DULUTH - Paul Creighton's career in the Ultimate Fighting Championship didn't last as long as he would have liked, but the former mixed martial arts fighter has flourished on the business side of the sport.
Creighton Mixed Martial Arts has become one of the premier places in Gwinnett County and Atlanta for fighters to train in Brazilian jujitsu and MMA. It's family-like atmosphere is what draws people from all over Atlanta, which is just as satisfying for Creighton.
"I don't regret it one bit," Creighton said. "My business has grown a lot and I've done everything I wanted to do. My goal was to win the sports jujitsu world championship, to fight in the UFC; I wish I didn't have to fight B.J. Penn first, but if I ever wanted to come out of retirement, then I would have no problem."
Creighton lost to Penn by knockout in UFC 37: Throwdown in 2002. Penn would later go on to win the UFC welterweight title, while Creighton never fought in the UFC again.
His contract was a three-fight deal, but he had to win the first fight. After the loss he tried to get other fights in smaller organizations, so the UFC would let him fight again.
Creighton continued to train for about a year in New York City with world renowned Brazilian jujitsu specialist Renzo Gracie. When two fights fell through in Canada and one in Japan, he was left with an ultimatum.
"Then I decided, 'Do I want to stay in New York and continue this or do I want to go down to Georgia to open up my own academy?'" Creighton said.
He chose the latter and in 2003 the Watertown, N.Y., native came to Georgia to start his own gym. It started off with Creighton only training 10 to 15 people, but four years later he has almost 150 students.
"I've always wanted to open an academy," Creighton said. "When I opened the academy I wanted one where we could train people from 5 years old to 70 years old. My academy isn't just straight for fighters, it's for everybody that wants to train."
The academy is in its fourth year in a 1,000-square-foot room that is leased at a building off Peachtree Industrial in Duluth. Classes range from Brazilian jujitsu to mixed martial arts striking to submission grappling. Once Creighton is able to find a bigger building to move to, he plans to add a fitness kickboxing class.
"I think one of the biggest things that draws us to Paul is the atmosphere he's created it's very much like a family atmosphere," said Bray Deavours, who trains and is an instructor at the academy. "We really truly are family-oriented here."
As the sport of MMA continues to grow, Creighton is getting more and more people to join his academy. His students come from all different backgrounds - mechanics, doctors, college professors, lawyers, real estate agents and high school teachers all train here. Most of the people at his gym are men, but women also work out there, too.
"MMA is getting so big right now; it's just made a huge boom," Creighton said. "People are searching it all the time on the Internet and are coming in. Most of the people that come in I'd say 98 percent of the people don't want to be a fighter, they want to train in mixed martial arts, they want to learn how to fight if they have to use it and they want to get into good shape.
"I don't concentrate strictly on fighters, we have that class, but I like training the regular businessman, janitor; it doesn't matter. We have all different types of people."
The increase in participants eventually became too much for Creighton to teach so many classes and still run a business, so some of his longtime students have now become assistant instructors.
Josh Bowie, a 2000 North Gwinnett grad, Deavours, a 1996 Duluth grad, and Jon McKenzie, a 1995 South Gwinnett grad, are now assistant instructors for Creighton.
"There are other good Brazilian jujitsu artists in Atlanta, but Paul teaches it as well as he practices it," McKenzie said. "Some people can practice and are great Brazilian jujitsu competitors, but they don't teach it as well. Paul is a great teacher."
Like a lot of fighters, Creighton still has that desire to compete. His loss to Penn is his only one in MMA as he holds a 4-1 record. But for now, he's content with being an instructor.
"I always have the itch. Every fighter that fights has that itch to go back and that's why so many boxers go back to fight," Creighton said. "I definitely have the itch to go back. Whether on not I will depends on how the academy runs and everything."
SideBar: The Creighton File
Who: Paul Creighton
What: Owner of Creighton Mixed Martial Arts in Duluth
Education: Bachelor's degree from SUNY Brockport in health science; master's degree from Radford University in physical and health education
Background: Wrestled for 14 years in high school and college where he compiled a 134-16-1 record; trained for six years under world renowned Brazilian jujitsu specialist Renzo Gracie; fought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2002
' Black belt in Brazilian jujitsu
' Sport jujitsu middleweight world champion in 2000
' NJCAA Region II college wrestling gold medalist