January 15th, 2013

From the garage to the cage

It started in the double garage of a friend’s house.

Professional boxer Gwayne Grech, 25, and MMA fighter Jason Michael Culverwell, 26, started out training like many others – when someone pushed them into it.

“When I was younger I didn’t think of doing (MMA) as a career. As you get older, your goals are more obvious,” says Culverwell, “It’s my career at the moment and I would rather wake up and train than wake up and go to work.”

For Culverwell, it was when his former coach, Justin Pulvenis, told him to train full time. For Grech, he went pro after a former heavyweight titleholder, Freddy Rafferty, pushed him into his first amateur – then professional – boxing matches.

The duo met at the garage, a makeshift training ground for young men from their neighborhood in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. It was held at the home of Martin De Beer, a noted trainers, and became a haven for the young men to hone the skills they first used growing up in the harsh streets of Kwazulu-Natal.

“We were raised to stand your ground, your head is not a toilet, no one poops on it,” Grech says, “we grew up in a town where you have to fight.”

Though neither would say they were troublemakers, this might explain why both men did not like each other the minute they met – which was in a sparring session in which Culverwell nearly knocked out Grech – a traditional boxer – with a kick he didn’t see coming.

Through that, the boys built up a friendship that would lead them to take the garage and move the location over to a workshop in the industrial section of the city about a year later in 2011.

At the time, Culverwell was still competing in amateur MMA, eventually becoming the Africa Fight League (AFL) Light Heavyweight Champion.

He got the call to move up to the big leagues in African MMA, the EFC, after one of his AFL fights. Admittely, Culverwell was not taking the sport as serious as most.

“Dirk Steenekamp, a commentator for EFC, told me at an afterparty that I should fight EFC. At the time I wasn’t taking it seriously, but soon after I thought you can’t just fight and NOT make something out of it. I want to be a champion one day. This is my life now,” Culverwell says.

Meanwhile, Grech got into some amateur boxing matches, which he won. He quickly went pro in 2012 and currently has a 1-1 record with an eye on competing within the next few months and eventually getting into MMA.

While the friends focus on their fight career, the gym has taken off with Culverwell taking care of most of the day-to-day operations as Grech takes the days to work his full-time job and run some of the training programs when he can.

The duo came to Tiger Muay Thai and MMA Training Camp Phuket, Thailand at the suggestion of TMT alum Don Madge and one of their head coaches. They have developed a special bond with the place, explained best by Grech.

“This place is heaven, I’m in love. If I could marry this place, I would,” he says.

Up next for Culverwell is a bout against UK champ Fraser Opie (10-5) at EFC 18 on March 1 at Carnival City, Johannesburg. The bout could have number one contendor implications as Culverwell looks to finally get a shot at the EFC Light Heavyweight title.

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