The world of mixed martial arts has ballooned into a behemoth in the past decade. The popularity of the sport has drawn men, women and children to MMA gyms, eager to get into fighting trim or even try their hands at the new sport of kings themselves. And now local muscle heads, fitness fanatics and couch potatoes alike have the perfect place to hone their skills, get in shape and learn to defend themselves during those long walks back to the car after a night bar-hopping on Elm Street.
Olympic gold medalist and former Dallas Maverick Daren Williams, along with three-time Texas MMA Coach of the Year Sayif Saud, have built a state-of-the-art MMA training facility just blocks away from Deep Ellum. The gym serves as headquarters to Saud’s Team Fortis, which he says is one of the largest MMA teams in the state, and offers classes in everything from traditional mat wrestling to Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“The concept of the gym is for it to be a private boutique gym,” Saud says. “Everybody kind of wants to know how to defend themselves, but people are intimidated when they hear mixed martial arts or MMA.”
The gym, which opened on Dec. 2, will be capped at only 200 members including amateur and professional grapplers, though Saud and Williams have made sure to maintain a beginner-friendly atmosphere at Fortis. The majority of their clientele, Saud says, are professionals: doctors, attorneys, executives, the kind of people who usually don’t have to worry about getting kicked in the face.
“I’ve got all kinds of people, and they can’t get hurt. What we’ve done is created a facility with world-class coaches,” Saud says. “People who have accomplished at a very high level but provide an environment where it is safe, comfortable and almost like a private club where they can learn these skills.”
Williams himself is still just a beginner after all. Nearing the end of his NBA career, Williams expressed interest in entering the octagon. He began training with Saud in 2015, before joining him in the creation of Fortis. The gym is stretched across three stories to create a sense of separation for those of differing skill level or interest, while still being a one-stop-shop for fighters to stay competitive and members to keep fit.
“There are some times where you just don’t feel like seeing people, and it can be demotivating,” Saud says. “People, as they get older, they have less time, their environment is important to them.”
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Saud has been helping people succeed physically since his own MMA career was halted by an injury. After moving to Dallas for rehabilitation in 2009 he started coaching at another local gym, Octagon MMA. There, Saud says, he found a passion for helping others become better versions of themselves.
“I was 28 years old when I did that and I feel like I was lucky to be young and have a lot of energy to push another individual and see them chase their dreams,” Saud says. “Oddly enough, now at this age I get way much more joy out of seeing people succeed.”
Now equipped with a brand new gym and a team of coaches that includes former Legacy Fighting Alliance bantamweight world champion Steve “Ocho” Peterson, and former Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Damon “The Leech” Jackson, Saud is set to spread a lot of joy. Though that joy will come at the cost of blood, sweat and time spent explaining to friends and family why you came back from the gym with a black eye.
Fortis MMA is located at 301 Texas St.