in four amateur bouts and recently dominated at Grappler’s Quest in Las Vegas earlier this month. Nolte, who recently achieved a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, brought home two gold medals and two silvers from one of the biggest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and submission grappling events in the nation. Over 1,000 competitors from around the world attended the two-day event at Mandalay Bay, which included the UFC Fan Expo.
With demonstration partner Jen Johnson, right, punching, Randy Kopchinsky leads a Muay Thai class at Straight Blast Gym in Kalispell.
Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
Nolte will fight for his first title belt, at 185 pounds, at this week’s Kombat.
“I’m a little nervous but it’s a good kind of nervous,” he said. “It’s good to keep your senses on edge.”
Towering at 6-feet-6 with an impressive reach, Nolte won his last bout via TKO, thanks in large part to his Jiu Jitsu skills.
It’s not hard to judge what Kopchinksy’s strength is. With lumberjack arms and a thick torso, he exudes the power of punching. Since joining SBG two years ago he began transitioning to MMA out of an interest to build an “all-around game.”
“In boxing it’s about points and in MMA you can get hurt,” he said. “You have four-ounce gloves and guys are looking to tee off on you. It’s not light punches and fancy head movement. It’s heads up all the time because you could get kicked in the head. If I let my hands down, it’s not pretty.”
Davison makes sure his fighters are well prepared before he lets them step in the cage. In fact, competitors have to survive months of grueling, late-night training with Davison and coach Kevin Wilmot before being allowed to fight at an event like Kombat.
“All the guys from here who have fought before will tell you that compared to (competitive) practice, the fights are easy,” said Davison, a member of the Universal Martial Arts Hall of Fame in Grand Rapids, Mich. “They’re always in shape. They never lose because of cardio. They very rarely lose period. But when they do it’s because things happen, maybe their opponent was more skilled or a mistake was made. But we try to make sure that it’s not something we could have controlled. We train as well as anybody.”
As SBG’s legion of fighters will say, it’s that tough regimen that helps build humble confidence. But still, there’s no avoiding the natural nerves.
“Of course I’ve got a little nervousness in me,” Kopchinsky said. “I’m sure, as the days get closer, I’ll be a little antsy. As soon as I’m walking into that cage I’m sure I’ll be like, ‘OK, it’s go time.’”
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