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Living the dream 

A local MMA fighter buys Chuck Liddell's gym

It’s always cool when dreams come true. It’s even cooler when the person dreams big.

click to enlarge ROUND ONE :  Cruz Gomez found a way to combine his dream of owning his own MMA training gym with his desire to stick close with his teammates. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • ROUND ONE : Cruz Gomez found a way to combine his dream of owning his own MMA training gym with his desire to stick close with his teammates.

Cruz Gomez’s longtime dream recently turned into reality when he took ownership of San Luis Obispo’s first mixed martial arts gym. Cruz, a pioneer of the Central Coast MMA scene, recently bought S.L.O. Kickboxing—a gym opened by former Cal Poly wrestling teammates Scott Adams and Chuck Liddell in 1998. The gym will be renamed The Pit S.L.O. in homage to legendary local trainer John Hackleman’s The Pit—a world-renowned MMA training camp in Arroyo Grande.

The dream has been a long time coming for Gomez. Since he started training at The Pit in Arroyo Grande 13 years ago, he’s dreamed of opening his own gym. The only dilemma: The Central Coast native didn’t want to abandon his beloved team of fighters.

“It was the biggest goal of my career,” the professional MMA fighter said of owning his own gym, “but I never wanted to leave The Pit or my teammates. So to actually achieve it is mind-boggling.”

Cruz said The Pit S.L.O. will emphasize traditional martial arts training and focus on the techniques of legendary MMA trainer John Hackleman’s Hawaiian kempo, a fighting style that blends kickboxing, western boxing, judo, kempo, jiu-jitsu, and wrestling, with a heavy fitness program. The Pit S.L.O. will also offer a belt system.

What will remain the same, however, are the intense meat-grinder workouts. The Pit’s philosophy is simple: Use what works, discard what doesn’t. They believe the only way to get into top shape is to have an open mind and by training very intensely and leaving your comfort zone often.

“We take you right to the breaking point and keep pushing your limits,” Cruz said. “Once people realize their limits and know they can go further, then only they stop themselves.”

The Pit S.L.O. will offer a variety of grappling, kickboxing, and Hawaiian Kempo classes for children and adults Monday through Saturday. Gomez, former Cal Poly wrestler Justin Fraser, and up-and-coming amateurs Rob Aguilar, Sarah Bardsley, and Jake Gallant will teach the classes.

Since Adams and Liddell opened S.L.O. Kickboxing in 1998, the gym has been the training center for several professional fighters, including Scott Lighty, Tim Kennedy, Gan McGee, Jake Shields, Tony DeSouza, Antonio Banuelos, and Jason Von Flue. In the 13 years since the gym’s inception, the sport of MMA has gained massive popularity across the globe and, in particular, on the Central Coast.

“I watched it grow from basically a backyard event to a multi-million dollar business,” Cruz said of the evolution of MMA. “Fighting back in the day was a lifestyle that you paid to live. Now it’s become somewhat of a bandwagon sport, and I know in time it will lose some of the followers. But we’re here for the devoted ones and for people that really want to get in shape.

“We’re not doing it for recognition or for the money,” Cruz added. “We’re doing it for the love of the sport.”

The Pit S.L.O. is at 887 Ricardo Court, unit A, in San Luis Obispo. For more information and class schedules, call 549-8800 or visit

Fast facts

The City of Grover Beach is seeking volunteers to participate in Grover Beach Beautiful Day on the morning of Saturday, May 21. Volunteers are encouraged to bring gloves and meet at the City Hall south parking lot at 154 South 8th St. at 8 a.m. Teams of volunteers will receive assignments to clean up public areas along the city’s major streets.

For more information, contact Kathy Petker at 473-4580 or [email protected]. ∆


Intern Kai Beech compiled this week’s Strokes & Plugs. Send your business news to [email protected].

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