Safehouse MMA and Fitness Gym has been around for only less than a year, but it’s already making a name in professional mixed martial arts (MMA) and muay thai tournaments in the Philippines. Unknown to many, this MMA training facility began as a school requirement of its 22-year old founder, college student Miguel Plana.
“We needed to come up with a business to pass the course. It must be profitable before graduation,” said Plana, who is a senior management student at the University of Asia and the Pacific. He came from a family whose line of business includes producing soap and cosmetics. “My friends started businesses related to their family’s trade, but most of them closed shop after graduation.”
Plana’s own graduation got delayed because of a new pastime. “I started training MMA in my first and second year,” Plana said. “I delayed because I focused on training.” Plana resolved to meet his school requisite by starting an enterprise based on his newfound passion. Together with his former coaches, he founded Safehouse in Quezon City.
The right team
Like other ventures, Plana’s gym suffered its own birth pangs. “I entered the industry with all passion and little knowledge,” he said. Safehouse’s first months of operation was ridden with disagreements with his head trainers causing the break-up of the first team. “That’s how out of hand Safehouse was before.”
“You must have the right team. Your biggest asset is your people, because they will provide the service. It would be them who would be doing the interaction and training with your clients,” Plana said. “Integrity is the most important. A team should have integrity and loyalty.”
From scratch, Plana formed a new team of fighters and coaches. “When we lost our first team, I personally searched for new members. I handpicked them and checked their background,” he said. “I look for a person who is good and with a clean background.”
Building a fighter
By good he means legitimate credentials. Safehouse’s new roster of fighters and coaches are exceptional in the striking aspect of the sport because of their accomplishments in boxing, muay thai, or sanshou. “But their ground game is lacking,” Plana said.
His solution is to train them in wrestling. “In MMA the best foundation is wrestling. It is the most explosive discipline and wrestlers are the most hardworking athletes.”
The ancient sport of wrestling is widely considered the best “base,” or foundational discipline, in modern MMA. A number of successful fighters and champions in the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the United States have a wrestling background such as Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones, and Chris Weidman, among many others.
“Youth should be on your side in this sport,” Plana said, adding that beginning wrestling at a more advanced age would be more difficult. “I want them to have the mentality, aggressiveness, strength, and cardio of wrestling while they are young.”
Safehouse’s wrestling program is led by luminaries in the sport such as freestyle wrestling champion Jimmy Angana and national coach Roel Pacional. Their strategy has paid off in the form of victories in the country’s most prestigious MMA promotions, including Universal Reality Combat Championship, Pacific Xtreme Combat, and, more recently, King of the Cage (KOTC) with the come-from-behind victory of fighter and former boxer Dean Bermudez against his opponent Rex Tanduyan.
“We got nervous when he got taken down,” Plana said, describing Tanduyan’s successful takedown and mounting of Safehouse’s Dean Bermudez in the inaugural event of KOTC in Pasay City. “It’s his wrestling background that contributed to lifting the guy out.” According to Plana, Dean attempted a suplex as soon as he got up, but his arms slipped to Tanduyan’s neck resulting in a submission finish via guillotine choke.
Plana offers a few caveat for budding entrepreneurs who want to enter the fight business. “You have to have a good business model, don’t do our mistake,” he said. Plana stressed the importance of catering to the wider health and fitness market as a fighters-only gym will find it hard to turn the profit needed to sustain the livelihood of the fighters and the whole training camp.
“It’s one thing to start a business and another thing to take care of fighters,” Plana said. “It might look cool and exciting on the outside, but if you dig deeper, it can be messy. It’s not all about passion, fight, and fun, it’s one of the most gruelling businesses.”
Despite Safehouse’s tough initiation, Plana’s goal is set. “My vision is for Safehouse to be one of the top five MMA gyms in the Philippines in the next three to five years.” With all the real-world insights he possessed now, it would be no surprise if he achieves it.