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Michigan State Mixed Martial Arts Club Fights For Post-COVID Success

Alex Shimoon

The student-run club has struggled during the COVID-19 shutdown of campus activities, but the love of the sport still burns.

EAST LANSING, Mich. –  When Zachary Lockerman came to Michigan State University as a transfer student, he looked around his first Sparticipation event for a club that could align with his love for combat sports. 

“I was trying to find boxing when I found the MMA (mixed martial arts) club stall, and they said to come check us out,” said Lockerman, who is a native of Delaware. 

And the rest is history. 

“I didn’t want to get into the wrestling aspect at first, but they said they do boxing, and I didn’t have to do anything else,” he said. “So, I took their brochure, and the rest is history.” 

Lockerman was an active member until the Coronavirus pandemic halted the club’s activities and took away his favorite part of being at MSU.

“It was devastating,” said Lockerman. “I lost the one thing I enjoyed to keep me physically active and the ability to throw away frustrations on a weekly basis.” 

This is still the reality for members of MSU’s MMA club, who are no longer able to meet in person due to MSU’s COVID-19 restrictions. Other student clubs are able to maintain connectivity through Zoom meetings.

But the other clubs don’t regularly practice MMA, boxing, Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu on a regular basis - activities that require in-person sparring and close contact. 

Club president and senior Alex Shimoon knows that virtual training just isn’t able to do the same to build up members’ experience.

“It’s just unfortunate that there’s not much I can do,” said Shimoon. “We haven’t really had interest in doing virtual workouts, and with members being at home in different places, there’s not much you can do.” 

It’s a frustrating reality for Shimoon, as he has been part of the MMA club since he was a freshman in 2017.

One area that hasn’t necessarily changed is the way the club recruits. When searching for future MMA members, Shimoon looks for quality over quantity. But right now, recruiting is also a challenge.

“I haven’t done much recruiting at all really,” Shimoon said. “My goal hasn’t been to just expand the club’s membership though. I’ve wanted to grow a group of loyal people who are committed to the club and not the casual’s that come in once or twice but don’t want to be there consistently.” 

Shimoon has tried to provide opportunities for the club’s loyal base, such as competing in tournaments where they can represent MSU. He looked into competing at places such as University of Central Florida, but the efforts stalled.

At this point, Shimoon hopes that the club will resume their normal schedule in August. One where they ideally train on multiple days, and not just dedicated to MMA, but specific days for muay thai and jiu jitsu as well. 

By that time, the club’s new leadership can get back to focusing on what Shimoon considers to be its biggest challenge: finding improvements in where they train, as opposed to their previous set-up in the basement of IM West.                                                                                                                 

“Finding better spaces to train and more founding have usually been our biggest challenges,” said Shimoon. 

For Lockerman, having the social interaction again will be exciting enough when the club starts back up again. 

“It’ll also be interesting to see where we’re at in terms of our status. I’ve been wanting to talk to Alex about trying to get more backing because I feel like we can do better,” said Lockerman. “With MMA blowing up, I think we can offer a real service to campus and to the community here at MSU.” 

However, achieving these goals are not the only thing that will grant Lockerman personal satisfaction when coming back to the club. 

“Obviously coming back is a benefit to me as well because I’ll be able to punch people in the face again,” he said.

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