'You become part of the Team Defiant family’
By Steven Hoffman
The Team Defiant MMA gym in Oxford is buzzing with activity on this Thursday evening in mid-March. Dozens of people are simultaneously working out, some punching mitts, some working on proper kicking techniques, others warming up for an MMA class that will soon start.
Brandon Sheffield, a retired professional boxer who holds a black belt in kickboxing and Tang Soo Do, oversees all this activity, keeping a careful eye on the athletes who are training.
“It’s an all-around gym now,” explained Sheffield, who started Team Defiant with business partner Mike Fitchett in 2009. The facility is full most evenings. A women’s kickboxing class that had a handful of participants last year now has more than two dozen members. MMA classes and martial arts classes are growing, too. Fitchett is the lead instructor for the youth and adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes that take place throughout the week. Several amateur fighters and a professional boxer also train under the tutelage of Sheffield.
Everyone at Team Defiant is either improving their fitness for an upcoming fight or fighting to improve their fitness.
Oxford resident Bethany Atkinson started coming here three months ago for the women’s kickboxing and MMA conditioning class.
Atkinson has an athletic background, having played soccer and lacrosse, but she would seem to be an unlikely person to join a gym that focuses on MMA, boxing, and kickboxing.
“I’m a nurse. I’m not an aggressive person,” she explained. “One would think that this gym would be an intimidating place to work out, but that is not the case. All the instructors are personable and you become part of the Team Defiant family.”
“Family” is not an exaggeration.
On this evening, Margie Gaspar is practicing punches and kicks with her daughter, Carly.
Carly, who has 15 years of training as a dancer, sought out the kickboxing class at Team Defiant because she wanted a great full-body workout. She enjoyed the class so much that she convinced her mother to give it a try. Margie is surprised by how much she likes kickboxing.
“It’s a lot more fun than Zumba,” Margie said. “I feel like I have a lot more energy.”
When Margie found out how productive the workouts were, she convinced her best friend, Kris Keeler to try the class.
“This is definitely the best workout I’ve ever had,” Keeler said.
Rich Norman helps his daughter, Emily, with her MMA training at Team Defiant.
“When we can train together, it’s always fun,” Rich said. “It’s important for a kid her age to learn self-defense. Combat sports, in general, can teach you the confidence that a lot of people need. You can develop a mental toughness that you can’t get from other sports.”
The entire Patti family—Tom and Kara, and their daughters Josi and Julianna—are now training at the facility. Tom was the first one to sign up, and then they enrolled Josi and Julianna to study jiu jitsu.
Kara said that her daughters immediately took to the sport.
“They love it,” she said. “It teaches them respect, manners, and how to act.”
Kara said that her youngest daughter has also gained confidence as a result of the training.
“It gave her a lot of confidence,” Kara explained. “It brings her out of her shell.”
Kara, who previously did yoga for 17 years, then joined up because she saw how much the rest of the family was enjoying themselves.
“I didn’t think kickboxing would be my thing,” she explained. “We’re out here and we’re having fun. But you also burn serious calories.”
Jessica Hankins talked about how nice everyone is at Team Defiant.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she explained, “and it is affordable.”
“It’s something different every week,” said Abby Wharton. “It’s a total body workout, and you leave wanting more.”
Peyton Lloyd, a student at Oxford Area High School, would like to take part in an amateur MMA fight at some point. She joined Team Defiant because she wanted to give MMA a try. She has really taken to the sport.
“I’m a little better at kickboxing and boxing than the grappling,” Lloyd said. “I’ve grown as a fighter a lot. I know how to defend myself wisely. I am more confident.”
For men and women who want to pursue local or regional kickboxing or MMA fights, Sheffield can provide the necessary training and guidance. Sheffield started out studying karate, focusing on Tang Soo Do, then moved on to boxing. His career included three fights at the famed Spectrum in Philadelphia, including a four-round bout against middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, one of the all-time greats in boxing.
“I got to do some great things during my boxing career,” Sheffield explained. He retired from boxing in 2003 and started focusing on MMA. He enjoys serving as an instructor for the fitness classes, but also likes working with the students who are training for fights. Right now, there is one professional boxer and three amateur fighters training at Team Defiant. The professional fighter is Nick Willey, a resident of Elkton, Md, who has been working out at Team Defiant for the last two and a half years.
“He’s a great kid, he helps coach some of the other fighters,” Sheffield said. “He trains harder than anybody I’ve seen. He’s a very good boxer.”
The amateur fighters are Shannon Schade, Shawn Jones, Jr. and Damien Melendez.
Jones said that he took up MMA training two and a half years ago, and now trains 30 or more hours a week.
“I like the whole martial arts aspect,” he said. Schade said that Jones is an explosive fighter who has speed.
Schade started training in the martial arts about 15 years ago, when there were fewer women involved in boxing, kickboxing, and MMA.
“When I first started, I couldn’t find a fight, but now I am getting match offers all the time,” Schade explained. “I’d love to keep competing until I can’t do it anymore.”
Schade said that she still gets nervous before a bout, but quickly settles down once the match starts.
“The fighting aspect helps because you get in a zone and that helps block everything else out,” she explained.
Melendez has been training for three years, typically working out six days a week. His strengths are wrestling and jiu jitsu, and Sheffield also noted that the young fighter is “willing to take any fight at any time.”
Melendez said that he is receiving good training from Sheffield.
“He really takes care of us here,” Melendez said.