PINELLAS PARK – Looking in the mirror after giving birth to her son over a year-and-a-half ago, Melissa Harbour knew she needed to find a way to get back in shape.
“I was always fit,” Harbour said, “but when I was pregnant I put on more than 60 pounds. I wanted nothing more than to get the baby weight off.”
Uninterested in conventional gyms and fitness regimens, she turned to her close friend and professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter Tiffany Connell. So the two started working out together three times a week, incorporating elements from Connell’s MMA training sessions into their workouts.
“We would hit the bag, lift weights, run sprints, and all sorts of crazy stuff that Tiffany would use to train for her fights,” said Harbour.
Connell added, “You don’t have to be a fighter to train like one.”
It wasn’t long before a few of their friends joined them for their workout sessions. And after months of training together, Harbour saw her weight drop and her hard work pay off.
So she encouraged Connell to consider opening a gym and offering their MMA-based workouts to others.
“The traditional gym just didn’t do it for me,” Harbour said, “and I know there are a lot of women who go through this, who have a baby and want to get back to where they once were.”
Last January, Tha Spot found a home in Pinellas Park and officially opened in a large warehouse on 43rd Street N. The 5,500-square-foot space is fully equipped for boxing, martial arts and fitness classes. In addition to morning and evening ladies kickboxing and fitness classes taught by Connell and Harbour, local boxers and the St. Pete MMA Fight Club trains at the facility as well.
The women’s programs have grown quickly by word of mouth, so quickly that they had to offer a second set of classes. Now there are evening and morning sessions that attract about 35 women ranging from 16 to those in their 50s.
“The classes are just something totally different,” Connell said. “They feel like Crossfit meets boot camp meets MMA.”
The sessions are engaging and exciting, Connell said, holding the women’s interest, empowering them, and making them wanting to come back for more. And the results have been phenomenal, she said.
“I’ve had women come in here unable to do one push-up, or even run 50 yards," she said. "Now they’re running 5Ks. One woman lost seven inches [on her waist] in a month-and-a-half.”
Harbour added, “These women are doing things they never dreamed they’d do.”
Connell ran track and cross-country at Webber International University, and first became involved in martial arts when she took a kickboxing class with her mother at 15. She became a ring girl for local Muay Thai fights and decided she wanted to be in on the action.
“Being that close I just wanted to be out there and to punch someone in the face,” she laughed.
She fought her first amateur fight in 2007, winning the World Shin Do Kumate Association 2007 Lightweight Title, followed by the International Sport Karate Association Florida State Super Bantamweight Title in 2008 and the 2009 International Kickboxing Federation Super Bantamweight World Classic Title. She turned pro in 2010.