Growth spurt: Popularity of MMA has fueled interest in all forms of martial arts

Popularity of MMA has fueled interest in all forms of martial arts

Matt Busker of the Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu Academy instructs some youngsters on the proper techniques during a recent session. Martial arts studios have seen a rise in membership since mixed martial arts has become popular.

From the confines of his 5,000-sqaure foot Seibu-Kan Karate Studio he began in 1976, Bill Brassette has tried not to pay attention.

In his studio at 1420 North Ave., and on continents worldwide, mixed martial arts has become one of the fastest growing sports.

First introduced on television to the United States as the Ultimate Fighting Championships in 1993, MMA includes striking and grappling, combining disciplines such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu, karate, muay Thai, boxing, wrestling, kick boxing, taekwondo and judo, among others.

The eyebrow-furrowing violence invaded living rooms and hooked a young generation of Americans.

Spike, a cable TV channel, began airing fights in 2009, and according to, Spike’s first fight was watched by more young men than an NBA game broadcast at the same time.

The MMA blaze has pervaded Grand Junction. But, it’s not the only martial art in town.

“When we opened in ‘76, they were teaching judo at Mesa College,” said Brassette, who on Jan. 14 was inducted into the World Professional Martial Arts Organization’s Hall of Fame. “And I think we had a taekwondo studio. And that’s it.”

Not anymore.

In August, Billy Tedrow and Matt Busker opened the Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu Academy at 479 Morning Glory Lane.

“We grew so fast we had to get another building and expand,” said Tedrow, co-owner of the academy. “Honestly, we’re already planning down the road to use the unit next to us, knock the wall out and grow even more.”

The academy started with four students. At an open house last weekend, it had 150 prospective fighters.

That was the same weekend Cage Wars 11 brought fights and a full house to Colorado Mesa University’s Brownson Arena.

A dozen fights included area fighters, some of whom were trained at the 8th Street Gym. A posh, VIP seating on the first floor gave the arena a Vegas touch, and numerous college-age men and women experienced MMA for the first time.

What brought them out?

“I watched the (2011) movie ‘Warrior,’ ” said CMU student Jake Jacobs. “That’s what got me hooked.”

Some are fighters. Some are fight-watchers. They are enticed by the prospects of an adrenaline jolt. Few things seem to snatch a man’s attention as a fight, whether it’s on a street or was on their elementary school playground. Call it evil, or label it righteous, but MMA sells.

“There’s already so much violence in the world anymore,” said Grand Junction resident Paul Buttner at Cage Wars 11. “It’s all over TV; it’s everywhere. It’s not something I’d pursue myself.”

Not in the “octagon,” anyway.

“This is the biggest adrenaline rush you can get,” said Corey Bendetti, who practices kick boxing at 8th Street Gym and Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu Academy.

The former Marine said that despite their aggressive nature, the local MMA fighters combat their pride as much as opponents.

“The athletes are real, real humble,” Bendetti said as he watched a fight. “They don’t act like big superstars.”

Yet, if they become professional, stars they are.

On April, 2011, UFC 129 set a North American MMA attendance record, drawing 55,724 to the Rogers Center in Toronto according to

Also, the event set an MMA world record for highest paid gate: $12,075,000.

Brownson Arena has three more MMA events scheduled, the next on April 28.

With academies such as the Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu gaining popularity, there will be numerous local fighters capable of feeding into such events.

Tedrow said the academy is a family-based studio, focusing on submission-style martial arts.

Their members also include children and women.

“Last weekend we did two free women’s-defense/rape-prevention seminars,” Tedrow said.

Then Tedrow, catching his breath over the phone, explained the beauty of martial arts, in particular, jiu-jitsu: self-defense.

“Me, I’m 135 pounds,” Tedrow said. “When I get off this phone, I’m gonna go against someone who’s 200.”


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