Tenyeh ‘Skinnyman’ Dixon leads youth through a training exercise at Baltimore Bulldog Martial Arts. (Photo by Roberto Alejandro)

Starting and growing a business is never easy, but it is even harder when your store front sits on North Avenue, one of the most blighted stretches of Baltimore City. But a Tenyeh ‘Skinnyman’ Dixon and Cordell Hunter have established a space where everyone from neighborhood children to former prisoners and professional fighters, can train and develop themselves.

“We are in the business of building people and challenging yourself,” said Dixon, a professional mixed-martial arts (MMA) fighter for nearly a decade, about Baltimore Bulldog Martial Arts (BBMA), the gym he and Hunter opened.

The gym is a no-nonsense training space – more Rocky in Siberia than Drago in Moscow – and emphasizes the sort of equipment fighters in training are likely to use (fewer free weights, more tractor tires). Training at BBMA means training like a fighter.

“We call it ‘train like the pros without taking the blows,’” said Hunter of the gym’s approach. “ just regular guys, not wanting to fight, not wanting to compete, but if you come in here you’re going to do the same thing that the pros are doing except sparring. We don’t need anybody for punching bags.”

Three professional MMA fighters and seven or eight amateur fighters currently train at BBMA, according to Dixon, who currently holds the Xtreme Caged Combat and Locked in the Cage titles, fighting at 170 lbs. Hunter said from time to time he has to talk weekend warrior types down from taking on one of the guys doing this for a living. “Just be comfortable knowing that you’re training, doing the same things they’re doing,” Hunter tells them.

The gym has been open for three years, but the owners sacrifice to keep it going, often meeting expenses out of pocket. Dixon runs a moving and hauling business and does home repair work, while Hunter, works at a psychiatric rehabilitation program working with young people.

The gym is more than a business. It is a member of a struggling community, and Dixon and Hunter do what they can to assist, often tossing out their fee schedules to accommodate neighbors who cannot afford the full monthly rate.

“On the community-based side you end up doing that with everybody,” said Hunter. “Whether it’s a young guy that just graduated college, or, we’ve had kids that have just come home from jail, under 25, frustrated that they can’t get a job. . . . You can’t just give away stuff, but that comes with just being in the community. It’s just one of those things.”

BBMA is located at 2120 W. North Ave. Open daily, they offer men’s, women’s, and children’s classes with instruction in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai kickboxing, boxing, and wrestling.