I heard this cool story about Level Ground MMA in Dorchester, MA on WBUR while I was driving in my car. I wanted to make sure I reposted, an abbreviated version, here on my blog as a shout-out to Ali Fuller for making MMA accessible in Uphams Corner.
(WBUR) Walking up crooked, dimly lit stairs, you wonder, “Is this the right place?” There’s sheet rock, an old toilet and a discarded vent pipe in the stairwell, but no signs for Level Ground Mixed Martial Arts.
After a couple flights, you hear music and follow it. You open the door to Level Ground and step into a big, bright, welcoming gym with music pulsing from a stereo, kids readying for class and the founder’s dog, Corn Chips, roaming around like he owns the place.
Level Ground MMA Gym, Dorchester, MA
From the moment you enter, it’s clear Level Ground isn’t your typical MMA gym. The nearly 7,000-square-foot space in Upham’s Corner in Dorchester is newly renovated. There’s a personal training area, a large workout room with a mat-covered floor and punching bags, a place for creating spray-paint art and a bunny lounge.
That’s right, a bunny lounge. It’s a large cage with three pet bunnies.
But it’s not the bunny lounge or the spray-paint art or Corn Chips that make Level Ground truly unique. It’s the students and the mission of the nonprofit gym and its founder, Ali Fuller.
MMA Provides Structure, Safe Place to Vent
Nearly 60 students train at Level Ground, and most of the students are at-risk youth from Boston’s toughest neighborhoods.
Fuller says MMA naturally appeals to at-risk kids because they’re often looking for a way to channel their aggression or defend themselves. Once they get to training there, they realize the sport and the gym offer even more than that — much more.
“We try to establish a safe, supportive, friendly, fun community for these young people, create for them a second home because many of them have very volatile home environments,” Fuller says. “For a lot of them, this has become their second family.”
Ali Fuller’s mission reminds me of SpringHeart, Bob from Nepal and the martial arts students he is working with there.
Contact for Ali Fuller: Level Ground MMA Facebook Page
First photo: Jose Innocent, left, spars with Marc-Anthony Aviles at Level Ground. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)