By Joe Wilhelm
Photos by Kevin La Rouche, Megan Wonder, and Stephanie Drews
If glitz and glamor is what you’re looking for in a fight gym, NZT Pankration isn’t the place for you. Not yet, anyway.
Founded in a city obsessed with the newest and greatest fitness fads, NZT, short for “No LimiTZ” (an homage to the 2011 Bradley Cooper-Robert De Niro film ‘Limitless’), doesn’t offer high-tech training equipment. Leaving the gym, you won’t be compelled to buy overpriced protein shakes or supplements. You may, however, see students’ family members lining the wall of the exit; patiently waiting for their loved ones to finish training.
They aren’t harassed by gym representatives for a sales pitch. They are, by relation to the student, already a member of the NZT family.
“A lot of gyms say they are family-oriented,” fight manager Hyro Espinoza said, “But we know each other’s moms, wives, girlfriends, daughters, nephews, nieces, and grandmas. We know each other inside and outside the gym.”
If celebrity sightings and TV star fighters are what you’re looking for in a fight gym, NZT isn’t the place for you. Not yet, anyway.
Of NZT’s fight team, 23-year-old Ozzy Diaz is the farthest down the road of MMA stardom. Three years ago, Diaz began his training as a 300-pound ex-football player. Since then, Diaz has dropped to a svelte 205 pounds, a transformation that eventually led him to winning the University of MMA’s light heavyweight title.
“We have a lot of guys that are basically new to the sport,” Diaz said. “But everyone who is here came in around the same time. We’ve all gotten to know each other and grow together. Our coach is the father of our family. We don’t have any big names yet, but one day, we will.”
In 2013, at the U’s inaugural Fight Night, Diaz, alongside teammate Angel Cordova, debuted the NZT team to the world. The team split their matches, with Diaz winning by TKO early in the second round and Cordova grinding out three hard rounds against eventual University of MMA lightweight champion A.J. Lavarias.
Since then, Diaz has amassed a 4-2 record at the U, winning the University of MMA light heavyweight championship in March of this year. The NZT team is a regular presence at U of MMA shows, with three additional team fighters having fought at least once at Club Nokia.
Despite itself being a relatively young, still-maturing fight team, NZT Pankration’s lineage reaches farther back, starting with the semi-nomadic training journey of founder and head trainer Frank Colcher.
Colcher was born in Ohio and raised in different cities in Canada, which contributed to his wandering warrior path. He developed a keen affinity for Bruce Lee movies early on, leading him not only to train in martial arts, but also, after a lifetime of Taekwondo, karate, and kickboxing, to migrate to Seattle, where Lee himself lived (and is currently buried).
In Seattle, Colcher joined AMC Pankration, a pillar in the local martial arts and global combat sports communities. Run by legendary trainer Matt ‘The Wizard’ Hume, Colcher took to the gym’s fight philosophy, soaking in as many lessons as possible. This, according to Colcher, was part of his larger master plan.
“By the time I moved to AMC, I kind of changed my dream a little bit. I’d done my fighting. I had 10 kickboxing fights, and 12 MMA Fights at that time. I knew I still wanted to train under AMC, and I didn’t know I wanted to be a coach yet,” he explained. “I wanted to move to LA, but I had to swing by Seattle and I had to train at AMC, because it was part of the path.”
Colcher finally reached the City of Angels in 2011, at which point he started to teach classes and coach fighters out of downtown’s TapouT LA. Over the next year, he amassed the core group that now comprises his NZT student body. When it came time to leave the gym, many of his students came with him. The mass exodus taught Colcher that he had created a loyal following that believed in his leadership.
The team briefly housed itself out of a kickboxing gym in Koreatown until late last December, when the family found a permanent home in the Pic0-Union neighborhood. After that second move in as many years, the NZT family was ready to lay roots and literally invest its own sweat and effort into building a place they could call their own home.
Finding a building was not easy for Colcher, who was plagued by a series of unfortunate financial events before finding the gym’s current location on Pico. After a long search, Colcher secured the building with a $500 deposit, a handshake, and the promise of more money to come.
“At one point, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this anymore, but then I stepped outside of myself,” Colcher said. “One of my students said to me ‘hey, we need this.’ And so I knew I had to open the gym for them.”
The opening of the new location coincided with Diaz’s approaching title fight with former champion Jerell Cephas. With the University of MMA’s Fight Night 6 fast-approaching, the newly-opened NZT Pankration was a whirlwind of activity.
“We had two points of focus: Ozzy’s fight and getting the gym running,” Colcher said. “Our team was very tight before Ozzy’s fight with Jerell. Everyone was here and rallying forward as one.”
When Diaz defeated Cephas, Colcher’s focus returned to building the gym. Though today you will find the essential ingredients, Colcher will be the first to tell you that the gym is an ongoing project. It’s a project that the family works on together, with each individual member expected to contribute to the construction of their home.
“After we got the place in December we got to work,” Espinoza said. “We primed and painted the building ourselves. We laid the mats down ourselves. We built the cage ourselves.”
Where Colcher one day envisions his office, you will find a bed, refrigerator, and a scattered array of building equipment. Directly above the fridge, Colcher dreams of a staircase, one that will lead students to rooftop training sessions.
If you’ve ventured this deeply into the gym, you are likely to be greeted by Colcher’s cat and dog, part-time residents of the building that will be more than happy to welcome you to the NZT family. It’s all a part of the unique vibe that defines NZT, a place that is truly a reflection of those who inhabit it.
“All of the painting in the gym is done by students,” Espinoza said. “The art you see on the walls was done by one of the tattoo artists that comes into the gym. He came in around midnight and worked on it until five in the morning.”
The painting, found directly above the mat, depicts the Shaolin symbol of a tiger and dragon opposite each other. Between the beasts is painted the Japanese onmyōdō (yin-yang) symbol. For Colcher, who has the same image tattooed on his arms, the piece represents complete mastery of one’s art, the physical embodiment of his vision for the gym.
“I believe in always finding a way to prevail,” Colcher said, “Winning isn’t always the right goal. Sometimes your losses shape you. The future of the gym is limitless. I want to finish construction and be at this place for a long time.”
NZT Pankration is located at 2809 W. Pico Blvd in Harvard Heights /Koreatown. For more info, visit www.NZTMMA.com or call (323) 643-4481.