Bas Rutten and the Great Wall of China

Bas Rutten at the Great Wall of China

Last week it was announced that MMA pioneer Bas Rutten will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in July.  This is a well deserved honor for Bas who is a good friend of mine and one of the most charismatic athletes I’ve ever met.  With his combination of athleticism and  charisma plus the fact that he was one of the first fighters to truly deserve the title mixed martial artist Bas was  20 years ahead of his time in the sport. A few years ago I went with  Bas and many other MMA legends on a mission to jump start MMA in mainland China.  This article, which recounts the experience,  first appeared in Fight! magazine in 2009.


Journey to the East

The Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Wuzhou district of Beijing is a place where you can clearly see the forces that are shaping the new world economic order. Well-dressed European and American businesspeople, eager for a chance at China’s massive domestic market (which is larger than those of the US, European Union and Japan combined) jockey for deals in the hotel’s restaurant and lounge. Arab oil representatives with their large exotic entourages linger in the halls; they’re here to satisfy China’s ever-growing hunger for petroleum. The new generation of Chinese capitalists is fully in force as well. Young and well educated, they are comfortable with the traditions of both east and west. All of them are riding the crest of the economic tsunami that is reshaping the world and shifting its focus inexorably eastward.
I am here in the cradle of the New Capitalism because of an improbable letter I got at my office three weeks ago.It began:

“Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the mixed martial arts tournament, Art of War Fighting Championships, will be held on 23 May, 2009 at the National Olympic Sports Center Auditorium in Beijing, China…”

It went on to invite me to Beijing as a guest of “His Highness,” all expenses paid. At first I was cautious about the letter. My mind ran to all those Nigerian phone scams I’ve heard about over the years, but the invitation turned out to be legit, so here I am sitting in a palatial private banquet hall at the Crowne Plaza that has been set up for all of the Sheik’s several hundred guests. The dining hall is massive, with about a hundred tables, each seating eight. On each side of the room are two superabundant buffets, manned by the hotel’s staff and overflowing with a bewildering array of fine Mediterranean and Asian cuisine. Twice a day, at lunch and dinner, there’s a who’s who of MMA movers and shakers in this huge space.

Although the Sheik invited just about everybody in the business to come to his little Chinese soirée, I notice that the Brazilians are especially well represented. They scored a big coup by having four of the famous Gracie clan attend the event. Today I see Renzo Gracie working the room, smiling broadly and greeting everyone he sees. He’s slapping their backs and shaking hands like a politician. The most famous living Gracie, Rickson, holds court at a table of awestruck fighters who are all fascinated by whatever he is telling them. One of them, heavyweight contender Fabricio Werdum, sits wide-eyed and slack-jawed, like a kid listening to a ghost story around a camp fi re. Royce and Royler, always content to linger in the background of their more gregarious siblings, are around here somewhere. Another famous Brazilian, American Top Team’s chief, Ricardo Liborio, is sitting at a table off in a corner conferring with some important-looking people. One of the friendliest men in MMA, Liborio is also one of the best respected. A consummate behind-the-scenes dealmaker, he sits at the center of an ever-growing circle of influence and power within the sport. I don’t recognize who he’s talking to; but, whoever they are, I’m sure they’re players. I wave to Demian Maia, who has just arrived. There are also lots of other nationalities represented. Dane Joachim Hansen is here, along with many others from all over. In addition to the dozen or so big name fighters, the Sheik has invited several prominent members of the media and top business people from the MMA world. His Highness has spared no expense in showing that Art of War has arrived as a world-class promotion.

Read more ›

Posted in Knuckleup Fitness News, Uncategorized

The Life Changing Benefits of Martial Arts Training for Children

One of the best things you can do for your child is encourage them to be enthusiastic about physical fitness and healthy living.  KnuckleUp Fitness Martial Arts classes for kids are a great way for kids to have fun, get fit, and learn healthy habits early in life. In addition to the health benefits Martial Arts training is also great for positive character development.

Martial Arts training for Children at KnuckleUp can…

Increase Physical Fitness 

Martial Arts training is a great way for kids to stay active and learn the value of physical fitness early in life. Martial arts training motivate kids towards physical fitness and healthy habits from the very beginning by making fitness fun and engaging. Watch as your child builds strength, speed, dexterity, balance and coordination with every class.

Build Character

Marital Arts are as much about having a strong mind as a strong body and your child will start to develop positive character traits inside the gym that will help them succeed later in life.

Teach Goal Setting

Your child will lean how to set goals, develop the discipline and work ethic to work towards them and then experience the well-deserved satisfaction of achieving them.

Develop Problem Solving Skills

Your child will learn problems solving skills inside the gym as he progresses in his knowledge of the techniques learns how they work together to be more effective.

Stop Bullying Before it Starts

Bullies compensate for their own weakness by targeting those they perceive as weaker than themselves. With KnuckleUp Martial Arts Training for Children  training you can stop bullying before it starts by instilling confidence and courage in your child. Your child will also learn that self-respect is linked to respecting others. A child trained in the authentic principles of Martial Arts will neither bully nor allow themselves to be bullied.

Make Your Child The Right Kind Of Friends

Your child will form friendships with other positively motivated kids.

Develop Proper Self Esteem

Martial Arts training can counter the countless unhealthy images your child is bombarded with on a daily basis and help develop a healthy body image and authentic self esteem.

Learn To Focus

One of the most important factors in determining success in life is the ability to focus your energy on the task at hand. By listening to his instructor in class your child will develop both the ability to pay attention and focus their effort through martial arts training.


If you’d like to begin equipping your child for success with KnuckleUp Martial Arts training for Children then sign up for a free trial membership.

One of  the star pupils from KnuckleUp Martial Arts Training for Kids.

One of the star pupils from KnuckleUp’s Childrens Program.

Posted in KnuckleUp for Kids

The Astounding Bottom line Impact of Company Wellness


The cost of unhealthy workers is staggering.

According to a widely cited study by the Milken Institute the cost of unhealthy workers to the US economy is a jaw dropping 1.1 Trillion a year. What’s even scarier about this number is that it only measures the cost of absenteeism and the lost productivity of employees coming to work too unhealthy to perform the basic tasks their jobs require. The cost is even higher when you factor in other forms of decreased productivity and the rapidly rising cost of providing healthcare to unhealthy workers. What’s more; the study found that 75 percent of the health care costs companies face are from preventable issues traced to the unhealthy lifestyles of their employees.

The benefits of an effective wellness program are huge.

Because of the potentially crippling liability of an unhealthy workforce, today most successful companies are embracing the goal of employee wellness across their corporate cultures. Companies that make health and fitness a core goal see benefits like.

  • Decreasing absenteeism
  • Increasing the ability to recruit and retain top talent
  • Increasing worker productivity
  • Improving company morale
  • Lowering healthcare costs across the board

A focus on employee fitness has a significant impact on the bottom line. For example, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review mentions the case of  Johnson and Johnson  who found that for every dollar they spent on employee wellness they realized savings of  $ 2.71.

KnuckleUp Fitness and Company Wellness.

One issue facing employers who make the decision to provide an employee fitness program is how to get their workers to participate. If employees don’t think an employee health program is quality then they won’t take part. This means that for workers to buy into your program they must feel that it’s fun, effective and can help them reach their personal fitness goals. At KnuckleUp Fitness we’ve been using the power of world class martial arts instruction to get people in shape and motivated toward a healthy lifestyle for a decade.  We know how to make getting in shape exciting, fun and effective.  We can help you develop fitness programs that your employees will look forward to,  that will increase your company morale and have a significant positive impact on your bottom line. If you’d like to learn more about KnuckleUp Company Wellness then contact us here.


Posted in KnuckleUp Company Wellness

How KnuckleUp became KnuckleUp – an interview with founder Chris Stolzman.

Chris Stolzman founded KnuckleUp in 15 years ago.

In a recent interview with Knuckle Up original founder, Chris Stolzman  I had the opportunity to learn more about how the gym started, how it got its name and how it became a fundamental force shaping Martial Arts in the City of Atlanta.

“I was just starting out in California. I got a job at the original LA boxing.   At the time it wasn’t a chain. It was just one location and they did a lot of fitness boxing and kickboxing classes similar to what we would end up doing at KnuckleUp.  It was there that I learned the health club business from the founder of LA Boxing, a guy named Wade Halberson.  I worked for them until 1996.  Then I took a break from martial arts and worked for Bally’s and then a sports club in Philadelphia. Shortly after that I moved to Atlanta.”

When Chris came to the city in the late 90’s Alliance Jiu Jitsu was the only game in town.

“I’d been training Jiu Jitsu on and off for a couple of years and when I came to Atlanta, Alliance Jiu Jitsu had just won back-to-back world championships and was headquartered in the City.  So, I went in and started training at Alliance. While training there I met guys like Mat Lebron, and Paul Creighton, and Jacare Cavalcanti.

I wound up working for Jacare doing sales and management and helping train some of the Alliance guys like Paul with their striking. Eventually I got an LA boxing franchise and took over half the space inside Alliance and started teaching kickboxing and boxing.  After about two years both Jacare’s Alliance Jiu Jitsu and my LA Boxing were doing well and we thought it a good idea to separate the businesses so Alliance moved into the space in Sandy Springs  that they had for years and we moved into a space in the Prado and then eventually into KnuckleUp’s current space in Sandy Springs.”

Although the two clubs started together a healthy rivalry existed between Chris’s new Gym and Alliance.

“Up to that point we were just doing striking with a little MMA.  To be honest, after we separated from Alliance there was a little competition between us so we started teaching Jiu Jitsu and no Gi Grappling a LA Boxing. Then we started winning the local NAGA’s and having some really good guys fighting for us like the Assuncao brothers, Clay Harvison and of course Steve Headden.  We had a very big MMA team for a while. “

When the original LA Boxing changed ownership Chris saw the writing in the wall.

“Eventually the guy I bought the LA boxing franchise from sold the company and I didn’t see eye to eye with the new owners so we rebranded the company as Velocity Kickboxing.  We had that brand for like six months until we found out there was a Velocity sports performance that wasn’t real happy about us using the same name so we needed a new name.

At this time Steve Headden had a company called KnuckleUp Productions he set up to promote local MMA shows.  Since we already had a lot of visibility with the KnuckleUp MMA shows we decided to call the gyms that as well.  So, in 2005 we became KnuckleUp Fitness. ”

In the early days, MMA was a hard sell around Atlanta.

“When we started MMA was not widely accepted.  We used to go out and try to put fliers in all the local businesses and people would look at us like we were crazy.  Then as The Ultimate Fighter came on TV and took MMA mainstream it became something that people started accepting.   It went from being very niche fringe sport to something that people wanted to put their kids in.  In Atlanta particularly it became a big part of the social scene with local MMA shows every three or four weeks.”

At one point or another most of the fighting talent in town walked through KnuckleUp’s doors to work or train or both.

“We had so many impressive people come train with us.  Mark Selby and Steve Headden were the two guys I worked with the closest.  You could be involved with MMA back in those days without seeing Steve Headden headlining a card.   Douglas Lima was  also amazing. He had his first professional fight on one our cards and his mom had to sign a permission slip because he was so young.”

KnuckleUp was instrumental in developing much of the fighting talent that would appear in Atlanta over the next decade. In the days before there was any real money in MMA, working with KnuckleUp gave athletes who wanted to train and compete full time a way to do so.

“The bottom line is that everybody involved with KnuckleUp in the early days were either active competitors or aspiring competitors.  A lot of us just did the business side of it so we didn’t have to have a real job and could train and live in the gym all day.    KnuckleUp helped a lot of our fighters support their career dreams by providing a way for them to support themselves while they trained.  We even helped manage some of them. We’d get them better contracts and just helped them build their value as athletes.

If you look at it, a big proportion of the guys around town that either have schools now or are fighting competitively started with us.  I’m very proud of the positive effect KnuckleUp had on MMA in Atlanta. We were ingrained in the whole thing from the very beginning.”

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Posted in Knuckleup Fitness News, The Story of KnuckleUp

Sandy Springs fire update – 05/08

The special order steel joists for the locker room roof were delivered to the landlord this week and they are scheduled to start demolition on Monday. That means this building is finally on the road to repair, which is fantastic.

Also, we have some HUGE news that we can almost announce. Sorry for the vague booking, but we PROMISE that all of our Sandy Springs members, and everyone else in the KU family, will be extremely excited about our collective futures if all goes as planned.

Hold tight, we’re getting there!!!


Posted in Knuckleup Fitness News

Mary Matia In World Title Fight June 26th

KnuckleUp Kickboxing Instructor Mary Matia training in the gym. Photo by: Melane Lynne Klaer

KnuckleUp Kickboxing Instructor and resident Muay Thai Destroyer  Mary Matia will face Anna Crutchfiled on June 26 for the IKF Women’s Kickboxing Lightweight World Championship. Mary is one of the most popular instructors at the school and her intensity and work ethic around the gym are legendary. With over a month until the fight we’ll be sure to keep you up to date with how her training is going and the latest developments with the big title match.

June 26-Atlanta-Matia vs Crutchfield

Posted in Knuckleup Fitness News

KnuckleUp Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Instructor Quentin Rosenzweig gets ready for the ADCC.

Quentin Rosenzweig

The Abu Dhabi Combat Championships ( ADCC) was founded by Sheik Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nayan in 1998 and is today the most prestigious grappling tournament in the world. Past champions include such grappling giants as Jean Jacques Machado, Mario Sperry, Robert Drysdale, Braulio Estima, Andre Galvao, Jacques Machado, Royler Gracie, Roger Gracie and Marcelo Garcia. Today KnuckleUp Fitness Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Instructor Quentin Rosenzweig travels to the ADCC North American Qualifiers in Coconut Creek, Florida. If Quentin is successful in Florida he’ll get an invitation to compete in the ADCC World Championship in Sao Paulo Brazil later in the year.  Quentin has been on a tear over the past 12 months in tournaments here in the Southeast and his KnuckleUp family wishes him continued success at the ADCC.


Posted in Atlanta BJJ

KnuckleUp Competitive Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Team delivers another strong performance at this years NAGA Georgia Championships.

The KnuckleUp Braziliian Jiu Jitsu Competition  Team  with  Head Instructor Master Ricardo Murgel.

KunckleUp had another strong showing at this years NAGA Georgia Championships. The gym had several of our members win their division and some even won in multiple divisions. Read on for a list of the winners from the gym. Read more ›

Posted in Atlanta BJJ, Knuckleup Fitness News

Entering The Ring For The First Time by Eric Phillips

Eric Phillips Staredown

Eric Phillips, a member of the KnuckleUp family, recently made his debut as a competitive fighter.  He writes about why he decided to fight and what it means to him to be able to test himself inside the ring.


As long as I can remember, I have wanted to step inside of the ring. Growing up during the Mike Tyson era and watching Bruce Lee, Jean Claude Van Damme, and Chuck Norris movies fed that desire. I remember my parents buying me a pair of boxing gloves with a digital Sugar Ray Leonard autograph for my 6th birthday. I was always practicing boxing and other martial arts.

Fast forward to when I joined Knuckle Up Fitness a few years ago, I focused primarily on Brazilian jiu jitsu and dabbled in Muay Thai when I had a chance. After watching my teammate Maryia Arlova’s success in the past year, I decided to finally to add a greater focus on Muay Thai and feed that childhood desire of stepping into the ring.

My first fight was set with another fighter that was fighting for the first time. All that I knew was that he was a Tae Kwon Do black belt. Our plan was to clinch and grind him out with pressure, knees, and dirty boxing. I put in as much training as possible in Muay Thai, boxing, and cardio kickboxing classes at Knuckle Up Fitness. During the Muay Thai classes, I would spar 5-10 rounds at a time. After each round a new partner would step in. This was a grueling process but forced me to push myself past exhaustion.

The night of the fight I was obviously nervous. I was the 12th fight on the card, so I had time to think about the fight. I did my best to relax and focus on my strategy. Once it was time to start wrapping my hands, I switched my mind to the business at hand. I started to warm up by hitting pads. Once the warm up started, I began to relax. My coach Ryan Raleigh pulled me to the side. We went over our strategy, and he gave me words of wisdom.

It was now time to walk to the cage. Many teammates, friends, and family came out to support. Hearing the cheers when I walked out was motivating. When the opening bell rang, I got into the clinch early. I felt that I had the advantage there and continued to work from that position. In the second round, I continued to work the clinch. I could hear all of my fans and his fans chanting back and forth. This was just as I imagined it. I was having fun out there. Later in the round, I landed a knee. I heard him grunt and lower his hands as if I hurt him. I went for the finish and started working in hooks and uppercuts. I hit him with everything I had, and he did not fall. He was able to get off of the cage and came back at me. Those training sessions of working those rounds with a fresh partner each time definitely helped me push through this exhausted state. The third round continued as the previous round had with me working the clinch and kneeing him. I was so tired. I kept telling myself, “just twenty more seconds and then just twenty more seconds.” When the final bell sounded, I knew I had done enough for the victory. I wanted to finish him, but I was proud that I left it all in the cage. My name was announced as the winner, and I had won my first fight. This was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I can’t wait to do it again. I thank all of my teammates and coaches for preparing me for the fight, all of those who came to cheer me on, my wife for her support, and my opponent for pushing me to the limit.

KnuckleUp Instructor Stephen UpChurch wraps Eric's hands before the fight.

KnuckleUp Instructor Stephen UpChurch wraps Eric’s hands before the fight.

Posted in Uncategorized


To help send KnuckleUp’s resident Brazilian Jiu Jitsu prodigy Quentin Rosenzweig to next month’s IBJJF World Championships KnuckleUp will be raffling off a this top of the line Grips Competition Jiu Jitsu Gi plus one hour of personal training with Quentin himself. Quentin has dominated competition over the last year and his KnuckleUp family has high hopes for him at this year’s World Championships.  Tickets are 50 dollars each and we are limiting the raffle to 20 tickets so  that each ticket  has a good chance of winning. The winner will be announced may 20tth.   Tickets available for purchase at the front desk.


Posted in Atlanta BJJ