A local man is speaking out about how getting into the sport of mixed martial arts helped him turn his life around.
Long-time South Delta resident Robin Laybourn does not want to say the sport saved his life, but it has definitely had a major impact on it.
"Without mixed martial arts, I can honestly say I would not nearly have achieved what I have," he says. "It gave me a newfound respect for hard work."
The 33-year-old has always been interested in martial arts. As a child he spent nine years in taekwondo and even earned a black belt. However, he says, all of the positive things in his life started to fall by the wayside when he discovered drugs and alcohol. He had some run-ins with the law and says he had no direction.
"I was heading down a negative path in my life, for certain."
Five years ago, Laybourn smoked, weighed in at 300 pounds and was in poor health.
One day, he realized he needed to make a life change so he walked into United Martial Arts in Tsawwassen.
Laybourn says he was always a fan of mixed marital arts (MMA) and decided he wanted to give it a try.
He started training with United Martial Arts owner and head instructor Andrew Davis and hasn't looked back since.
The road has not been easy, however. He barely made it through Davis' first class, but he persevered and started to see results. He trained five days a week and the weight started to come off. He also quit smoking.
"He's a great teacher," Laybourn says of Davis.
After two years, Laybourn felt ready to take his MMA training to the next level. He wanted to expand his skills and start using them in the ring. Laybourn started training with a focus on Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing and kickboxing with well-known MMA fighter Kalib Starnes at his gym, Aegis Athletics. Starnes is a five-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran and in 2005 he qualified for The Ultimate Fighter TV series.
Laybourn says his weight was still high at that point but he had developed a drive to better himself both inside and outside the ring.
"He saw my dedication and he decided to take me under his wing," Laybourn says, adding he sees Starnes as a mentor in the gym and in life. He looks up to Starnes' humility and dedication to the sport in the face of adversity.
He says MMA has brought many good things to his life.
Aside from getting in shape, the sport has taught him dedication and determination, and he revels in the camaraderie with other fighters.
"I found something that I never had before."
He says there are many misconceptions about MMA out there. It's not as dangerous as some people think, he says, and it's not all about getting in the ring and hurting your opponent.
Laybourn says he's met many fighters in the last five years.
"They're all family men, educated, smart. They're the most humble, classy people."
Looking at his life today, Laybourn says he never would have dreamed he'd end up where he is. He says if someone had told him back then he would be competing in MMA and running a successful painting business, he would have looked at his gold package of Export 'A' cigarettes and laughed.
It's hard work. He trains at least two-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week, in addition to running his business and raising a family.
MMA has also become a family affair: from his mom coming out to matches, to his wife dealing with his crazy training schedule to his two boys, Tony and Graeme, 5 and 10, who are now learning mixed martial arts where their dad got his start - United Martial Arts.
"They're a great, great club for kids," he says, proudly showing a video of his boys getting their yellow shirts.
He is happy to see them learning the attention, respect and discipline that comes with martial arts at a young age.
"It's amazing," he says. "I've never seen a better place for kids."
Laybourn has come a long way from his first fight at Fraserview Hall in Surrey. He's now 4-1 in MMA bouts and on two occasions he's knocked out his opponent in less than 20 seconds. He has another MMA fight coming up on May 25 at the Vancouver Convention Centre and also steps into the boxing ring from time to time.
Laybourn says his goal is to fight for Battlefield League, the top MMA organizer in the Lower Mainland.
He would like to sign on to compete in five fights and try to win a belt.
He also says that one day down the road, he would like to open his own studio where he can teach the skills, dedication and determination he's learned.
For more information about Laybourn's upcoming matches, visit www.battlefieldfl.com.
© Copyright 2013