Extreme MMA and Fitness paves path for youth

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Grand Bois native Justin Verdin always knew that he wanted to be a fighter.

But never in his wildest dreams did he expect to be a gym owner, coach and also a mentor to young people across the Tri-parish area.

Verdin owns and operates Extreme MMA & Fitness – a diverse gym that teaches fitness through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing and mixed martial arts training.

Verdin said that he coaches prospective fighters through the gym. But he takes the most pride in grooming young people who he believes might otherwise be finding trouble in the streets.

“We have the best fighters in the South,” Verdin said. “We’ve got the best MMA guys. We have a ton of good boxers. But we’ve also got a good bit of young kids who come in here and just need some guidance and someone to look up to. Us being able to be there and provide that to them and keep them off the streets – that makes us feel really good. That’s what we’re here for – to help people stay on the right path.”

The idea for Elite MMA & Fitness started out of Verdin’s backyard – literally.

The 30-year-old boxer, who owns a 10-3 record in 13 professional fights, said that the gym opened “around 2004 or 2005,” when he started working with people out of his home.

Verdin said that during that time in his career, he was focused primarily on his own career and fitness. But as people started to see him fight, the demand for coaching and training started to surface.

Verdin admits that in the early days, he didn’t know much about coaching – he just sort of learned the craft along the way.

“It was all started out of the backyard,” Verdin said. “Then we ended up getting a little room out in Houma to get some work done. That’s how it started. From where we were fighting out of my living room to now – that’s a lot of growth. That’s something we’re very fortunate and very blessed to have had.”

Extreme MMA & Fitness is now a full-fledged establishment on 1226 Lafayette St. in Houma.

Out of that location, Verdin and his coaches said they create a “Rocky Balboa” type of atmosphere.

“What we mean by that is it’s set up for people to really be forced to work hard, which is what I like,” Verdin said. “That’s my style of gym. We have AC inside the gym, but we don’t ever run it. We keep it hot. We want to have conditions that can show our fighters what a champion is made out of, you know?”

Inside the walls of Extreme MMA & Fitness, Verdin said a wide range of offerings are available.

Verdin, himself, coaches the boxing – along with some of his other top-tier fighters.

But a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach is also present in the gym to instruct people who want to learn the ins and outs of mixed martial arts.

“It’s actually hard to keep up,” Verdin said. “I do what I can, but I think the biggest thing we’d like to do is get some more coaches some day so that we can keep expanding and growing. We have so much business now that it’s hard for a few people to do all the coaching.”

But while training for an actual fight is the goal of some within the gym, Verdin stressed that MMA training is a good exercise for all.

He said that his gym has “a bunch” of people who never want to hit another human, nor be hit in an actual fight.

Verdin stressed that anyone wanting the fighting training purely for conditioning and better fitness is “more than welcome.”

“You can come here and just reap the benefits of getting good conditioning,” Verdin said. “With the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu work, you don’t have to get punched in the face or even hit at all. If people want to just work hard for the cardio of it, we are happy to offer that to them. We have a lot of our business from people who never want to be in a fight.”

In addition to the conditioning aspect, it always comes full-circle to the kids.

Verdin said he “would do anything” to help the next generation thrive. He said that inside his walls, he’s taught life lessons that he believes are impacting lives.

“I’ve taught kids that were being bullied that it’s OK – the things that they are saying don’t mean anything,” Verdin said. “I’ve also taught actual bullies themselves that there’s a better way to handle yourself and that those types of things are not OK to do. I’ve had parents come back after and thank us for helping their child grow and mature.

“That’s a great feeling. Being able to give back makes you feel really good. We’re all about giving back and helping the kids. That’s what we’re here for.”

Elite MMA and Fitness owner Justin Verdin (right) tapes a fighter’s hands before an amateur bout. Verdin started the gym out of his backyard in 2004. It has since grown to its current location on Lafayette Street in Houma.