Good Sport: Greensboro MMA at the boxing gym

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by Chris Nafekh

Mixed martial-arts fighter Me’shack Adams wraps his hands in black cloth. After pulling himself into the full-sized boxing ring, he stretches, bending low and touching his toes, then again with his legs crossed. Spreading his feet, he drops into a full split, then leans forward to stretch his core. His trainer, Robert Chapman, enters the ring after him, wearing mitts on his hands for Adams to target.

Just off Spring Garden Street in Greensboro next to Lindley Community Rec Center sits the Al Lowe Boxing Center, where amateur boxers and MMA fighters alike develop speed, strength and vigor.

Adams is preparing zealously for an upcoming gig, a fight at Mirage, a Greensboro strip club, on Sept. 19. On his official record, Adams has fought one professional cage match, which he won against Reginald Barnett Jr. The fight on Sept. 19 is a professional match, and if he succeeds he’ll have two wins under his belt.

The bill presents 13 fights between seasoned martial artists such as Shelton Shales and Quitin Thomas. Female competitors like Nicole Ertzberger and Hannah Cifers compete in a separate bracket. Adams will be pitted against Trey Singleton, who has won a single professional match. Both fighters have two losses and a majority of wins on their amateur records. Adams’ original opponent James Quiggs, weighing in at 135 pounds, recently backed out of the fight.

“Fighters back out for a few reasons,” says Anthony Omisore, a tall, lanky middleweight with pink hand-wrapping standing nearby. “They either get injured, they say they get injured, or they get into trouble.”

Ten people inside are sweating profusely; an old man panting on a treadmill, musclemen bench-pressing plates, boxers pounding-ducking-dodging and a young boy hitting a speed bag hard, working off his baby fat.

Omisore shadowboxes his reflection on a wall of mirrors as the radio plays monotonous adverts that reverberate off the brick and concrete walls. The smell of rich steel and sweat rises off the heavy equipment. A full-sized boxing ring fills the left side of the room.

A stray boxer walks across the base of the ring, stops and holds his foot for a moment, then straightens up. “You look like you’re hurtin’,” Adams’ trainer says.

“Naw,” the man replies, “just tying my shoe.”

He walks away with a slight limp.

Now Me’shack Adams stands at the corner of the ring, strapping his fists into large blue gloves to signal his readiness. Chapman raises his mitts and Adams attacks instinctively.

The two dance in the ring for a solid half hour; the buzzer fills the room with a loud beep every couple of minutes. Chapman raises his hands, backing up, and Adams pushes forwards with two-, three-, four-punch combos. The back of his neck glistens. Defending his face with his fists, Adams lifts his leg for a double kick, then uppercuts, a side jab, back to defense, headshots and a knee jump to Chapman’s low-hanging mitts.

Duck, punch, kick; he lets out a hard “hah” in exertion. He hits the mitts — one, two, three, duck. One, two, three, duck. Rhythmic punches echo through the concrete chamber, then a rest, then beating and a rest. One, two, three, duck. Sweat dripped from his curly black beard onto the floor of the ring.

Mitt training is only one segment of the mixed marshal-artists’ daily routine.

Early in the morning Adams rises and jogs six miles, then moves onto circuit training. With Chapman across the ring, Adams blows through eight rounds of mitt training. Each round is about three minutes, which adds up to 24 minutes of high-stress cardio aerobics. Next he jumps rope for 12 rounds, then shadowboxes. Wind sprints follow, then Adams finishes with a three-mile jog.

“He’s dedicated to his job,” Chapman says. “He comes in and he do what he gotta do. Work out two to three hours a day when he come in here, nonstop.”

“I’m a peaceful guy outside of the cage,” Adams says. “But as soon as the cage doors lock man, it’s a battle. He wants to hurt me, I want to hurt him. We’re not friends anymore, we might as well have been enemies from day one. And when the cage doors open, we shake hands. It’s a sport, you gotta go in there with a kill switch. I’m not going in there to make cupcakes for the guy, I’m going in there to beat him or he’ll beat me.”