Josh Watson slams Daniel Schnurrenberger into the Sheetrock wall of a non-descript warehouse in Truckee, but Schnurrenberger rebounds, leaving a dark smudge of sweat from his shirtless torso.
Schnurrenberger regains his form momentarily, but Watson quickly finishes the competition with a swift takedown.
From the edge of the mat a handful of onlookers take in the action, while Watson’s young nephew, Sammy Grillo, rhythmically jabs the Sheetrock on the opposite side of the room.
It’s nearly 7 p.m. upstairs in the West River Street warehouse, and fight club is in full swing.
Every Thursday evening for the last year, a handful of participants drawn to these underground fights have tested their mettle against each other. The grunts, curses and occasional blood is real, but the bouts end with a laugh and a tap of gloved fists.
“We haven’t advertised,” Watson says. “It’s just friends and word of mouth.”
The martial artists enter the side door of the warehouse, ascend a metal staircase and pass through a jumbled storage room of appliances, electrical wiring and insulation to reach the padded floor where the fights take place.
Some fighters have years of martial arts training under their belts, others are just learning to test their skills against rivals.
Dropping gallon jugs of water near the door, the fighters put on minimal padding, stretch and spar. Later, the group tests ground moves, grappling each other in a contest that ends when one of the fighters wrenches or twists a limb of the other fighter into submission.
“We have so much fun beating the tar out of each other,” Watson says.
Schnurrenberger is 50, slightly graying and built like a rock. He hopes to enter a “no holds barred” mixed martial arts fight if he can stay healthy.
“It’s nice to put it on the line and try things out,” says Schnurrenberger. “It’s a whole different thing when people are taking swings at you.”
Schnurrenberger keeps opponents at bay with powerful kicks and throws in some jarring punches to match.
Watson, a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, is the giant of the group; a red-headed 200-plus-pound fighter with a bulldog attack. Watson seems to never go backwards.
He hasn’t fought in competition since a recent Las Vegas match, as he puts it, “turned out bad.”
And then there’s John Holster, who has practiced martial arts for only a couple years, but comes at his opponents with lightning fast tenacity and formidable strength.
If there is a ringleader of the bunch it is definitely Watson, who says he first experienced Jiu Jitsu in a manhandling by a diminutive Brazilian from Salt Lake City.
He vividly remembers walking into the martial arts club and being pitted against the smallest guy there.
“I’m not cocky by any means, but I was like ‘come on,'” Watson says.
But as the man eviscerated him on the mat, he was thankful he’d learned at least one of the most important Jiu Jitsu moves.
“Luckily I knew how to tap,” he says, “or else I would have been asleep.”
But at the Truckee warehouse, the fights are measured. The fighters are there to train and learn, and not to hurt each other.
“We have to go to work the next day,” says Watson. “We just step it up enough [to get a workout].”
Training brings out much more in fighters than physical strength and aggressiveness, Schnurrenberger says.
“Sometimes it’s more about discipline and self-control than fighting,” he says. “And that’s fine.”
The combatants start sparring tentatively, pawing at each other, testing reactions and sizing up the competition.
But as the fighters’ confidence grows, the punches, kicks and holds start flying. Soon the fight reaches a crescendo, often ending on the mat or in a fierce, on-target hit.
The banter between the six fighters ranges from injury conversation to the latest Ultimate Fighting Competition match, and over to last week’s Truckee Fight Club highlights.
Everyone’s talking about Holster’s perfect takedown of Watson. The form, technique and follow-through couldn’t have been better, everyone agrees.
“That’ll never happen again,” Holster says.
The much more experienced Watson smiles about his fall and Holster’s quick maneuver and concedes it was a work of art.
“That was good,” Watson says. “It was impressive.”
It’s a camaraderie born of sitting on your buddy’s chest and wrenching his arm until he gives in.