UFC to open line of fitness clubs

The Ultimate Fighting Championship is planning to go toe to toe with the country’s biggest fitness club chains, and the founder of 24 Hour Fitness is in its corner.

UFC Gym officials said they are close to breaking ground on the first of five health clubs planned in California, and plan to build more such gyms across the country and in Canada.

"We’re going to force all these other gyms to take it up to another level," UFC President Dana White said Monday. "Just like we have in the fight business, and everyone’s trying to compete with us now, same thing’s going to happen in the fitness industry."

White said most gyms and health clubs haven’t changed in years, giving the mixed martial arts league an opportunity to attract new fitness customers or others wanting to get different kinds of workouts under the same roof. The gyms aren’t intended for professional or amateur fighters.

White said each gym would offer classes in several different disciplines of martial arts, as well as unconventional workouts for people looking to change their routines. Each will contain an octagon, the eight-sided caged ring used in UFC fights.

UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta said the gyms would resemble the scenes at UFC fights, with energetic participants, music blasting, and large plasma televisions.

"We didn’t want to just build one gym somewhere," Fertitta said. "This is going to become its own separate, profitable business and company on the side, and we’re talking about rolling out hundreds of gyms all over the place."

According to numbers released Monday by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, a trade association for the fitness industry, a survey of 17 leading health club companies showed that sales increased an average of 1 percent year over year for the third quarter of 2008, mostly because of a 3.8 percent increase in membership dues. Revenues from other sources were nearly the same, the trade group said.

The index represented 200 individual clubs, the trade group said.

Fertitta and White said the Las Vegas-based UFC has partnered with former executives at 24 Hour Fitness, including Mark Mastrov, the founder of the company that today has more than 400 clubs in 16 states, 24 gyms in Asia and more than 3 million members.

Jim Rowley, chief executive of UFC Gym, said that the five test gyms in northern and southern California probably would be open by early next year. He would not specify the cities where the gyms would be located, and said the company has not acquired land in other locations yet.

Mastrov resigned from 24 Hour Fitness in January 2008 to pursue other interests, according to the company. Rowley, a former co-president for 24 Hour Fitness in the United States, said he also left 24 Hour Fitness in 2008 but said his move was unrelated to Mastrov’s.

Rowley said UFC Gym rates would be competitive with other chain fitness clubs and offer memberships and classes for men, women and children.

"Getting on a StairMaster, and then getting on a fixed-weight selectorized machine pushing weight — it’s over," Rowley said.

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