Salford MMA fighter opens gym and battles cancer during lockdown

An MMA fighter and personal trainer has opened Salford’s newest gym—all while battling a bout of cancer. 

Emile Vujakovic, 26, from Salford, opened his new gym in Trafford Park after work dried-up during lockdown. 

Ace Conditioning opened for personal trainers on September 1 and classes began on October 1. 

“In a weird way, if it wasn’t for Covid, I wouldn’t have had my own place,” said Vujakovic.

When the Prime Minister announced a national lockdown in March, Vujakovic went from non-stop working and training to nothing overnight.

Last December he was preparing to sign a pro-contract as an MMA fighter. He has won his last five fights and is ranked ninth in the UK & Ireland Amateur Middleweight class. 

His last fight on February 29 pitted him against Jordan O’Neill.

But the lockdown led to a four-month closure of gyms and they were not permitted to reopen until July. 

“It gave me time to set-up… like actually plan out all the rubbish stuff that goes into setting up your own place,” said Vujakovic.

Vujakovic was on holiday recovering from a fight when the idea of owning his own gym was planted. 

He’d written it off at the time because he simply had no time. 

“Once Boris said we couldn’t do anything and I was getting up every day not doing anything, I thought: ‘This is the time to do it’.” 

He got a loan from his bank and accessed advice from EnterprisingYou, a Greater Manchester Combined Authority scheme, funded by the Department for Education. 

The scheme provides free business advice for small business owners and the self-employed of the region. Nick Langley, a business coach at EnterprisingYou helped Vujakovic build the business model and acted as a sounding board.  

Vujakovic said: “I didn’t jump in blind. Everything was thought of as much as possible.

“If I hadn’t had the support of Nick, then I would’ve been second guessing myself all the time.”

He signed a lease on a site in Trafford Park and began decorating, bringing in equipment and hiring personal trainers.

While all of this was happening, Vujakovic discovered a growth on a saliva gland, which he thought was from fighting.  

An operation to remove the growth confirmed that it was cancerous. He started a course of treatment at The Christie, a cancer treatment centre in south Manchester.  

In between managing the new gym and attending radiotherapy appointments, he remains dedicated to his training.  

“I want to be a world-class athlete, who’s got a world-class facility in his hometown.

“It’s been a crazy six months of my life, but it’s all coming together now.”

Enterprising You, the business advice scheme that helped Vujakovic, currently has 400 clients and provides 93 different training and development provisions. 

Andy Mather, team leader of EnterprisingYou, encourages people to access its free advice.

He said: “The diverse range of business coaches that we’ve got, there’s something really for everybody.”

Asked about what advice he had for others, Vujakovic stressed the importance of a support bubble of friends and family. 

Vujakovic said: “Do your research and make sure you know what you’re doing before you sign anything.

“If you’ve got support and you’ve got the drive and the motivation and you’re gonna work at it, then you can do it.”

“Sometimes I think ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’ve done this’.”

Visit Ace Conditioning’s website to find out more:

Find out about business support on offer from EnterprisingYou here:

Photo credit: Ace Conditioning/Emile Vujakovic

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