When you think of young people with troubled or criminal pasts, you don't think of fighting as a way of turning things around. But that is the case in the Springfield area. Levi Manues runs Blue Jeans Ink tattoos and oversees an MMA club called "Team Fight or Die". Eric Stevens runs a competing club, "Team Fusion" and a martial arts training center in Nixa. Together, they are making a difference in the lives of young people with troubled pasts who are trying to get away from their negative influences. And they're doing it by teaching them how to fight...legally...As MMA athletes.
"Most people think fighting is the opposite of trying to help," Manues admits.
"You see a change in their attitude towards people," Stevens added. "And it is surprising that it comes from something like fighting."
"They take out their frustrations on these (punching) bags to make 'em better people," Manues explains. "And if they get tired doing something fun, they won't have time to do something illegal."
"Fightin' is all I've ever known," says Sam Smith, one of the MMA athletes. "And this is a way to fight without getting into trouble."
Smith, from Springfield, has a troubled past including jail time and still has a pending case for cocaine distribution charges three years ago. But he says that the MMA has turned his life around.
"It helps control my anger," he said. "It's like a coping skill for me."
20 year-old Tony Price, who's currently on probation, admits that if it wasn't for MMA fighting, "I'd be in prison right now. This took me away from the wrong people doing the wrong things."
26 year-old Anthony Allen says MMA is the best thing that's ever happened to him.
"I was a punk," he explained. "In-and-out of jail, you name it, I've done it. This saves people's lives."
In Allen's case, literally. After getting injured during a fight, Allen went to a doctor, who discovered Allen had a brain tumor. But Anthony is using the fighting spirit he learned in MMA in his battle with cancer.
"I've got stage 4 cancer," he said. "They told me I've got five years to live. But I told them that I don't see no toe tag with five years on it. So I'm gonna keep fightin."
Manues and Stevens pay for all the training and shows out of their own pockets. And while not all the fighters who come through here turn their lives around (A 60-70% drop-out rate, according to Stevens), those that do believe in what they call, "paying it forward".
"If we can get out there to more kids, guidance is all you need," Allen said. "And where else can you get it than right here."