Britain’s MMA scene explodes into Derby with the Gracie Barra gym

Gracie Barra Derby's talent contributes to Britain's rising MMA movement

The Gracie Barra Derby gym
The exterior of Gracie Barra Derby's MMA gym.

Despite the rock bottom Derby has faced in footballing terms recently, the city is not short of current sporting success, and it only takes a trip to the industrial units of Sawley park to find out why.

Here lies one of the 700 worldwide Gracie Barra gyms, one of the most prestigious Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) franchises. Gracie Barra was founded by Carlos Gracie Jr, a martial artist from the family who invented Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which reinforces how authentic this local gym is.

Having only ever been used to decaying boxing gyms, the professional reception of Gracie Barra Derby was a breath of fresh air upon arrival which was followed by the warm energy of Patrick Martin who spoke tirelessly off the record about the development of MMA in Britain as he knows it.

Further into the gym lies a positive and motivated group of martial artists excited to contribute to the rapid movement of British MMA.

“We are an underrated city in the MMA scene; there will be someone from Derby fighting in the UFC,” says 28-year-old amateur MMA fighter Jarrad Annable.

The Utimate Fighting Championship promotions
The pinnacle of MMA: Becoming a UFC fighter.
Credit: Flickr

That level of determination is instilled from the senior figures such as Patrick, Lee Kirton, and Simon Humphries down to the eager students.

Kirton, 46, reflects: “I remember when a lot of these guys were young teenagers, they’ve grown so much not just as fighters but as confident individuals”.

Progression is a prominent theme in Gracie Barra Derby as they use progressed training techniques such as strength and conditioning, led by Humphries.

“I came here to train BJJ several years ago then started training a professional mixed martial artist, after that it became a natural progression to teach in this gym as it is my local,” said Humphries.

“We are lucky though because, in the UK, you don’t always have the luxury of spending money on strength and conditioning,” he added.

The training methods at this gym has produced current champions such as Summer Onley.

“When I was younger, I wasn’t violent at all so now that I train here to fight in a cage is crazy,” said the Battle Arena women’s champion.

The 27-year-old takes inspiration from the elite British MMA fighters who are representing women which make her aspirations more realistic:

“It’s inspiring when you see people like Molly McCann being the first British woman to win a UFC fight because it makes my goals feel achievable,” she added.

WARNING: Following imagery is graphic and may be considered offensive.

Onley is not the only titleholder in Gracie Barra Derby as ‘Polish Power’ Alan Baron became the Battle Arena bantamweight world champion this summer.

“I want to defend my title at least once and then move to the professional ranks, a UFC belt is my goal for the coming years,” shared the Jan Blachowicz prodigy.

Another member of the gym with a running achievement is Annable, being undefeated in his three competitive fights, but he had to go through the lows to see this high.

“In my first session I got submitted, but I learnt something about myself that day and fell in love with the sport since then,” explained the Derby native.

This community of fighters and staff train in what is a certified premium school, and they recognise its level.

“The classes in this gym have everything from striking to wrestling, if you come here you can train with the champ too,” said a grinning Baron.

College Director Kirton added: “Ten years ago, we didn’t have the facilities we do now, we had guys that went in and trained hard but now we train hard and smart.”

British MMA's popularity shown in numbers
The increase in popularity of MMA in England over the recent four years.
Credit: Canva

This dedicated gym is one of many not just around Derby, but the whole of the UK who are developing MMA talent as I type. Kirton has been one to witness Derby’s MMA scene go from the underground depths to emerge as the dark horse of the county’s favourite sports

“There is a better understanding of the sport in this country now, the English MMA association has shown how professional and safe it really is,” said the experienced martial artist.

Baron has also noticed the public interest in his livelihood

“I love that it is is finally getting some recognition, people even now know what a takedown is!” joked the 25-year-old.

If you want to experience one of the fastest growing sports in the city you can email [email protected] or call 07776 148395.