The Sanford Mixed Martial Arts gym and Sanford Health Clinic in Deerfield Beach, Florida, are now open and the team is back in training as this sport collectively makes a gradual return to competition.
The 10,000-square-foot building is the training site for 40 professional athletes, including current and former world champions.
Live spectators are not yet in the plan during the pandemic. Sanford MMA fighters continue to land high-profile bouts, however, in the meantime with main-event wins in UFC and Bellator competition. In fact, those successes were recognized recently with Sanford earning a “Gym of the Year” nomination from the World MMA Awards.
In addition, the Sanford Pentagon has become a regular venue for a series of non-spectator Legacy Fighting Alliance events for viewing on UFC Fight Pass. There were four such events on Friday nights in July. The series began again in August and will continue with a total of four cards on Friday nights through Sept. 11.
Obviously, the Pentagon would like to include spectators at LFA events. With that not an option at present, the next best thing is to create ways for the bouts to continue safely.
The LFA bouts are an example of Sanford MMA making the best of a challenging situation. It’s an effort goes well beyond scheduling bouts at the Pentagon. More importantly, it’s an everyday process at the gym in Deerfield Beach.
Sanford MMA and safety
“We have the unique ability to help bring sports back in a safe and responsible way,” said Steve Young, president of Sanford Sports. “From the onset of the pandemic, our team has led the way in developing and implementing solutions to not only keep athletes active and ready for competition, but also ensure they feel 100-percent safe when they re-enter our facilities.”
It is not a return to how things used to be. The re-opening of the training facility is, however, a significant sign of progress as the Sanford MMA team and staff navigate the future.
With the doors now unlocked and the entire facility scrupulously sanitized, the Sanford gym and training area is site to MMA athletes preparing for bouts.
“One of the huge benefits for us is being able to get things right,” said Sanford Health orthopedic surgeon and MMA team physician Dr. Brad Reeves. “The state of how we in the medical field deal with COVID is a day-to-day thing, but it’s always a privilege for me to talk with Sanford people. They give me the guidelines that we should be following in Florida that are consistent with what we’re doing at Sanford. Our policies are set based on the cutting edge of health care.”
Dealing with the pandemic
Logan Storley, a native of Webster, South Dakota, has a long and impressive legacy as a high school and college wrestler. He had a bout set that was canceled because of the coronavirus. He’s not alone, of course, in having to change things around to accommodate the pandemic, but that doesn’t make it any less challenging.
“The whole country is dealing with this, whether it’s a business getting closed down or people are out of work — it’s been tough for everyone,” said Storley, who is 11-0 as a professional. “For us, we’re trying to make a paycheck, fight and compete and continue climbing the ladder to get to where we want to be.”
Sanford MMA a national brand
On the plus side, bouts are beginning to be scheduled. Under the guidance of Dave Martin, a sports agent from South Dakota who oversees the Sanford MMA team, the athletes have been been able to continue to find opportunities to compete. For people like Storley and his teammates, the existence of the facility, as well as its coaches and support staff, have helped get them through this profession-wide lull.
“It’s beginning to look a little better for us,” Storley said. “We’re just trying to stay as ready as we can during this whole process.”
The reopening of the facility in Florida is a sign that the Sanford team can resume preparation for competition. It is also a sign that this training can be executed safely.
“Sanford MMA has become a recognized national brand,” Dr. Reeves said. “I think the MMA world is going to have a close eye on us. We’re the No. 1 health care system in MMA. They’re all going to be looking at how we do this. It’s a great opportunity for us to shine.”
Back to work
Previously idle fighters are now slowly getting the opportunity to go about resuming their careers.
“COVID 19 has been particularly tough on mixed martial artists because if we don’t fight, we don’t get paid,” said Chas Skelly, an MMA competitor who has supervised the Sanford facility while he recovers from an injury. “It’s been a mental strain on fighters just like it has on everyone else who has been laid off because of COVID 19.”
They’re going back to work with the purpose to regain competitive momentum lost since the coronavirus began disrupting their careers. While team members went to great lengths to be prepared in the absence of their home base, it’s going to be a better process now that the support system is available again.
“We have everything you could possibly need,” Skelly said. “And then you look around the Sanford MMA gym and see world’s best fighters all around you. There’s a big advantage to working out in a facility like this, especially when you add on the fact that Sanford built the gym with a sports medicine clinic right next to it. Any time our guys need medical attention it’s right there at our finger tips.”
The Sanford MMA facility is “changing the game” in Skelly’s opinion. MMA competitors have not typically had access to the advantages enjoyed by the Sanford team.
“A lot of these guys have trained at places that are sub-par at best,” Skelly said. “We’re talking dirt floors — carpets for mats — that kind of thing.”
That is no longer the case, of course. And in this instance, a game-changing facility is accompanied by an environment that supports and promotes safety and excellence.
Talented fighters picking Sanford
As major fight cards continue to emerge, it’s easy to document the fact that talented fighters are recognizing the advantages of aligning their careers with Sanford.
Athletes involved include ONE middleweight and light heavyweight champion Aung La Nsang, ONE featherweight champion Martin Nguyen, UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, former Bellator lightweight world champion Michael Chandler, former UFC welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler, former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, former UFC light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort, former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, No. 1 ranked UFC welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns and Storley, a South Dakota wrestling legend.
Sanford Sports and Orthopedic-sponsored fighters also include current Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader and former Bellator bantamweight world champion Darrion Caldwell.
Most recently, Usman defended his UFC welterweight title in July. The spring and summer included several prominent fights by fellow welterweight Burns, whose string of victories include a win over former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
Burns missed out on a title shot versus Usman in July when he tested positive for the coronavirus but he has since tested negative and has resumed his quest for a UFC title bout.
In that regard he has plenty of company. The Sanford MMA team is not all first in line for a title shot like Burns, but they’re all fighters trying to make their mark in the sport.
“We try to take care of each other and help each other,” Storley said. “These are the people you need to help you get ready. Once you get in there, you’re fighting for yourself — it’s an individual sport — but the rest of it you can’t do by yourself. If you don’t have great coaches, teammates and a high-level training facility, it’s going to be very difficult to compete at the highest level.”
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