HAZARD — One might not suspect they have entered a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) gym when they arrive at Viper Pit MMA for the first time. Underneath their hard exterior lies gentlemen who offer kindness and respect to whoever walks through the gym’s doors. The group is one big family and always welcome newcomers to the gym.
Viper Pit MMA opened its doors three years ago. Since starting competition two years ago, they have won six titles, countless medals, and several awards. The group primary competes in the Ohio Valley Region. Their next competition is in four months.
Coach Donald Neace has 11 years of MMA experience behind him. He started training in MMA when Ultimate Fight Championship became popular. Neace would travel to different gyms to learn different styles of martial arts.
One of their breakout stars, Dustin Collins, recently competed in the Bellator MMA company.
Another one of their top fighters, Ken Beverly, was approached by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and offered him a chance to join the professional wrestling company. Beverly declined, Neace says, because he wanted to fight in a cage.
Between six fighters, Viper Pit MMA has won 12 titles. An accomplishment even the biggest gyms struggle to obtain, Neace said.
One of the things that set this team apart from all the others, Neace said, is that they mix the different styles of MMA to create their own style of fighting.
The other teams competing against Viper Pit MMA get thrown off their game because of the team’s unique style, Neace said.
Before each training session, they all gather around and pray. Neace said profanity or curse words are not allowed in the gym.
Neace also teaches self-defense classes and a beginners class. He encourages anyone to come down and train, regardless if they are interested in cage fighting or not. Neace said it is important for a person to learn how to properly defend themselves.
In addition to self-defense classes, Neace said the gym offers personal training and nutrition classes.
Beverly, 19, said he dreamed of becoming a cage fighter after watching UFC when he was younger. Shortly after that, Beverly started training and working out at gyms.
“It has changed my life,” Beverly said of joining Viper Pit MMA. Before joining the gym, Beverly said he was addicted to video games and out of shape. Once he saw his first UFC fight, Beverly started working out and getting into better shape.
During his time as an amateur cage fighter, Beverly had an undefeated streak of 6-0. Since turning professional, Beverly has a current record of 3-2.
Before each match, Beverly prays. He said God deserves all the credit for his success. His brother Stone Beverly also trains at the gym.
Neace believes Beverly will make it to UFC soon, because of Beverly’s skill level and beating other top fighters across the Ohio Valley Region.
For Christopher Williams, joining Viper Pit MMA was a way for him to release his anger after coming home from army basic training.
“I’d come to practice pissed off, angry. I’d work all of it out here. I’d be perfectly fine after leaving the gym,” said Williams.
Williams said gyms like this are important for the community because it gives both kids and adults something to do, instead of negative things such as stealing or doing drugs. He said it teaches them discipline and creates long-lasting friendships.
He will be entering the cage for his second fight in February.
Jared Short said the gym gave him a purpose again, “There is not a lot of things I’m interested in, but this is one of them.”
Short was living out of his car when he first started training at the gym, but Short said Neace took him in and gave him a roof over his head.
“Donald is my best friend. He is always there for me,” said Short.
Short competed in his first fight in April. Since then, he has fought three other times. His current record is 3-0
“I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” said Short.
Jacob Couch, 17, is a senior at Perry County Central High School. He’s been training at the gym for two years.
He will turn 18 shortly before his first fight in February.
“I really fell in love with the sport. Its essence and pureness. It looks like a lot of chaos from those who view it from outside,” said Couch.
Couch said he wants others to know is that the gym accepts everyone and they help each other achieve their goals. No one at the gym judges one another. He encourages anyone who wants to find a place to either workout or train to come to Viper Pit MMA.
Neace said his students are his family. They spend time with each other on the weekends and they all eat dinner together.
While the public tends to only see the violent aspect of the sport, Neace said there are many benefits to training. Students learn discipline and respect.
Neace said when one of his students knocks out an opponent during a cage fight, his students will take a knee next to the injured fighter and be the first to check on them.
He believes 2017 will be the best year Viper Pit MMA will have so far. Their next scheduled fight is Feb. 28 in Hazard.
For more information on Viper Pit MMA, please call 606-438-5659.
Viper Pit MMA also has a Facebook page under the same name.
TJ Caudill is a reporter with The Hazard Herald and he can be reached at 606-629-3245.