Anthony “AntDawg” Figueroa wanted to build an all-encompassing and accessible mixed martial arts venue where he could teach, train and repay the sport that has opened up an array of career opportunities.
The MMA fighter, who last fought in December 2011 but is 2-0 in his previous two fights and 6-6 overall throughout a six-year career, knew that beyond what he did on the professional circuit, he was compelled to use his gift in a way that would benefit his hometown.
“I was training people in the garage for three years, maybe a little longer,” Figueroa said. “And I had a lot of people saying, ‘Open a gym. Open a gym.’ I finally got to a point to where it was time.”
That time was three and a half years ago. The place: AntDawg’s USH Training Center, now located inside Gilroy Health and Fitness.
The gym, which offers training in kickboxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing and strength and conditioning to athletes from the age of 5 and up, has blossomed over the last three and a half years.
“I wanted to open a gym, make it my career and make it my life,” said the 32-year-old Gilroy native Friday. “I wanted to give back and give people a place to go. I know what this sport did for me. It steers you in the right direction. I love it.”
A two-part formula is utilized inside the spacious MMA haven that, thus far, has equaled exponential growth and success.
Figueroa’s goal has always been to provide an outlet for those of all ages interested in learning mixed martial arts, hone the necessary skills and honor the sport in the proper way. He has also aimed to form his own fight team.
Both have panned out.
“I’ve been wanting to build a fight team for a while,” Figueroa said. “But I love the whole kids martial arts thing. That’s what I’m really big on.”
Catering to the youngsters is Figueroa’s top priority. And as Antdawg’s USH has become synonymous with the budding local MMA scene, the gym’s youth clientele has increased. Figueroa said there are about 90 kids spread across three groups – Pee Wee, Junior and Teen – who are in the gym at various times during the week.
An underlying notion of well-roundedness – in and out of the facility – anchors AntDawg’s philosophy. It’s that belief that drives Figueroa’s course of action and mission.
Different disciplines are taught separately then brought together to form the ideal MMA athlete. Teachers are students at the same time. Individuals are teammates. And those teammates make up part two of the AntDawg equation – the Dawgpound Fight Team.
Officially named simultaneously with the opening of the gym, The Dawgpound squad, whose members are also the youth instructors, can be traced back to the aforementioned garage, where Figueroa trained, among one or two others, niece Brianna VanBuren, nephew Antonio VanBuren and Benjamin Amezquita.
“We started off slow but now we have a bunch of people coming in,” Antonio VanBuren said. “A lot of kids always want to fight, but they go out on the street and do it. We want to keep it inside the gym, keep it fun. It keeps them healthy and out of trouble.”
The Dawgpound, which has been barking up the stardom latter lately, is managed by Figueroa’s brother, Angel Figueroa, and consists of a coaching staff that includes, Dan Locsin, Josh Verea and Armando Gonzalez, and features five fighters who have entered the cage in California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Organization-sanctioned (a fighter must be 18 or older) bouts.
“We are coming to the point now where we are starting to mature as a fight team,” Anthony Figueroa said. “It takes time. We have been building up, building up, building up. You pretty much have to train in all areas and it takes time.”
Figueroa and his coaches meticulously prepare the members of the team as well as those aspiring to be on it. They carefully determine when a fighter is ready to enter the cage or if the individual needs a bit more time in the practice arena.
Brianna “The Bull” VanBuren, 18, is 3-0 and expects to turn pro by the end of the year. The Gilroy High School graduate earned her three MMA victories via technical knockout, first-round submission and unanimous decision.
“It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and discipline,” said VanBuren, who also has a 3-1 Muay Thai record and is 12-0 in kickboxing. “It’s definitely not easy, but I’ve known since my first kickboxing event that this is what I’ve wanted to do.
“We’ve been learning, developing and growing as a team. Everything is coming along great right now and we are continuing to progress.”
Amezquita, 27, is 6-3 and has two amateur titles to his credit. The father of two boys who has been involved with MMA for six years, will make his final decision to turn pro following the July 22 Born To Fight at the Saddlerack in Fremont, where Amezquita will be in the main event.
“I made a choice a couple years ago to make MMA my life,” Amezquita said. “I know the difference from when I first started. I wasn’t doing everything in and out of the gym. Now I am. It’s a lifestyle if you really want to make it here.”
Antonio VanBuren, Brianna’s older brother, is 2-0 and is awaiting his next shot in the cage sometime in August.
“We are all growing together and taking advantage of learning from one another,” he said.
Adin Duenas, 23, a Gilroy High wrestling alumnus (2005 and 2006 Central Coast Section champion and third at state in 2006) and 2010 Pac-10 champion while at California State Fullerton, is 2-0. And 2-2-1 Jose “Da Bullet” Perez completes the touring team, though there are a few others waiting in the wings for their shot.
“We stay ready, we always train like there is a fight coming up,” Figueroa said. “A lot more sponsors are knocking. Everybody is taking notice.”