I drove 4 1/2 hours to attended Premium Kickboxing Federation IV on March 18th in Dubuque, IA. I was there to corner a first time amateur fighter and left the event with several impressions. A sold out crowd of over 600 watched a night of amateur kickboxing in what was a smoothly run event. I was told it was the first kickboxing event in over 30 years in the city of Dubuque. Had more of a family atmosphere to it than other events I’ve been to with kids competing on the card. It was noted by some that his event was largely ignored by the local press and media. What a mistake! I walked around the warm up areas and watched all the athletes, officials, and coaches. You could tell that a lot of back stories existed and would have been a gold mine for any journalist. I find it curious these combat sports events are largely uncovered by regional journalists in this and other areas. If events are covered sometimes you get win or loss stats, but rarely the story behind the stats. Is it ignorance, bias, disinterest, or stereo types?
Can you imagine some of the stories that were missed? People would have loved to know more of the background of what it took to get an event to Dubuque after that long of an absence. What kinds of things were driving the fighters to compete? I’d like to know more about the families of the kids who competed, the people who came from out of state, the Dubuque Martial Arts Group, Luke Lessei, the promoters, and more. There’s a lot of great narratives flowing out of events like this and it’s a misstep to let them go unnoticed.
Personal stories connect with people. Athlete I was cornering has been open about her mental health struggles and her journey to recovery. Has anxiety but choose something stressful like fighting on purpose. A lot of people can’t relate to celebrities or millionaire athletes. But they can relate to struggle, sacrifice, discouragement, fear, anxiety, insecurities, and challenges in life. Many of those type of human interest stories I’m sure were walking around that night sadly untold or unnoticed.
One of the valuable reasons these stories should be told is because they help others and communities at large. To read something and know your not alone in that struggle. To be inspired by what someone else accomplished despite significant obstacles. Stories are meant to be told. People are meant to connect-even if at the end of each other’s fists. Somehow that connection might result in a deeper understanding of each other. The value of the stories that have gone untold could possibly bridge gaps, create understandings, strengthen communities, education, motivate, encourage, and inspire. There is a lot out there and more people should write about it!
Hopefully journalists will start to bring to light these stories on the regional combat sports scene. If not then the combat sports people themselves should start writing. As future events take place or time passes feel free to contact me if you have a lead on a story or a feature on an Iowa athlete that should be told!
A unique “kickboxing” class as locals refer to it is held multiple times a week in the rural community of Leon, IA. Volunteers teach the various classes each week of that consist of boxing, grappling, kickboxing, or more depending on who is teaching. The classes have existed for over a year and have gone without a true home or even a name during that time. Despite the lack of a steady location, name, or resources at times over 40 people come through classes in a week. The attendees are diverse and not typically what you would find at a combat sports gym. Local health care professionals often refer people to the classes to improve their physical or mental health. Referrals are often those who are overweight, diabetic, victims of assault or domestic violence, or struggle with depression/anxiety. A wide mix of people attend and the classes serves as a community resource in an area with limited resources.
Over a year ago a group of women some of which were victims of domestic violence requested that I set up a self defense class. Tigers Den MMA instructors taught those initial classes. As funds or instructors come and go the classes persist because of the value to the community. Currently there are classes for kids, women, youth boxing, and those with chronic health conditions. One of the unique personalities and stand out students attending class is 24 year old Teyonni Walling. She attends or assists at almost every single class session each week. As newcomers nervously walk in for the first time Teyonni is a reassuring and accepting presence. She has been especially impactful in the classes with those who struggle with chronic health or mental health conditions. The nervous faces are frequently young girls, women, or those not in ideal health. Attending class is often intimidating for most the first time. Her presence has often helped ease those nerves and made people feel more comfortable. Teyonni’s experience as a peer support in the mental health field has served her well with the diverse population attending these “kickboxing classes”.
Teyonni will become the first one in this unique group to compete in combat sports on March 18th in an amateur kickboxing bout in Dubuque, IA. She recognizes the opportunity this presents for the entire group. She is “one of us” to a group made up of individuals that may not fit in at every gym or training group. Most competitors come from gyms full of experienced athletes and coaches. When you come from a place where the path has already been trodden down-it’s hard to understand what it’s like to not have that advantage. It’s difficult to be the first to step into the unknown. Teyonni will be far from home on March 18th, but representing a larger group-many of whom are facing their own personal challenges. She is prepared mentally and physically to compete, but this is a win-win for the “kickboxing class” back in Leon. Teyonni hopes to inspire and embolden those in the group to take on bigger challenges themselves and see what they are truly capable of.
Teyonni will be competing on the Premium Kickboxing Federation card for her debut. You can learn more at
Inspiration comes from different places, but one thing that always seems to inspire and captivate is a great sports underdog. I have on several occasions walked into the Tigers Den MMA gym in Centerville, Iowa and witnessed something unique taking place. A dedicated group of combat sports professionals teaching with great care a group of young kids. The gym is small and lately more crowded as eager and enthusiastic youngsters attend their favorite class of the week. One of the instructors who spends time investing in these kids lives and development is 25 year old Sinjen Ruby. Sinjen is a promising professional mixed martial artist looking to make his mark in the sport. It’s a journey Sinjen has been preparing for his whole life. From the time he could walk he was learning Muai Thai and other forms of martial arts from his father Chris Jenkins a former boxer and professional kick boxer.
Meeting Chris and Sinjen both you can feel the passion they have for combat sports, martial arts, and MMA. This is a family affair. Singen’s father has greatly impacted his development and has been coaching fighters for decades. Sinjen took his first MMA fight at age 18. He already has 20 MMA bouts under his belt winning 13 of those. Despite the strong family martial arts background one of the challenges facing Sinjen is coming from a small gym. He trains out of Tigers Den MMA that he and his dad operate in Centerville, Iowa (population, 5,000). Not many guys with elite ability train out of small gyms in small towns like Centerville. While he chases his dream Sinjen still has the challenges of working full time, being a father, and coaching at Tigers Den. Those challenges only strengthen his resolve and do nothing to dampen his enthusiasm in working with those old or young alike who come into the gym.
Despite the challenges Sinjen and his Tigers Den team are investing in people in the community and making a positive impact. With limited outlets for youth in the area the gyms classes greatly benefit those who attend. The kids are learning, having fun, and gaining confidence. They are now part of a team and belong to something, which is a big deal for many of the students. The gym provides opportunities for local youth and adults alike that otherwise wouldn’t exist in the area. Sinjen isn’t just fighting for himself. He is also fighting to create opportunities for local youth as well in an area where socioeconomic struggles dominate the landscape.
Sinjen is just one of many underdogs in the small but growing family that is Tigers Den. For kids in the area to see him fight on a televised broadcast opens their eyes to whats possible coming out of a small gym and encourages them to dream big. Sinjen’s talent and skill is apparent to anyone who has watched him fight recently. He is currently preparing diligently for his next fight on June 25th (King of the Cage). Maybe the time is right for this small town gem to be discovered by more mainstream MMA fans. We know the Tigers Den youth will be watching intently as will the entire Tigers Den family. You can watch his next fight on MAV TV (DirectTV 214) coming from Sloan, IA!