Down south we value many things—family, community, respect for others and for yourself—and the Headkicks MMA & Fitness Club teaches those values to both children and adults through the combat sport of mixed martial arts.
Although it is portrayed as a brutal and violent sport, MMA is more about technique and quick judgement than power and ferocity.
In the past, there weren’t even whispers of the term “mixed martial arts” in Acadiana. The only combat sport people spoke of was boxing and, if they were really in the know, wrestling. Karate, taekwondo and other traditional martial arts were only stepping stones to keep kids active and interested. That’s where Aaron Phillips, Headkicks founder and competing MMA fighter, began his fighting career.
Phillips began competing in karate tournaments at the age of 8. He also competed in wrestling tournaments throughout high school until he was old enough to compete in the MMA matches at 18. Even then, there weren’t many places to practice mixed martial arts in Lafayette, nor were there many people practicing.
“There weren’t nearly as many fighters from Lafayette as there are now,” Phillips said.
With the rise of Daniel Cormier and Dustin Poirier, both hailing from Lafayette and having been champions of their respective weight classes, Lafayette is undoubtedly on the map.
While the two champions are showing the world what kind of talent resides in Acadiana, martial artists like Phillips and Tim Credeur, founder of Gladiator Academy, are cultivating talent fighters back home. Both MMA facilities have several amateur or professional fighters practicing there regularly.
Theo Thibodeaux, an amateur MMA fighter and steady member at Headkicks, said that when he began attending classes, he hadn’t planned on becoming a fighter.
“I was going to advanced classes and I was hanging in there and doing well,” Thibodeaux said. “And they were like ‘Hey, what do you think about [competing]?’ And at that point I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
A year later, Thibodeaux is undefeated with two wins under his belt.
The gym is filled with individuals with similar stories. They started practicing as a way to get fit or test their limits, and now they are successfully competing in martial arts tournaments and matches.
However, the members of the gym are vast and varied. Ranging from young 8-year-old kids to 40-year-old accountants, all are welcomed to participate in the various martial arts and fitness classes.
In fact, Damon Vincent, an amateur MMA fighter and senior instructor at Headkicks, hosts a class for individuals with special needs several times a week titled Unique Fitness.
Younger members are also showing passion for the sport that would not have been seen in Lafayette just a few years ago. High school students Trevor Lamb and Gabe Reed have become instructors at Headkicks for the children’s classes after just two years.
“I have kids in school tell me that once they’re done with football and they get in to college, they want to start coming here,” Reed said.
Some people might be confused as to why combat sports and gyms would be popular with kids, but it’s not just about the sport. These MMA gyms and clubs are about community. All the members, for one reason or another, are working hard together, and that builds a sense of camaraderie within classes. All the members are treated as family.
Ava Ray Hackney, an employee at Headkicks, says that the crew even sends personalized birthday videos to every member and employee of the club. It’s actions like those that bring MMA to the forefront of families that are looking to have their kids stay active. And it’s families like those that are crucial in growing the mixed martial arts scene in the South.