“Our Gym is Stronger Than Ever,” Says Instructor Stephen Upchurch

KnuckleUp Fitness in BuckHead

Stephen Upchurch is one of the most versatile and dedicated members of the KnuckleUp fitness staff.  I recently spoke to him about what was going on with his career as a trainer and about the current Renaissance at KnuckleUp Fitness.


Hi, Stephen.  It looks like you’re coming back strong from your recent surgery and recovery. Tell us about that.

Yeah, I was out for about four-and-a-half months. I had a SLAP repair, which is repairing a labral tear, and also an impingement surgery.  They shaved some bone, took out some of the bursa, that kind of thing.  It was supposed to be a six to nine-month recovery period, but I was pretty diligent with the physical therapy.  I am back to training now.  I wouldn’t say full training, but pretty damned close considering it’s only four-and-a-half months after surgery.

Are you back to teaching at KnuckleUp?

I am back to teaching.  I actually taught my kickboxing class the day after my surgery.  You can’t keep me out of this place!

Tell my about the new gym that just opened.

You’re going to love it, man.  It’s a pretty amazing facility.  We have 5,000 square feet of marital arts mats down on one side, cardio and weight machines down the other side and the back is all CrossFit.  If you can’t get it done in this building, you aren’t going to get it done.  We really have everything you need to practice martial arts, get yourself physically fit, get yourself in shape, get big, get strong.  Whatever it is you want to do, you can definitely do in that place!

Are you helping Chazz Walton prepare for his upcoming fight at Legacy 47 on October 16th?

Definitely!  I was training with Chazz today.  Being injured, it was hard for me to help in the way I normally do, which is holding pads and physically working with fighters, but I’ve been doing as much as I can as far as just helping and coaching, that kind of thing.  But Dave, Chazz, those guys, they’re definitely ready.  Dave Vitkay’s going to go out there and get shot out of a cannon like he normally does.  And Chazz is just one of the most talented fighters in the Southeast, if not the country, maybe the world.  That kid’s definitely got what it takes to take this thing all the way.

Chazz’s fights are generally over pretty quickly.  Describe what you mean when you say he’s talented.

Chazz is extremely dedicated to his training and he’s just a smart guy.  Some people have to grind and grind and grind to really pick up on stuff.  He picks up on things very quickly and he applies them very quickly.  He’s really good at making things his own, which is one of the first concepts Master Murgel taught me about when we first started training together.  He said everyone has to fight within their own reality.  There are things that work for Anderson Silva that are not going to work for me.  I’m 5’10” fighting at 145, so you have to take the things you learn from people and apply them to yourself, and that’s something Chazz is very good at. He’s quick on his feet and confident in what he does. Sometimes fighters get that mental block in competition where they know what to do, but they just can’t bring it to the front quick enough.  Chazz tends to bring it to the front very quickly.

Is Dave Vitkay scheduled to fight on the Legacy 47 card as well?

Oh yeah.  He’s fighting a guy named Wes Barnes.  He was slated to fight previously on another card, but his opponent had a staph infection and Dave had like five other guys pull out of the fights. It was insane.

Have you been involved in Dave’s camp at all?

As much as possible, but like I said, not physically so much, but I’ve definitely offered coaching.  It feels weird for me because I’m a very hands-on coach or training partner.  I don’t like to stand on the sidelines and tell people how they’re doing things and how they should be doing things better.  I prefer to get in there with them. But their training hasn’t suffered as a result of that—they are ready!

 This has been a very tumultuous past eight or nine months for KnuckleUp, but I think we’re entering into the New Year maybe stronger than ever.

This move needed to happen.  Call it a blessing in disguise, call it whatever you want.  The old building couldn’t really keep up with is.  It didn’t really reflect the attitude that we have and it was very compartmentalized.  The new space is going to re-instill in people that KnuckleUp is not so much a gym as it is an attitude and a lifestyle.

What do you love most about the new facility?

One of the things I like about the new space is that it’s so open.  When you walk in the building, if you’re kickboxing, you can see people doing CrossFit.  If you’re doing Jiu-Jitsu, you can see people doing Muay Thai.  It encompasses the all-inclusive family atmosphere that we’ve always had at KnuckleUp.  Change is always hard, but this change will definitely re-invigorate KnuckleUp as an entity – its members, it’s trainers, coaches – everyone.  A lot of hard work has gone into this and just like anything in life, when you see hard work pay off, it feels good.

What do you think it is about KnuckleUp that draws people in?

KnuckleUp is an intangible thing and some people get it.  Whether you’re a member or a trainer or it’s the first time walking in the building, you walk into KnuckleUp and see what we’re doing. You will see the hard work and the smiles and the joking.  It’s like one big family. People gravitate toward that mentality and the hard work and the rewards that come from that.  Those are the kind of people that will get it when they walk into KnuckleUp.  They see it, they get it and they say, “Alright, this is my kind of place!”

 What kind of people will you find at KnuckleUp?

We have every type of person here at KnuckleUp – men, women, fighters, business people, you name it.  KnuckleUp doesn’t just find its place in our competitors.  We have active competitors, practitioners, hobbyists, fitness enthusiasts – but the one thing we all have in common is that attitude.  We’re going to set goals and do whatever it takes to meet them.   People have their own personal goals and that’s the thing we all share. We all try to help each other reach those personal goals – whether it’s on the mat or with a weight loss goal or just getting in shape.  It’s that attitude and energy that circulates through every aspect of that room now and that’s what I love about the new gym.

Sometimes a very busy gym atmosphere can intimidate new folks, but one of the reasons I think we have so many women members is that, unlike many gyms, KnuckleUp is a very safe environment. You come in and you feel welcomed and supported and that’s something you really have to experience to appreciate. Would you agree?

I would.  It’s one of the things we definitely always strive to do and that’s why we break everything down into different levels, whether it’s Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai or any of our martial arts.  Not everyone who walks onto the mat or into the ring wants to become a world champion.  Some people want to learn the heart of a discipline or do things for the fitness aspect or apply it for self-defense.  We want KnuckleUp to be inviting and it’s another element we love about our gym.

Fitness Instructor Stephen UpChurch Poses with Wife at KnuckleUp Fitness in Buckhead

KnuckleUp is a Family Affair for Mr and Mrs Upchurch and Punchkin ( Due to Arrive in November.)