MISSOULA — There's a budding sports team in Montana.
It's been around for a while, but it's not an established power like the Montana Grizzlies or Montana State Bobcats.
Some are professionals, but they aren't members of the Pioneer League baseball teams in Montana.
They're fighters, of all backgrounds, from the DogPound Fight Team in Missoula. And their team is growing as they look to put mixed martial arts on the map here in the Treasure State.
"Our team's different," pro MMA fighter Lauren Wolfe said. "We're not here to play, we're here to fight."
"I think it's just the toughness," Ryder Small, another pro fighter, added. "The shows we can put on with the natural ability to fight. We come from a tough place. I think Montana is one of the toughest states. I think it's just natural."
Fighters, and fighting, is different.
It takes a different mentality to know you're stepping into a ring or cage to willingly fight another human being.
"You get this weird, like blissful sense of putting it all on the line," Dogpound Fight Team coach and amateur fighter Conall Powers said. "Win, lose or draw, you're putting it all on the line and it's just this weird, almost euphoria."
"You have to be wired a certain way," added Dogpound head coach Matt Powers. "We look at it as, 'We have a job. Our job is to go in and inflict as much damage as possible.'"
"The reason why we've found success in fighting is because we do a lot of things different than a lot of other places. We do have a smaller group, but everybody on the mat, they're not necessarily looking to be a fighter, but they're all looking to learn how to fight."
Matt Powers started the Dogpound Fight Team in Oregon in the early 2000's, but after making his way to Missoula, he revamped the team for more reasons than one.
"There wasn't any MMA, there wasn't any submission grappling," Powers explained. "So I started the Dogpound so I could train people so I have people to compete against. But that's really how we started, I just needed training partners."
And the game has changed drastically from when Powers stepped in the ring.
"Back when I was younger and fighting, we didn't have the athletes that they do today," he said. "They would tape off a square in an armory and you could tape your wrists and it essentially was just a fist fight. But you'd fight three or four times and make less money than it cost you in gas to get there."
But as organizations like the UFC became prevalent, Powers saw an influx of fighters in Montana wanting to give mixed martial arts a shot.
At one point, Powers said the Dogpound Fight Team sported about 30 pro fighters on their roster, and about 15-20 amateurs as well.
But an injury to Powers caused him the step back, and numbers in turn, dwindled.
But a new inspiration would soon appear: his son, Conall Powers.
"I've just been on the mats watching him and he's been a huge role model in my life and so I kind of without knowing it I kind of started to emulate him," Conall said. "I've pretty much evolved with the sport. I don't think I had an option really. Just kind of led me to it but I love this sport."
"Having Conall and an athlete that moves like him kind of sells itself," Matt added. "Because he is on the mat and because I am able to use him to demo, it's been a nice and smooth transition."
The two work in tandem as a coaching duo alongside Rafer King, while Conall continues to train for his own MMA career.
It's a passion project too, because unless any of their fighters land a big show, the coaches do it as a labor of love and don't charge money from any of their fighters, so the athletes can use their financials toward their career rather than paying a coach.
"He has made it interesting because he showed me a different way to fight. The thought of him standing in front of somebody getting hit, I'm a father, that's not appealing. But the way he moves and the way that he flows made me realize you can fight and not take too much damage."
Of late, the Dogpound Fight Team is beginning to find it's resurgence with a new wave of talent, which was on full display back in July at Fusion Fight League's Fights Under the Lights in Missoula.
Budding athletes like Justin Harbison and Hudson Kettenring earned blistering first-round wins at the event as the two kicked off their amateur careers, and became examples of what the Dogpound Fight Team has to offer.
"It means the world to me and I've told everyone, I don't want to go to a big gym and make it big out of a big gym," Harbison said. "I want to make it big and put Montana on the map for Montana MMA and what it is. To be part of Dogpound, it's a family and that's a big part of it."
Missoula native and pro fighter Dylan Schulte headlined the event and also won by first-round finish.
While currently training out of Colorado, Schulte never forgets where his roots began as he won his fourth straight fight.
"It means the world man, I just want to see them succeed," Schulte said. "I want to see them reach the top level and when I reach the top level it will come from Dogpound in Missoula."
Dogpound's story is emblematic of what small gyms go through.
While the numbers are growing, they are still small, and finding the right training partners in certain weight classes can be challenging.
Plus, the fighters don't have one central location to train like some of the major gyms in the U.S.
To make it work, they work out at Ridge Fitness, Zoo BJJ and will even practice outside if the conditions warrant, another example of their dedication to the sport.
"I believe that toughness that's inherent in them from growing up in Montana, translates over to heart," Matt Powers said. "It's hard to break our athletes. You can put them in a bad situation for nine straight minutes, in their head I'm going to get you in the 10th. So it's because they grew up without having everything handed to them."
"I love this gym. I feel like with it being a smaller team, everybody's a lot closer, you know everybody really well," Wolfe added. "You know your training partners and even though it is small I also have some of the best wrestlers in the state that are my size that I get to train with everyday, so it's the best option I feel like."
Wolfe and Jen Schmill are two of Dogpound's female fighters.
Both are pros and on the up-and-up, but with competition scarce in Montana, they turn to each other and their teammates for training as they embark on their MMA journeys.
"I think it's super inspiring," Schmill said. "I just went pro for my very first fight ever because they couldn't find me somebody as an amateur. So mine was kind of unexpected and to be in the tight-knit group of the pro athletes has been super intense and challenging and I thrive in challenge."
Their tight-knit, small team also showcases how MMA is far from an individual sport.
"Commit yourself to that training room so you can get back what you put it 10-fold because you got to think, it is a team sport," Kettenring added. "You're walking in there alone, but at the end of the day you're choosing a team. You're choosing training partners, a coach and that's an intimate and I think important thing. And I feel like I made the prefect choice."
So, what's next for the Dogpound?
Finding one location to practice and work is paramount to their cause, and the team has likely found a centralized hub that they hope to move into in the coming months, which would help training become more convenient as they grow.
The team currently sees anywhere from 8-15 pro fighters training at once, with the same amount of amateur fighters in the gym as well. Members like Josh Wright have had opportunities with Bellator, and other fighters on the team are well on their way to start breaking into MMA's larger promotions.
"Well these guys are basically family now," Small said. "Once you join and stick around for a while it kind of becomes a part of your life and like I said I've been doing this for half my life, it basically is most of the things I do and I'm just thankful for everybody that comes around and helps me out and I'm able to help them and see them succeed."
"We're a tight-knit group. We care for each other, we care for each other, we hold each other accountable," Conall added. "And we all have a similar goal and that's to be the best fighter. Not the best martial artist, not the best kickboxer, not the best jiu jitsu guy, to be the best fighter, there is."