Johnny Dunn, or Coach Johnny as he is known around the gym, has been involved in martial arts training for most of his life. I recently talked to Coach Johnny about the bigger role he is beginning to take on at the resurgent KnuckleUp organization.
Welcome back to Knuckle Up! Tell us about coming back and what martial arts classes you’re currently teaching.
I am back full-time. When I was first brought on, it was to help coach the fight team. That was one of the biggest priorities for CJ and from there I started teaching more classes. The initial ones were going to be the Muay Thai classes, but I’ve also been a personal trainer since I was 19 years old, so I’ve done it for quite a while. I’ve brought outside clients into the gym and also work personally with a lot of fighters such as Chazz Walton and others from all over Atlanta.
Are you doing classes or just teaching fighters?
I teach Muay Thai classes Tuesday nights and Sunday afternoons at the Buckhead/Sandy Springs location and I also fill in for kickboxing classes throughout the week. I’m working more with members in my free time.
You, CJ, Andy and Stephen had the Herculean task of getting the new place open. Tell me a little bit about that.
We ran into a time crunch and I knew CJ and Andy were putting in 20-24 hour days from what I gathered from social media so I just took it upon myself to go and help. I wanted to see it move a lot faster and wanted us to get into the gym. All of us who are here all the time, we see the bigger picture, we see the potential this gym has. CJ and Andy were killing themselves doing it by themselves and the future of the gym was a lot further away that way. I thought I would try to help get closer to that and attain it a lot faster. We took it all the way down to the wire to where on opening day Andy, Stephen Upchurch, CJ and I were there for the very first class to open because we had been there the entire day before.
Tell me about the vision of the new KnuckleUp location and what’s special about it.
The new location is basically our flagship. It’s going to be the KnuckleUp headquarters. A lot of people thought KnuckleUp was down and out when they had the fire. What they don’t realize is it was kind of a rebirth and it was almost the jump-start we needed. The new location being right in the heart of Atlanta will help us continue to grow. We plan on being all over the state and hopefully eventually all over the country. What we’re trying to do is bring a whole new model of fitness as well as mixed martial arts. A lot of MMA gyms only do one certain thing. We have a huge target market as far as fitness goes. That’s why we brought CrossFit into this main location. We still do kickboxing and other disciplines. Other gyms try to sell their gym on fighting only, but fighting’s not everything. We even teach this philosophy to our fighters. It’s about bettering yourself. That’s how champions are made – because they want to be better, not because they want to be better than everyone else, but because they want to be better than they were the day before.
So KnuckleUp is about much more than martial arts and fighting. It’s about fitness, too.
That’s what CJ and a lot of the coaches are trying to do here. The cool thing about our gym is we offer so many different ways to stay fit and so many different ways to compete in different forms of martial arts. One of CJ’s biggest goals is that anything within KnuckleUp, at any of our locations, you can compete within it. We brought CrossFit in because we can form a KnuckleUp team and compete. We have an excellent Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu team that literally competes all over the world. It’s the same thing with our Muay Thai fighters and kickboxers. We’re training people who are fighting up in Glory. And our MMA fighters – we have UFC fighters and other gyms coming through here and our guys are poised for the next level. One person who has already gotten a little bit of attention is Chazz Walton. He’s got an upcoming fight and with us being able to offer him all these different things, it’s really put him above his game.
Tell us about working and training with Chazz.
Chazz is a martial arts anomaly. I’ve coached since about 1994 and I’ve seen thousands of people, from kids to adults, and hundreds of professional fighters, and Chazz is only the third person I’ve come across that I can honestly say, “This guy’s got it!” Some people are just born with it and that’s why I’ve done everything in my power to guide him mentally, emotionally and spiritually to keep him on the right path.
What’s it like training with someone with that kind of promise?
Chazz is a sponge. He picks up everything. I show him once and he’s got it. I show him a second time, and he’s pretty much mastered it. He’s focused by leaps and bounds and I don’t want to discredit any fighter from our gym or any other gym, it’s just that some people have literally been blessed with that innate ability. He’s got an undefeated amateur record and is undefeated as a pro and he’s winning with style. He’s not flashy and he’s not arrogant. He’s just dominant and he’s dominant in every aspect. He’s good on the ground, at stand up and with submissions. It’s neat to watch the growth of this guy. He’s so young and he’s got a big future ahead of him in martial arts as long as he stays on path and we provide the gym that we provide for him now. I would be surprised if he doesn’t become a world champion.
Anything else you’d like to add about the new KnuckleUp facility and what people can expect here?
The biggest thing is the momentum of all these social media hash tags – #cantstopwontstop and everything from what us old coaches did getting this gym going to the member base sticking around through the fire and other things. There’s a real loyalty here. When you come into KnuckleUp, everybody cares about everybody here. It’s literally one giant family. Every time there are fight nights a large group of our membership will meet and go out to different restaurants around town. We know what’s going on with each other’s kids and each other’s lives. We’re very involved and it makes for a very good support system because for people – from a fitness level to a fight level – you need that accountability partner to keep you on track and attaining your goals. KnuckleUp is leaps and bounds above all the rest when it comes to providing that kind of support and motivation for our members.