Every town has a something that makes it impressive, something that gives its residents pride. These sources of pride can range from a local diner to a high school football team. For Mobile you could say it’s the rich colonial history, Mardi Gras festivities or a variety of beautiful ecosystems. But Mobile is also home to some lesser-known sources of pride. One of these unknown little gems is Port City MMA.

Port City MMA, located at 2502 Schillinger Road S., is a mixed martial arts gym. Mixed martial arts, abbreviated as MMA, is one of the quickest growing global sports. MMA utilizes the most effective techniques from all martial arts. Jimmy Mills, originally from Fairhope, is the owner and head coach of Port City. Mills is a retired professional MMA fighter and is one of three Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts in the state.

Mixed martial arts is one of the fastest growing sports.

Mixed martial arts is one of the fastest growing sports.

MMA is one of the quickest growing sports in the nation. The sport pulls fighters from all different martial arts disciplines who are looking for a new level of competition. One of the main appeals of the sport for fighters and fans alike is that it puts those disciplines against each other to see what truly works.

“My dad was a boxer and wrestler,” Mills said. “When I was 14 I saw UFC 2 and I always wondered what happened if a boxer fought a kick boxer and the UFC showed what was truly effective in combat.”

While training as a MMA fighter, Mills traveled the world, utilizing his skill as a martial artist and bringing what he learned back to Mobile.

“I had to move all over to learn what I learned,” he said. “I lived in Holland, out west, Louisiana, Oklahoma – I brought what I learned back.”

Any martial art that isn’t truly useful in combat is left behind in MMA, only the most practical techniques are used. One of the most practiced and popular fighting styles used in MMA is Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling martial art that uses throws, chokes and joint locks.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu was created by Carlos Gracie in the early 20th century. Gracie used his knowledge of judo as a basis to form his jiu-jitsu and refined the art by competing in Vale Todo, meaning “anything goes” fights. Gracie taught the techniques to his brother Helios who taught his children. One of Helios’ sons, Royce, won the first UFC championship using jiu-jitsu.

“It’s the most important part, it was proven in the first era of the UFC,” Mills said. “A 170-pound nerdy Brazilian kid, who couldn’t dribble a basketball, was beating heavyweight fighters in no-rules fights. You have to train jiu-jitsu to be an effective fighter.”

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is one of the hardest martial arts to advance in. It usually takes on average a decade to earn a black belt. Mills said it took him nine. But the difficult art is a core pillar in the training regimen at Port City.

It takes an ever-improving understanding of jiu-jitsu techniques to advance to a new belt. Port City is the only place that offers black belt level training in southern Alabama.

“When I see them go to execute the moves properly, not have to use strength and know how to use the moves is a blue belt. When they can string moves together that’s purple and the smoother they get that’s brown,” Mills said.

Anyone is welcome to train at Port City, regardless of age or experience level.

“Anyone can better themselves through martial arts, true martial arts, modern martial arts shown to be effective in combat. We have anywhere from five-year-olds to grandparents. Anyone that wants to gain confidence or compete is welcome,” he said.

Students at Port City have different reasons for training at the gym. “I decided to go to Port City for the sake of learning martial arts, I’ve gone to Port City on and off since high school. I take kickboxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I’m a three-strip white belt which took around seven to eight months of going three to four times a week.” Arron Shirazi said.

Mills uses his past experience as a fighter when training members of his gym.

“I’ve trained with so many people, I learned what worked and what didn’t. I learned what was effective and what wasn’t, especially in MMA. Because MMA is a different sport boxing or wrestling, there’s different stances, distances and timing,” Mills said.

Despite the rigorous training, the rules to be a competitive fighter at Port City are simple.

“They have to sign up for the gym, show the right attitude and no ego,” Mills said. “They have to want to do it for the right reason or I won’t waste my time.”

The reasons why people join Port City vary but all fall into the gym’s spirit of self improvement and betterment.

“I believe highly in what I do. I turned down a law degree to do this, it’s not about money to me,” Mills said.