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Vice grip

About a dozen athletes are gathered together, running circles around the gym as they take part in the conditioning portion of their weekly training. The facility is not easy to find. Then again, no one comes to it by accident.

It takes a special breed of athlete to find success in this venue, one who appreciates physicality while still possessing the intelligence to systematically break down an opponent.

On this particular night the athletes are in their final training session before they enter their next competition.

“It’s pretty intense. You train hard all the time,” says Terry Vice, the operator of the gym who also bears the responsibility of training the young fighters. Vice works with his athletes four hours each week. They spend half of that time conditioning and the remainder of it developing various skills while working with bags, dummies, kettle bells and doing mat work.

“I’ve had a gym for about two years,” Vice says. “I’ve been fighting since I was eight years old.”

Vice first discovered this form of combat, mixed martial arts, while enjoying another.

“I was a professional boxer and I just fell in love with MMA,” Vice says. “I had two MMA fights and my wife said I was too old, so I started training guys.”

Since opening his gym, Vice has worked with both adults and children in grappling and conditioning. For adults, however, he also offers training in fighting.

Two of his athletes will step into the cage for the first time Saturday at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, Miss. The event has been billed as “Blood and Sand VI.”

“I don’t really have any expectations,” says Larry Weatherly. The 24-year-old math education major has been training since July. Saturday night will be the first test of his scholarship under Vice.

“I always grew up laying sports,” Weatherly says. “This is kind of an outlet.”

Weatherly’s first bout will come in the 170-pound classification against Miguel Maus of Murano, Fla. After Saturday, Weatherly will have a better handle on where he stands as a fighter. For now, he is comfortable with his strengths and knows the kind of combatant he intends to be.

“I can hit pretty hard,” Weatherly says of his ability as a striker. “I’m comfortable on the ground. I try to be well-rounded.”

On this evening, his closest colleague is 32-year-old Brian Tucker, who will step into the cage in Biloxi opposite Trent Billiot of New Orleans, La.

“I’m going to try to win,” the quiet Tucker says of his expectations.

Meanwhile, Vice’s other competitors are readying for a grappling tournament that will take place in D’Iberville, Miss. this weekend.

After completing its next round of competition this weekend, the group will return to Vice’s gym in Demopolis, where it will go back to work running laps and training for future opportunities to perform. Vice hopes one of those opportunities will be in Marengo County. The trainer is looking to host a show in February.

“it’s the most extreme sport on Earth,” Vice says of mixed martial arts before offering a word of caution to those who maintain reservations about the competition. “It’s not barbaric. There are rules that govern it. It’s safer than boxing.”