Updated: Oct 12, 2021
On a quiet side street in Pawtucket, RI sits an old brick warehouse which at first glance is mostly unremarkable. In fact, unless you were specifically searching for one of the businesses inside, you would likely pass by without even noticing it. However, on the second floor of that old mill building, remarkable things are taking place daily, for that space at 179 Conant Street is home to Tri-Force MMA. Tri-Force has been churning out high level MMA fighters for more than ten years, and after spending an evening there, it is easy to see why.
Most New England MMA readers are familiar with the Tri-Force success stories of Nate Andrews, John Douma, Richie Santiago, Dan Cormier, Leon Davis, and Gary Balletto. These gentlemen have made a name for themselves locally, and in some cases, nationally. However, their success did not come overnight.
Tri-Force Co-Owner, Pete Jeffrey, has been around long enough to remember the early days of local MMA. He was there for the unsanctioned bouts, the fights that took place in boxing rings with no doctors, no athletic commissions, and in most cases, no money! This level of experience has clearly filled Pete with a love and appreciation for the evolution of MMA in our region, and those feelings shine through when you see him interact with his students.
When I first entered Tri-Force MMA, I was greeted by the sound of excited little voices. It was a Tuesday evening, and kids' class was about to begin. I sat quietly in the corner as the adolescent students began their warm up routine, and I was struck with the realization that everyone in the room seemed to know each other. It was immediately evident that Tri-Force promotes a family atmosphere that is welcoming to everyone.
On one side of the mat, Jeffrey and his assistant coaches ran a gi jiu jitsu class, while on the opposite side, Tri-Force fighter, Dion Rubio, worked on striking with slightly older students. After warming up, the students progressed to drilling, positional work, and eventually light sparring. The organization and attention to detail displayed by Jeffrey, Rubio, and their assistants made it obvious they are genuinely invested in the success of each student.
The adult nogi class that followed was no different. The mat was filled with professional fighters, amateur fighters, people aspiring to be fighters, and middle aged hobbyists like yours truly. Every individual was treated equally and nobody placed themselves above the rest of the group. In speaking with Jeffrey, he made it very clear, “We are a school where all members are here to learn. We are not a fight club. There is a big difference, and nobody gets left behind”. I can tell you from first hand experience that he is one hundred percent forthright when making that statement. If Tri-Force operated as a “fight club”, Jeffrey would have simply strangled me within the first ten seconds of the round we spent grappling together. Instead, he spent the entire six minutes minutes of that round letting this old guy move around from position to position while surviving (barely)!
This type of instruction has undoubtedly helped Tri-Force and its fighters enjoy significant success over the past few years. With established veterans like the ones mentioned previously, as well as up and comers like Rubio and Tyrime DaSilva, the future of Tri-Force seems to be in good hands. After compiling an amateur record of 4-1-0, Rubio won his professional debut in August of this year with a submission victory over Leonardo Ladeira at Cage Titans 49. He will look to build on that momentum next month when he takes on Jake Hixenbaugh (3-5-0 Am) at Cage Titans 50.
Rubio is Prepared for Second Pro Bout
In addition to watching him coach and train, I was fortunate enough to chat briefly with Rubio during my visit to Tri-Force. What struck me most about the young fighter was the interesting dichotomy within his personality. He is a polite, reserved, and mild mannered young man, but he is most definitely capable of engaging in calculated violence when necessary. He is as comfortable coaching and nurturing a class of 10-14 year old children as he is choking out another grown man. In short, he is a gentleman and a fighter. When I spoke with Rubio about his upcoming fight, he didn’t have any predictions other than saying he is “coming in ready for victory”. He knows he is facing a tough opponent and indicated he has been focused on improving the fluidity of his stand up game as well as his movement. His second professional fight will be a good test, but there’s very little doubt Rubio will be ready to put on a show.
At Tri-Force, Fighting is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Pete Jeffrey has a specific path that every aspiring Tri-Force fighter must follow. Rubio and DaSilva are no different than the dozens of successful team members who came before them. In order to set foot in the MMA cage, Tri-Force fighters must first compete in kickboxing (smoker) fights and in local grappling tournaments. “We want these up and coming fighters to have experience competing in front of an audience before they get to amateur MMA”, said Jeffrey. This systematic and self proclaimed, “obsessive mindset”, has served Jeffrey and his students well over the past decade. It took very little time for me to recognize that Jeffrey takes an extremely intellectual approach to jiu jitsu, MMA, and life in general. “This is a smart person’s sport. It really is chess, and I like to think that I train martial artists, not fighters”, he stated astutely. A smart person in a smart person’s sport…..that’s Pete Jeffrey in a nutshell.
I want to thank Pete, Dion, and everyone else at Tri-Force for allowing me to visit their gym. The opportunity to experience some of their training and get a glimpse into what makes Tri-Force MMA tick was tremendously rewarding and very much appreciated. If you find yourself in the area, I would highly recommend checking them out!