The Saratoga Sun -

By Max Miller
, Special to the Saratoga Sun 

MMAking it

Mixed Martial Arts training facility opens in Saratoga, offers training for competition or self improvement


About six weeks out from a fight, Randy Speiser begins a transformation. Normally 220 pounds, the long-limbed Rawlins State Penitentiary Corrections Officer starts melting weight off by adhering to a diet and exercise regime he admits is "not pleasant."

By weigh-ins, Speiser has become a new man: 185-pounds of tightly corded muscle, and not an ounce more.

It's been close to five years since Speiser has been in a formal competition, but part of him still yearns for combat: "I'm not saying I'm going to fight again, but I'm not saying I'm not," he said.

In addition to working as a corrections officer in Rawlins, Speiser trains people to fight at Saratoga's new gym, the Colosseum of Pain, located at 110 West Spring Avenue.

The Colosseum is staffed by a trio of Rawlins correctional officers: In addition to Speiser, who is the prison's unarmed combat trainer, there's gym-owner James Knight, and strong man specialist/ "nutritional guru" Tony Woodruff, all of whom work days at the state prison.

The Colosseum has only been open since mid-January, but it's not Knight's first foray into the world of fight promoting and athletic training. For the last decade, he has managed the Casper Martial Arts Academy, and he has been drawn to combat sports since "being a rough, tough and wild kid."

Knight started boxing as a young man, because he "wanted to be tougher and better," and he thought the sport's disciplined lifestyle could provide a path to that future.

Just as Knight was starting as a boxer, however, a new kind of fighting was sweeping the bloodsport world. In the early 2000's, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fights such as those popularized by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) were rapidly gaining renown, and Knight soon abandoned the ring for the (UFC-trademarked) Octagon, and his boxing gloves for grappling gloves.

Like boxers, MMA fighters punch each other, but they are also allowed to deploy a wide variety of techniques from disciplines as diverse as wrestling, jiu-jitsu, krav maga, karate and muay thai. Fights consist of three five minute rounds fought inside the Octagon, a caged ring, and bouts can be won by knockout, technical knockout or submission.

"I'm more of a coach (than a competitor) now," Knight said. He remains deeply involved in the Wyoming MMA community, however, traveling with friends to attend matches in Colorado and training a new generation of combatants in his Casper gym. In Casper, Knight employs a specialist in jiu-jitsu, and another in boxing and trains 12-20 people a few times a week.

Knight hopes that the Colosseum will help bring the tight-knit Wyoming MMA community to the Valley. In his view, MMA has suffered in recent years from a spate of MMA commission-imposed stipulations that have made fight-promotion ever more expensive.

According to him, the league asks organizers to pay travel and expenses for six officials, takes 20 percent of sales from fights and requires that both an Emergency Medical Technician and a doctor be on hand at all competitions. "At the end of the day, you're paying 6,500 bucks out for a show and you're hoping to break even," Knight described the business model. As a result, "(Wyoming) MMA died. Nobody did shows any more."

The Colosseum won't focus solely on MMA though. "A lot of those guys who train at our gym, they don't want to fight. They're just there for the exercise and the knowledge, and we're fine with that," Knight said. Along with heavy bags and a variety of weight benches, the Colosseum features treadmills, yoga mats and personal training services like specialized nutrition and diet advice.

The particularly muscle-minded need to talk with Tony Woodruff. Woodruff is the resident strongman at the Colosseum, and he can help buff up even the beefiest customers with exercise like "log-presses" (what it sounds like) and walking back and forth with steel I-beams. "He's a big boy as well. He does all the power-lifting here," Knight said of Woodruff. "He says he's retired (from fighting), but we'll see," Knight continued of the bodybuilder. MMA has a way of sucking its devotees back into orbit.

There are only two more gym regulars the public should know about. "You'll see a couple cats running around here. They're harmless," Knight said of the resident felines, named Miesha and Tate, after famed UFC fighter Miesha Tate.

Gym rats beware.


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