As a lifelong New Englander it is perhaps a sin to have avoided its rocky beaches, yet my latest gym visit would see me driving on virgin territory: Traversing Cape Cod along Rt 6. While the “off Cape” side of the highway promised to be a struggle for my exit from the coastal town of Hyannis, I had more pressing battles to attend to as I pulled into the parking lot of the Cape’s newest school: Gracie Fitness Hyannis.
My eyeballs needed a slight adjustment as I walked into the school; cones and rods typically switching over to night vision in the dungeon-esque interiors of most MMA schools. Strikingly, Gracie Fitness was bright and pristine, its entrance and viewing area harkening back to the days of luxury fitness establishments like Bally’s, with padded high chairs, beauteous stone and tile benches for viewing and resting, as well as a complete juice bar. It was a refreshing change from the standard grungy MMA gym, timeless in their own way, but a changing sport requires a changing aesthetic. While the fighters themselves don’t have a care as to where their sweat flies, the MMA and BJJ worlds having been opened to the masses, parents of young martial artists would find themselves comfortably observing their children grow on the mats.
While the visuals of the gym were bright and cheerful, the sounds ricocheting off the industrial-style ceilings were ominous; the impactful thump of fist and foot on pads. While there are plenty of trainers in Massachusetts, few are as truly beloved as Mike “Loco Lobo” Gresh, who was hard at work with one of many pro fighters in the Gracie Fitness stable. Loco had started his martial arts journey as a young boy and accumulated a substantial resume across decades of training, which included fighting in the local scene prior to athletic commission involvement. While a black belt in BJJ, one of many that work the mats within the school, Loco has come to be known as one of the best MMA striking specialists in the region, his students building careers off their devastating power and timing.
While Gracie Fitness is home base for some of the top amateur and professional MMA fighters in New England, the schools foundation will always be its Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu program, run by Daniel Gracie black belt Juliano “Banana” Coutinho. A gentle giant if there ever was one, Coutinho works diligently to round out his fighters, as both a professional fighter himself, as well as an accomplished BJJ tournament grappler in both gi and no gi. As I settled onto the bench to watch Loco work pads with rising welterweight prospect Sean Lally, one of Gracie Fitness top travelling jiu-jitsu men made his way to the mats.
John “Polar Bear” Herring and I had been jawing back and forth online for some time, and the most painful part of being a “keyboard warrior” is when you must pay for having a black belt in trash talk and a no belt in grappling. More than happy to be a warm-up for the start of PB’s camp; training for Worlds in Las Vegas, I got to feel the horrific pressure game of the super heavyweight first hand. It was a mirror to the style of Banana and other large men within the gym, the team having plenty of poundage in an area where you seldom find even two heavyweights in the same school.
While I was busy trying to battle my way out from under a mountain, key members of the fight team were getting quality padwork with both Loco Lobo, as well as his wife, Janette Gresh; the partners darting around the spacious mats and honing their fighter’s lethal weapons. Pro welterweight Sean Lally, The Barrett Brothers, Peter and Max, multi-title holder Sarah Click, amateur heavyweight force Brendan Battles, and top tier bantamweight Dinis “Sweetbread” Paiva, took turns crushing the pads, every one of them known for blistering KOs in their MMA careers. Between working mitts, the group of fighters were happy to work their mat skills with me as well, with a startling amount of strength present amongst the group. The true defining factor in MMA takes a heavy lean towards athletic ability as a fighter climbs the ladder in their division, and this was a nuance of the sport not lost on the fight team, and certainly not lost on the gym’s resident S&C coach; eyes sharply dissecting movements as he observed the students working their skills.
Mark Featherstone is a colorful character in the best way possible, and one of the secret weapons at Gracie Fitness, having designed the schools on Strength & Conditioning center and brought it to life. Between wild rolls with the students, where I found myself grievously overmatched, Featherstone took me into his training room to show me the ins and outs of his fighter conditioning program. Having been drawn the sport in 2009, Featherstone has made MMA conditioning his labor of love, and his gym was compact and efficient for sharpening the tools of a fighter. Kicks would be accelerated, takedowns supercharged, and muscles linked with exercises that mimicked grappling gargantuan opponents, making the fight easy at the end of the day. In the fairly new world of MMA S&C, the fruits of Featherstone’s work were broadcast for the world to see, with fighters like Sweetbread literally breaking opponents in the cage.
Banana himself had physically transformed over the years working with Featherstone, and my training was capped off with a roll against the professor, highlighting the unique feel of a black belt; every one having a game styled to their bodies and having an ethereal flow to their technique. Even going at 5%, Banana was insurmountable whether on top or bottom, revealing flaws in my own work with minimal effort. A key component to the gym waited not during the work, but in the “aftercare” for athletes, a juice bar front and center to provide quality nutrients to the team members. Hard work is a major component to combat sports, yet many exhausted fighters find the allure of fast casual dining too much to handle after a hard day of training; gains annihilated by a lackluster diet.
“Everyone cheats on their diets.” Featherstone told me as the juice bar cranked out the cure for what ailed the tired students. “But they end up paying for it later when their weight cut is worse than they thought.”
With plenty of juice options, acai bowls providing nutrient-packed calories, as well as the option of having chef-made prepared meals delivered within the school for fight camps, Gracie Fitness provides all the essentials for a well-rounded martial artist, whether it be for personal health or professional triumph. The shared camaraderie around the tables of the juice bar made for the perfect end to the day, and while I had a daunting drive home ahead of me; highway now crammed with summer visitors to the piece of New England paradise, the fighters at Gracie Fitness are on a highway to success, thanks to the groundwork of caring coaches and fuel for both body and mind.
Gracie Fitness is located at 92 Barnstable Rd in Hyannis, Massachusetts, with classes in MMA, BJJ, and with Strength & Conditioning courses, both personal or in group sessions, available.
Daniel Gracie’s newest school, Juniko, is now open in Hanover, Massachusetts.
Thanks to the team at Gracie Fitness for inviting me in, and thanks to Prime Athletics for providing me with the quality gear I need to visit and train at gyms all over New England.