GYM OF THE MONTH: UPLAND MMA

By U of MMA Staff
Photos by Meghan Wonder, Stephanie Drews, and courtesy of Jerbo Nerney

A typical jiu jitsu class at Upland MMA, home of the Pimpit Fight Team. (Photo courtesy of Jerbo Nerney)

A typical jiu jitsu class at Upland MMA, home of the Pimpit Fight Team. (Photo courtesy of Jerbo Nerney)

Nestled in the heart of the Inland Empire, Upland MMA (formerly known as the Pimpit Fight Team Academy) is an organism always evolving. It’s made up of longtime veterans and newer inductees. Some are committed to being the face of the team in the fight community, while others are in it for the fitness and lifestyle improvement. There’s members who train in all the arts, and there’s members who are content to focus on one style or another.

At the core of the Upland MMA/Pimpit team is Jerbo Nerney, the IE born-and-bred head coach and gym owner. Bald, tattooed to the gills, and wired with a trigger-happy Irish temper that he now controls like Bruce Banner does the Hulk, Nerney is a self-made man whose journey through martial arts and the fight scene, like many, is one of salvation from wayward travels through a treacherous underground. In his case, that world included the punk rock scene, bodyguarding celebrities, and promoting clubs throughout the IE and Orange County.

“I ran around the wrong areas, getting in trouble,” remarked Nerney. “I could have [gone] a lot of different ways. A lot of people I used to hang out with in junior high, before I got back into [martial arts], are either in prison or dead. I got lucky and found a path.”

That path would be introduced by two different people. One inspiration was a kickboxer named Craig ‘The Bullet’ Buchanan, who met and trained Nerney. Around that same time, police officer Gary Mason enrolled Nerney in a bodyguarding school named the Alliance Group. As part of his qualifications Nerney was forced to take martial arts classes. Little did anybody know what a pivotal moment this would be for the reformed roughneck.

“He used to always try and get me out of what I was doing. We were always working out together. He said ‘I’m gonna help you change your life,” explains Nerney. “So I went and did that. I was there for about a year and a half, getting training, working for the company. I loved the martial arts. Kept training.”

Nerney’s passion eventually led him to Grandmaster Soki Masaaki Hatsumi and a style called Bujinkan Budo Taijitsu. Already well versed in kickboxing, Eskrima, and Ninjitsu, it wasn’t uncommon for Nerney to travel to Japan for weeks at a time to study under Hatsumi. And it was in Japan where Nerney, by then a black belt under Hatsumi, would build a short-lived but pioneering MMA career.

“I ended up having seven fights in Japan, [with] a 7-0 record. Won by six submissions and one knockout, first round,” says Nerney. “I really didn’t care about trying to take the fight career, because I was already in my late thirties. I was just doing it because I had the good hook-up from Japan with my instructor over there. I was already teaching, and everything.”

Inevitably, Nerney reset his focus in the IE, opening and teaching at several fight gyms and martial arts dojos. There was Alternative Fighting, which was a collective of now-veteran IE names like Buchanan, Javier Vasquez, William Sriyapai, and Romie Aram. Then Nerney’s own budo taijitsu dojo. Then the Gauntlet, where Nerney met and joined forces with Wander Braga, a Brazilian MMA fighter and BJJ black belt who would later become Nerney’s BJJ mentor and partner.

“I’d already been done with my fighting career. I met him as a blue belt, and he’s taken me all the way right now,” says Nerney. “He gives me a really hard time. We go back and forth, but it’s because he likes me. We don’t put up with each other’s crap. But I’ve proven my loyalty to him, over and over. We’re like family now.”

The loyalty between Braga and Nerney that started at the Gauntlet would extend far beyond it. In 2009, Braga returned to Brazil to tend to issues with his visa. However, what was supposed to be a two-week trip would become a three-year lockdown when, similar to current UFC fighter Glover Teixeira, Braga was prohibited from returning to the U.S. An unrelated parting of the ways between Nerney and the Gauntlet would lead to the creation of the Pimpit Fight Team Academy, which Nerney has maintained as a Wander Braga-affiliated school.

Upland MMA, home of the Pimpit Fight Team, is the North American headquarters for Wander Braga Jiu-Jitsu

Upland MMA, home of the Pimpit Fight Team, is the North American headquarters for Wander Braga Jiu-Jitsu

“Everything is Wander Braga Jiu Jitsu. When we answer the phone, we call it Upland MMA, home of the Pimpit Fight Team. But we’re actually known everywhere as a Wander Braga Jiu Jitsu school,” says Nerney.

Such is the case that Braga has assigned Pimpit as the headquarters for all North American Wander Braga-affiliated schools (which includes other locations in Alabama and Southern California). Ironically, with Braga still currently in Brazil, he has never seen the school that bears his name.

The Pimpit name itself stems from a partnership with Jeremy Gocke and Derek Jaeger, who owned the Pimpit name and ran it as a clothing line.

“They knew me from being a club promoter. They said ‘hey, we want to break into MMA. We want to start the Pimpit Fight Team. What do you got?’ When I told them what I had, Pimpit goes ‘we’ll come in and match you. We’ll bring all the rest of the gear.’ Brought it in. Ten days later, this place was completely finished and we were training in here.”

At last count, the Pimpit Fight Team is comprised of over a dozen fast-rising amateur fighters and two pros, Kevin ‘The Boom’ Bostick and Chris Golz. Currently, one more fighter, Chris ‘The Kid’ Reyes (1-1 at the University of MMA) is scheduled to graduate to the pro ranks in August.

Upland MMA pro fighter Kevin 'The Boom' Bostick.

Upland MMA pro fighter Kevin ‘The Boom’ Bostick.

“I originally was going to school for aviation technology and I had to take a physical education class. So I took a self-defense class that was based around Jeet Kune Do,” reflects Bostick, who is Nerney’s first start-from-scratch MMA protégé. “So I just kind of fell in love of the aspect of training and pushing yourself to the limits and that. So I told my wife, while I’m going to school, I’m gonna train for a year, try to do a fight, and see how it goes. And here I am now.”

Besides Reyes, two other teammates, Alexander Arslan and Jarett ‘Real Talk’ Conner, have fought at the U, both in title matches.

After a pair of frustrating false-starts in which opponents dropped out at the last minute, Arslan fought over the University of MMA’s heavyweight championship at the U’s inaugural ‘Fight Night’ at Club Nokia in March 2013. On the next show, ‘Fight Night 2’ in May, teammate and good friend Jarett Conner claimed the University of MMA welterweight championship in a three-round grappling clinic.

Having led his life with a reputation for an unabashed verbal arrogance, Conner says that Nerney inspired a very personal reinvention within him, of letting his actions speak louder than his words. For ‘Real Talk,’ it took Nerney’s confidence in Conner to believe in all the things Conner had tried to convince the world about himself.

Jarett 'Real Talk' Conner celebrates his University of MMA welterweight championship crowning. (Photo by Stephanie Drews)

Jarett ‘Real Talk’ Conner celebrates his University of MMA welterweight championship crowning. (Photo by Stephanie Drews)

“My first fight, I was like ‘yeah coach, put me on the map. I’m ready to fight’,” he recalls. “And then, about a month before the fight, I was getting real scared. But Jerbo was texting me. He was saying “You’re ready to do this. You got this.” He’s always reminding me of how hard I train and everything that I go through. He always says the quote ‘train hard, fight easy.’”

“Everybody here is cool, down to earth.  They all support each other. They all push each other. We meet up outside of the gym and do things,” notes Bostick. “[Jerbo’s] biggest strength is the fact that he knows each and every person as an individual. He sees things that you yourself won’t even see. He’s been doing it for a long time, so he’s got a good eye. And can almost predict what you’re going to do before you even do it.”

“Through the way Wander’s instilled in me, we’re just really about loyalty, respect, and family,” explains Nerney, whose mellow, zenlike approach to life is a far cry from his wild days of youth. “My son [Ricky] teaches here. He’s a two-stripe purple belt in jiu jitsu.  One of my daughters is a yellow belt in jiu jitsu. Two of my other daughters both do boxing and Muay Thai. So the whole family does it. My granddaughter, just three years old, just had her first jiu jitsu class today. Three generations of martial arts.”

Besides father and son Nerney, Upland MMA’s coaching staff includes Peter Han and Mafu Kobus, both Wander Braga black belts; and a pair of purple belts known as Shaluto and Rookie. Bostick and Nerney’s wife Brandi, herself a retired pro fighter in Muay Thai and MMA, also contribute frequently to class instruction. Soon they will be adding Sergio Silva, another BJJ black belt and pro fighter who trains with Jose Aldo, as the new Muay Thai instructor.

Upland MMA head trainer Jerbo Nerney receives his black belt from mentor Wander Braga.

Upland MMA head trainer Jerbo Nerney receives his black belt from mentor Wander Braga. (Photo courtesy Jerbo Nerney)

Older than his physique or athletic ability will let on, Nerney is his own prime example of the never-ending evolution behind martial arts. With a full-time gym and overflowing fight team, Nerney recently traveled to Brazil to successfully test for his black belt, making him the first American black belt under Braga.

“We’re always continuously evolving, learning, and sharing,” says Nerney. “I’ll figure out a move and before I start trying it on people, I show it [and] ask my students ‘anybody got any variations or anything that makes it even better?’ We’re always just feeding off each other. Everybody helps everybody.”

Upland MMA, home of the Pimpit Fight Team, is located at 725 W. Foothill Boulevard in Upland. For more info, call (951) 529-4428
or (909) 920-5028, or visit www.UplandMMA.com.

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