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A team photo of the FIT NHB team after a training session.

Celebrating 20 Years of FIT NHB: The First Best Guy

On May 19th, FIT NHB (Fighters In Training, No Holds Barred) celebrates their twentieth year of existence as an entity within the combat sport’s world. Not just a unique acronym, the lauded gym has been quintessential to the development and evolution of mixed martial arts in the State of New Mexico and the Southwest region.

When FIT NHB announced via social media that they’d be celebrating their 20th year, it piqued the interest of us here at Southwest Fight News to become fans for a while and take a drive down memory lane to commemorate FIT NHB as experienced by the individual who stood at ground zero building the gym from the first brick – Head Coach and Co-Owner Tom Vaughn.

Catch up first with yesterday’s posting about “The Beginning (click here)”.

It would be simple for a fight fan to come along and name who they think the best fighter is from their favorite gym. In fact, I will do just that down the road as part of this series celebrating FIT NHB’s 20th birthday.

But could a fight fan name the gym’s first best fighter?

In all likelihood the only individuals that could name a gym’s first best fighter are the ones who were in trenches training since day one and continued on for a significant amount of time. I would say Vaughn meets that criteria perfectly.

“Jesse Isbell was around 21-years old when I hired him on our security team at Baja Beach Cantina. One of his first nights at the Cantina ended in a major brawl in the parking lot. We were trying to get everything under control and things were really chaotic. In the middle of the melee I looked over and saw Jesse restraining a guy with one arm and dropping guys with his free hand. I thought “Man, this kid has potential!”. – Tom Vaughn

Labeled as FIT NHB’s “First Best Guy” by Head Coach Tom Vaughn, Jesse Isbell is the first iconic combat athlete from the 20-year old gym.

Ironically, one could make a connection with Vaughn’s first impression of this young man and a main characteristic found in fighter’s who have been under Vaughn’s tutelage – being tough. If you think of fighters like Tim Means and ask what is one of “The Dirty Bird’s” main attributes, you would answer that he is one of the toughest guys in MMA. How about Tim’s teammate Brenda Gonzales-Means? One of the toughest competitors you’ll ever see. Nicco Montano? Tim Sosa? Turrell Galloway? Charlie Williams? Yup, all tough as can be.

It would only make sense that in Vaughn’s profession managing security crews that he would embrace Jesse Isbell after their first experience together. Similar to that of our first story with Tom meeting Arlene and it splitting into half-personal and half-business, Tom would find a similar situation while taking Jesse under his wing. From his relationship with Arlene stemmed a successful coaching endeavor and that paid off when Tom’s relationship with Jesse yielded their first successful student.

“Jesse wasn’t into the party scene so I made him my right-hand man. He was tough, smart, focused, and he took the job serious. Part of his job was to drive me around to check on our other clubs account and catch my back .Jesse had a little bit of a kickboxing background so naturally we invited him to train at our school. Arlene also saw Jesse’s potential right away and spent a lot of time working with him . Jesse trained everyday and progressed quickly into an equally talented boxer and kickboxer. Jesse became the best striker in our school and is largely responsible for helping us get our fight team off the ground. He regularly schooled some of our fighters that now school other fighters at the elite level.” – Tom Vaughn

For those of you fight fans with training experience in a combat sport-focused gym, you are well aware of your gym’s “Jesse Isbell”. The top talent in the gym, the guy who nine out of ten times is going to get the better of everyone during training. The fighter who helps put the gym on the map and cements the legitimacy of the coaching staff and training regiment.

This may be the earliest inception of what a combat athlete looked like coming from the vision and experience of coaches Tom and Arlene. The “version one” of sorts, Jesse Isbell would become a successful kickboxer and would fight on the same card as famed kickboxer and eventual UFC title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. That event was notable for many reasons, namely the legendary figure promoting the show and the show featuring top-level talent in the world of kickboxing.

“Jesse won Golden Gloves (boxing) multiple times and fought in Chuck Norris’ “World Combat League”, a kickboxing league. Unfortunately, Jesse’s fight career was cut short by a serious shoulder dislocation. After surgery, Jesse’s shoulder was never the same and he was forced to stop competing.” – Tom Vaughn

It is sad reality in the sporting world of combat. Injuries have claimed countless talented athletes over the years and for every fighter that makes it big, there were thousands that couldn’t get past injuries to get their big break. It is unfortunate, yet a balance that makes the pinnacle of combat sports that much more pristine when obtained.

Still, these stories always lead to the great debate of “what if?”, in a reality where an answer can never be definitely given. With so many successful fighters having called or still call FIT NHB their home, a name like Jesse Isbell may never be spoken about but should be applauded all the same.

Yet he can still be celebrated, even if bittersweet, in that he will always have his legacy intact inside the annals of FIT NHB history. Before Tom and Arlene made that march to combat with Carlos Condit, Donald Sanchez, Frank Baca, Tim Means, and many, many more, they made the walk with the original top FIT NHB fighter.

“Nevertheless, Jesse Isbell goes down in FIT history as our first best guy.” – Tom Vaughn

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