Willy is a 4-time MMA Champ. Courtesy photo.
By Marcia E. Gawecki
The Idyllwild Fitness Center reopened three weeks ago. The new owner, Willy Latzo, is a four-time mixed martial arts world champion, who bought the gym for two reasons: To help him train for his next fight, and to help the young people of Idyllwild.
If you Google Willy Latzo, a million hits turn up. A self described, “Champion of the Hearts,” Willy also has many fight videos on You Tube. He is the European Champion in Muay Thai Boxing and a German champion in boxing. in 2000, he retired undefeated with 268 fights.
He said that fighting allowed him to travel the world, and see the better part of life. He has a trainer, and agent, and lots of people who work for him. He’s owned many gyms before, including in Berlin, where he’s from, and in Los Angeles.
Yet, Willy ended up in Idyllwild. Why?
“It was time to buy a gym, and we looked at Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and New Jersey,” and, surprisingly, Idyllwild came up, and we thought, ‘That’s brilliant!’” Willy said, from his office with only one muscle poster on the wall.
At 6 foot, 2 inches, and 255 pounds, Willy is a formidable force. Although he was wearing a sweatshirt and pants, it was hard to see his muscles. Granted, it’s wintertime in Idyllwild, but it was surprising how bundled up he was, and how little he wanted to talk about himself, his championships, his lifestyle, and physique.
“This gym is not about making money,” Willy began. “It’s about potential.”
He knows Hulk Hogan and other famous celebrities personally and wants to bring them to Idyllwild. He wants to help generate some excitement about fitness for the teenagers of Idyllwild.
“It’s too early yet,” Willy said. “We just opened up this month, but in the Spring, I’d like to start working on some events that focus on youth and fitness.”
He said that he’s met a lot of teenagers who are hanging in the streets with nothing to do.
“Some have come in here smelling of vodka,” Willy said. “I’m not here to judge, but who is taking care of the youth?”
“We need to help and show courage,” Willy added. “We should not look away.”
As a father of two teenagers, he knows how challenging it can be. He has a son who is 15 years old and a daughter who is 13 years old.
But he believes that fitness and fighting helped him develop character growing up in Berlin.
His parents are originally from Turkey, and moved to Germany for a better life. Both were nurses who worked hard, sometimes 16 to 20 hours a day. However, his father died at age 49 of cancer.
“I think he was heartbroken because he couldn’t go home,” Willy said. “He never returned to Turkey.”
Willy started fighting at age six, and learned quickly. He was teaching his first karate class at age 9. His lessons lead him to fights all over the world.
Willy and wife Ramona at their Idyllwild Opening. Photo Jeffrey Taylor.
“I think I was born to fight,” he said.
During the discussion, he pointed out that fighters aren’t angry. They don’t hate their opponents. Mixed martial arts is a sport like any other. It’s about training, strategy, and outwitting your opponent.
“The kids ask me, ‘Isn’t it violent?” Willy said. “It’s not violent. You need to honor your enemy.”
Yet, over the years, Willy has seen the underside of the sport. The drug abuse, and the pressure of sponsors. You find out that your opponents are fighting for the love of money, and not the sport.
“And then one day, you wake up in a hotel room, and you don’t know your own name,” he said.
At age 40, Willy is not delusional about his career as a fighter. He has broken every bone in his body and his nose 16 times. He can’t feel any sensation in his legs anymore. It’s not because he’s been kicked too much, but he wanted to deaden the nerves there. In an ancient method, he used a rolling pin to force his nerves away from the bones.
“It’s great for fighting, but bad in your personal life,” Willy said.
In Idyllwild, he feels closer to the universe. He and his wife, Ramona, love it here. The other night, he walked home in the light of the full moon and was rejuvenated.
He spoke about Lin Long, a woman from China, who lived in the woods for 10 years after she was banished from her town. She developed her own fierce fighting style from the animals.
He said when he went to Japan, he was the chosen student.
“I am the grand master,” Willy stated.
He is looking for another student to learn his martial arts secrets from him. But it wasn’t clear if it would be a boy or girl.
(from L) Jeffrey Taylor with Sara Karloff. Background art by Marcia Gawecki.
“He or she will come to me,” Willy said.
He also spoke of his belief in Zen Buddhism, and how a worm could be his grandmother, so he must be careful where he steps in the woods.
All in all, Willy is a champion. His experience as a personal trainer has already shaped one local into a true believer.
“In just three weeks, I can see definition in my chest,” said Jeffrey Taylor, of Green Cafe Internet.
Like many people who work behind a desk, Jeffrey was putting on weight because he couldn’t ride his bicycle in the snow. Willy started focusing on his stomach.
“For most men, that’s the weakest part,” Willy said.
After an hour workout, Jeffrey would complain that it hurt to laugh. But he kept with it, and soon he started to see an improvement.
“I looked in the mirror, and I’m starting to see a six pack,” Jeffrey said with a grin.
He’s not talking about beer, but abdominal muscles that stick out when you’re in great shape.
Yet, Jeffrey is quick to point out that Idyllwild Fitness is not geared for bodybuilders.
In Idyllwild, Willy feels closer to the universe
“I’m not trying to build muscle,” he said. “I just want to get back into shape.”
Besides toning, Willy talks to Jeffrey about his diet.
“He said no more chips, wine and pasta,” Jeffrey said.
For variety, Jeffrey couples his workouts with salsa aerobics, which is also offered at the gym on Tuesday nights.
As for the young people of Idyllwild, many think it’s cool that we have a MMA Champ living among us.
David, who has lived in Idyllwild his entire life, said that he met Willy when he first arrived.
“He knows karate, and is tough, but very spiritual too,” David said. “He’s looking for his next student.”
At least six teenagers are really glad that Idyllwild Fitness reopened its doors. They work for Willy and get to see him on a regular basis.
Idyllwild Fitness offers fitness machines, free weights, a sauna, along with aerobics classes to suit your lifestyle. Monthly individual rates are $40, but funfight, Willy’s high energy workouts with the punching bag, are more.
For more information, call (951) 659-5000 or visit www.idyllwildfitnesscenter.com. Idyllwild Fitness Center is located in Strawberry Creek Shopping Center, just below Mountain Harvest Market. Enter on the lower level.
Copyright 2012 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.