A haircut started it all.
Mark Greubel was a baseball player, but his coach at Butler High School required the young sophomore to cut his long hair.
"I was rebellious, I suppose, and didn't want to do it," he said. "That's the best thing that ever happened to me."
Greubel lost his spot on the team, but in the process Augusta eventually gained a growing identity in kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts. Greubel fell in love with the sport despite a lack of local gyms to help develop his trade. For the past five years, he's been working to change that with his own gym, Greubel's Mixed Martial Arts, and the results are starting to unfold.
Six of Greubel's fighters, including Nick Wesley, Edgar Nickson, Chris Richardson, Nicholas Torrance, Amica Olchavik and Stephanie Stafford, won titles at the World Kickboxing Association's North American Championships in February in Hampton, Va.
The titles come on the heels of last year's strong performance at the International Kickboxing Federation's World Classic, where seven local fighters came home with titles.
"Most people figure I must be going to some rinky-dink tournament. They ask who was the competition," Greubel said. "That's what most people think, because they expect to hear gyms out of L.A. or New York winning all these titles. But this is something I'm very passionate about. I put a lot of time and work into the development of my fighters."
Greubel still has to fight the urge of area athletes who typically choose golf, baseball, football, basketball and other team sports over his gym. But there isn't always a conflict.
"I played sports all through high school," said Nickson, who played football and ran track at North Augusta High School. "After I graduated I had nothing to do, really. I just sat around the house gaining weight, and I said I can't let this happen. A friend of mine told me about it, so I came in here just to get in shape. After I got in shape, I guess my competitive side from sports in high school kicked back in."
Greubel said his athletes range in age from 7 to 63 with almost 200 people training at his facility. The thought of so many people learning the sport and Augusta gaining recognition as a legitimate launching pad for fighters brought a smile to Greubel's face.
"I really, really, honestly love my job," he said.
"The funny thing is, when I'm working as grueling as it may be and as tasking as it may be, I love it. There's never a day where I wake up and say, 'Man, I don't want to go to work.' "