Wyoming's Wind River Indian Reservation is known for being a basketball hotbed.
This reputation has been buoyed by the Wyoming Indian High School boys' basketball squad which has captured numerous state championships, including its latest in March.
But a pair of lifelong Northern Arapaho friends are hoping people will soon also be pointing to their community as a go-to place for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
Mike Yellowplume, 34, and Nick Brown, 35, own Built For Battle, a promotions company that they started a few years ago; originally wanting to bring various concerts and DJ events into their community.
But the pair have branched out this year and have also organized two MMA amateur shows. Built For Battle is now in the process of organizing its own commission in order to stage pro MMA cards. They currently have about 15 local fighters that they are helping to train. "We're trying to show people there are other things to do than just basketball," Yellowplume said. "Not everybody plays basketball."
The Wind River Indian Reservation, which has a population of about 28,000, is located in the central western part of Wyoming and is shared by the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes. "Around here there's hardly anybody with their own business," Yellowplume said. "We're breaking new ground for our area.
"Growing up I had a typical reservation story," he said. "I grew up without a father and my mom was battling with alcoholism."
But Yellowplume wants to be there to support his three daughters, ages 10, 3 and 3 months. "I don't want my daughters to have it as bad as I did," he said.
During his early years, Yellowplume bounced around his reservation living with different family members. Then after high school he moved away and lived in various states before returning to Wind River.
"It kind of helped me to see what was out there," he said. "It helped me grow and see a lot of things."
Yellowplume currently works at his tribe's diabetes center, which includes a small weight room where he helps to train people in the basics of boxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu. And Brown works for a tribal employment rights company. Both hope that one day the MMA aspect of Built For Battle will become a full-time venture. "I see it getting really big," Brown said. "This sport can really take off. It just comes down to getting the older generations to see it is more of a sport than just a fight."
Built For Battle staged its first MMA event in January and its second card in early April. Both of these events were held at the local community centre. A couple of hundred people attended these events. Their goal is to stage a card at the Wind River Hotel and Casino, which has a events center that can accommodate about 500 spectators.
The Built of Battle Crew
In order to operate pro events, the pair must be sanctioned by the MMA commission. So, instead of joining the Wyoming Combat Sports Commission, the pair have discovered they can simply form their own commission, which would prevent them from handing over a percentage of their revenues.
"If we start our own [commission], we don't have to pay anybody else," said Yellowplume, who will soon begin organizing board members, a prerequisite to getting their own commission.
The next scheduled Built For Battle event is a boxing card, set for June 26. That event will be held in conjunction with the Eastern Shoshone powwow.
Like Yellowplume, Brown is confident their company can prosper. "We've got traction," he said. "I'm hoping within the next two to three years we will be well-established."