Southwest Miami’s Freedom Fighters gym becoming an MMA proving ground

“Freedom is a lot like air. You don’t know how much you need it until you don’t have it.”

Those are the words of Freedom Fighters Martial Arts head jiu-jitsu coach Ramon Furonda. And in the fight game, they are words to live by.

What better moniker to embody Furonda’s mixed martial arts gym located in Southwest Miami, an establishment that has taken the local and national MMA scene by storm and appears to be gaining momentum.

The gym’s fighters have a 90% win rate at competitions throughout the country. So, when you walk through the doors, there’s more greeting you than just a training center with motivational quotes. Indeed, it’s a proud facility with proud founders — Furonda and head professor Manuel Lopez — fueled to succeed.

As the Ultimate Fighting Championship circuit has raised MMA’s profile nationally and internationally, with marquee events and monstrous pay-per-view numbers, Miami has become a haven for the sport and a proving ground for hopeful fighters up and down the coast.

The Freedom gym has maximized that South Florida trend and Furonda credits the facility’s style — “arduous and gritty” — as a reason fighters are attracted to the place. He recognizes the importance of technique but knows that comes second to heart, and that’s a main focus.

Freedom Fighters Martial Arts store front (Jared Parker/SFMN)

In fact, in a three-round MMA fight, he says that “in the first round, technique wins it. In the second round, conditioning wins it. In the third round, heart wins it. It has to go beyond technique. It has to be based on arduous training.”

It’s working and that theme is evident in all pockets of the place. The gym, located on top of convenience stores and restaurants at 5650 SW 102nd Ave., is not as spacious as some other South Florida gyms. Nor is it as sleek with vibrant colors and all-encompassing branding. But its fighters are just as competitive as those in any center. They revel in their freedom to compete, and it shows.

The gym is home to competitors such as Olivier Murad, Justin Vazquez, Marcos Lloreda and Luis Hernandez, the latter of which has a rallying cry of “no participation trophies,” Furonda said.

In a sport loaded with catchphrases, the fighters of this gym embody Hernandez’s message. Jacob Diaz, who is 4-0 as an amateur MMA fighter, says, “any time there’s a hole, they help me fill in.” Diaz calls the gym “a family” and likens the coaches’ intel to when a parent gives their child instructions.

For professional fighter Marcos Lloreda (10-7), combat sports changed his life, and his “family” at the gym illustrates that. Lloreda said, “I’m just your typical story of a kid who had a lot of pent-up aggression and took it out in the wrong ways. A fight gym is a perfect outlet for someone like myself.”

“Ray showed me a lot about how to be a man and correctly walk that line and lead by example,” Lloreda added. “I learned a lot about that from Ray and Manolo. It’s not just a sport. It’s how to carry yourself as a man outside of the cage, which I needed a lot of work on.”

Furonda sees the tenets of Bushido — a code of conduct — as a guide to fighting with real-world applications. Using “heroic courage,” for instance, is something he sees when fighters step into the cage.

“They can show that heroic courage through competition,” he said. “I truly believe you need to embody the warrior mindset.”

And that spirit has been passed down to the gym’s fighters.

“Wherever the fight goes, we’re prepared to go,” Diaz said. “We’re complete martial artists here. That’s our style.”

This was evident in Diaz’s last win with Cobra Fighting Championship — called Destiny Fighting Tournament at the time — where Diaz had a difficult first round. Diaz regrouped and completed a comeback victory over Mauricio Loyo at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

Manuel Lopez and his fighters (Jared Parker/SFMN)

Lopez, described as quiet and reserved by his peers and students, rarely opens up, but the fighters understand him well. When asked what impact Lopez had on them in and out of competition, each fighter agreed they see him as a leader and a father figure, one who leads by example.

Lopez said he hopes to be remembered as a “fellow brother if we cross paths. We help each other out to continue on our walk of life.”

Few make it far in the MMA world without that type of “help.” –And it is that “help” that is ever-present at Freedom Fighters Martial Arts.

Jared Parker is an American broadcast media student with an area of concentration in global and sociocultural studies. Parker hopes to work in sports journalism in the future. Parker has a special connection to amateur MMA and hopes to be known as someone who gave amateur fighters a platform before anyone else.